I want to tell you today about the first time my first son smiled. Every parent probably has a gooey story about seeing that first smile.

With my other two sons, the smiles seemed to happen in increments. It sort of seemed like they had always been smiling. Maybe they had been doing it with their eyes, or maybe because I had more than one baby I didn’t specifically notice when their faces first opened up to the world. Perhaps I really noticed my eldest son’s first smile because I had all sorts of post-natal mental illness at the time, and it was like someone switched a powerful light on in the room, briefly. I don’t know.

Anyway. We were snuggled up in bed one cold, grey January morning. It was dark outside, it seemed the sun would never rise that day. He was seven weeks old. I’d just fed him. I propped him up on some pillows, and turned to put a cardigan on to start the slow descent downstairs, where I would spend the day figuring out how on earth to be a mother. I stood up, bent to pick him up – and then…

Honestly, do you know those clips in nature documentaries, where they’ve sped up the frames so you can see a radiant flower go from bud to bloom in a few seconds? It was exactly like that. He grinned. Toothless, he gurgled and grinned even wider. He shone. His face beamed, he smiled straight for a good two minutes. He stared at me, straight in the eyes, and grinned even more. His face was exploding with love and happiness. In a small pocket of precious time, the two of us grinned and gurgled at each other for what felt like infinity. It is etched onto my brain, as transcendent and transformative as the moment of his birth.

I don’t know that he was particularly grinny because he’d picked up that I was not, or he immediately felt the power of something that would reliably connect him to other people for the rest of his life, but it was a moment of exquisite beauty. So pure and perfect, my tiny little newborn, woken up to the world.

I picked him up, padded downstairs and made coffee, the grey of the morning transmuted into light.

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