There is a Jewish custom of writing an ethical will in which we convey our hopes and concerns to our children. I wrote a speech when my son, Leo, was born, expressing my hopes for his life. I’m doing the same for my second son, Axel, on his first day of school.
Axel, you’re going to school today. A big moment for your mum and dad, and for you.
You’re just four years and one month old. You look so sweet in your purple top and black trousers, with your white T-shirt peeping out between. It seems only a few weeks ago you were wrapped in your blankie in the mornings, on the sofa, drinking oat milk from your bottle.
You came home on the afternoon of 3 August 2017, a bit squashed. Your brother accepted you immediately. The world was going slightly mad at the time with Brexit, and the election of Donald Trump. It’s now gone completely mad.
In fact, our perception of your growing up has been shaped by the lockdowns that lasted until July 2021. In March 2020, you were a toddler with few words. Within a matter of weeks you seemed to be potty trained and speaking confidently. A few months after that you were able to sleep through the night without a nappy. A potty prodigy! Up to that point your granny had been visiting you on Tuesdays to look after you. That came to an abrupt end. You missed out on playgroups and playdates. They even closed the parks!
I joke that we called you Axel, which is a German name, because we wanted to make you Brexit-proof. (We could move to Germany and nobody would know you were English.) But that’s your dad’s sense of humour. Your mum knew an Axel. And we admired Axel Scheffler, the illustrator of The Gruffalo, one of our favourite books. People have always said, what a cool name!
While your differences are not as extreme as Jacob and Esau, you are contrasting brothers. You’re left handed, Leo is right handed. We’ve noticed that Leo watches all his favourite TV series systematically, first Twirlywoos, then Peppa Pig, then all episodes of Ben and Holly. While you’ve been focused on Ninjago. And you’ve watched the same episodes over and over and over again (you’ve got an encyclopaedic knowledge of every episode, which you can explain to us.)
You’re very sensitive about what you wear. You like choosing your socks, your T-shirts and your trousers. Leo is not so bothered. You like saying prayers every night. Leo says he doesn’t believe in God, but Axel says he does.
You breathe like your dad in huffs and puffs. You have a lovely smile. You’re very tactile (and generous with your cuddles). You’ve got an endearing laugh (recently you’ve developed a hyena cackle). You like cats. You love Lego and you are very careful to follow the ‘constructions’. You don’t eat a conventional breakfast (because you don’t drink cow’s milk and so you’ve not got used to cereal in the mornings).
You’ve got a fiery temperament. If there’s no yoghurt in the fridge, you find it hard to accept there is no yoghurt in the fridge. Your vocabulary astonishes us as does the precision of your expressions. Aunty Lesley has noticed your excellent diction. Your voice has a lovely timbre. With your amusing facial expressions and your singing – we think you’d make a great actor, though at the moment you say you’re going to be a sailor and a fireman. You told me your favourite film is Jurassic World.
The pandemic has changed a lot in our family. It has healed some problems, opened up new opportunities, but also caused family rifts, which may or may not be resolved over time.
You had a lovely time at Little Pines nursery, making friends and enjoying lots of different activities (including throwing the ball for the sheepdog, Bruno, in the park.) You’re sure to enjoy school.
It was a perilous time to be born into the world, but we hope things will get better from now on.