The sun was hot and high in the sky when son Finlay asked me, "How many days until my birthday, mum?"
"Oh, over one hundred days,” I said, estimating the days until his winter birthday in June. I looked out at our gigantic liquid amber tree that tells the story of seasons through the changing colours which we can see stretched out like a banner across our entire backyard. It's our own ever-changing artwork that can be viewed from the entire width of the kitchen, lounge room and our bedroom.
It was early autumn but the seasons seemed not to change just yet. The tree was still heaving with hundreds of deep green leaves. His winter birthday felt far away. I tried to think of a way he could visually understand the number of days until his birthday so I said: “You’ll know your birthday is near when it’s very cold and all the leaves have changed colour and fallen off our tree."
I could see him pondering this. “All the leaves?” he asked, wanting to confirm.
“Yes, well, mostly all,” I had said.
As the days rolled on, soon the night air grew cooler and the sun descended beyond the horizon before dinnertime. It didn’t take too long before the leaves began to change colour.
One afternoon, under the canopy of our tree's golden yellow, red and orange leaves I'd whisper in excitement to my son: "See how the tree is changing?"
With every leaf that changed colour it was another day closer to his birthday.
Soon the days grew shorter and a blanket of autumn leaves were pulled over the green grass of our backyard. It became an autumn theme park where each afternoon the sound of laughter, sheiks of joy and crunching leaves would echo across the neighbourhood.
My three children would rumble, crash and roll through the leaves. The older two, Isabella and Finlay, would each take a handle of the monkey bars that hung from one of the trees’ grey arms and swing through the leaves. Their legs would drag and sweep through the autumn sea beneath their feet leaving a swirl of dust behind.
My youngest, Lucy would be nearby diving into a warm and crunchy ocean of crispy warm colours. She would throw off her socks and shoes to experience the full sensory thrill. She would laugh and beckon me to join in, calling out, “Mum, mum!”
Soon we would all be diving into the leaves, tossing them at one another and swatting the dirt away from our eyes. A fountain of colours and squeals of excitement.
Then it rained. The ground remained damp and the colour was drained from our backyard, leaving a mucky mush of brown. The afternoons were now cooler and the grey shadows of the liquid amber would be cast across the yard not long after afternoon tea.
The tree’s leaves were almost gone now. Its grey and gangling arms stretched out, naked and bare across the blue sky. A few leaves still clung on, dancing in the wintery whispers of crisp air.
Look, Finlay, look! Just 14 days to go.
The countdown was now on.
How to explain the days to my boy, the days seem so long to him. Fourteen days, it’s too long, he would whine.
It will go fast, I’d say unconvincingly.
Every night before bed we’d count the sleeps until his birthday and his party day.
Soon it was just one day. Oh the joy and anticipation!
“So I’ll be five tomorrow mum?” he asked.
“Yes, I can’t believe it!” I had said.
“So, on my birthday I turn five and then two days later on my party day I turn six?”
Bless him. I had a little more explaining to do.
Then the birthday arrived.
He ran into me that morning, his face beaming.
“So am I five now?” he had asked excitedly.
Then there was a flurry of wrapping paper being torn, squeals of excitement and gasps of surprise as he opened his presents – AFL cards, an Essendon bombers jersey and shorts, and Lego.
Then it was special time – just me and Fin. A couple of rounds of putt-putt golf and a trip to a local café for a juice and a sweet conversation about his favourite AFL players.
After the games, Fin’s favourite foods were served – Grandma’s famous sausage rolls, watermelon and a special AFL chocolate cake. His face says it all.
As we sang happy birthday beneath the bare and grey speckled branches of our Liquid Amber tree, I looked up. The leaves had all changed colour, fallen and been swept away. Winter had truly arrived. The sun shone through the bare branches, brighter than ever, falling upon Finlay’s head like a halo. He was finally five and absolutely glowing.