Don’t Fence Me In

“Everytime I see that daughter of yours, I’m reminded of the amazing playpen I used for my three kids.” 

My son has always had a really long concentration span. He started moving at about 14 months, and by that time he could sit and listen to a whole pile of books, or enjoy a shape sorter or a push button toy for 15 minutes at a time. He didn’t get easily distracted, and if you put him somewhere, he generally stayed there.

My daughter is now nearly 2, and if I tell you that a tornado would be a more friendly house guest, you might get some idea of the havoc she can cause. Shelves are for climbing, toys are for throwing, electronics are for biting. She can also sense a cupboard being opened from the other side of the house with the help of her spidey senses.

I’m not here to debate the merits of playpens. For some, they might be lifesavers. If you have more than one small child at home at a time. If you have work you need to be able to focus on at a moments notice. If your home is a rental and you’re unable to babyproof the really dangerous parts like stairs or wires. If you’re that selfish kind of parent who likes to pee alone. (How very dare you.)

Some people will say they teach firm boundaries. Other people find that their kids are even wilder once they are on the other side of them. All I know is, I don’t have one. And personally, I don’t want one. They seem a little too cage like for me, and it’s never been something I needed. While I know our parents generation will often sing their praises from the rooftops, I think I’m a little too ‘generation babywearing’ to see the benefits.

Anyway, my work is flexible and I only have M at home most days.  (Plus, she keeps finding things that I’ve lost, which would never happen if she were restricted to just one area.)

But seriously though, your comment bugged me.

My daughter has an unquenchable curiosity for absolutely everything. Whatever it is, she wants to touch it, hold it, yank it into pieces, devour it whole. While you used to call R a ‘good boy’ for ‘sitting so nicely’, M’s personality somehow means she needs walls, boundaries, reins. It’s as if her insatiable appetite for learning about the world needs to be tempered and calmed.

There’s safety, of course there is, but then there’s also just diminishing her personality.

I want to give her as much freedom as I possibly can. I want to be able to say ‘Yes’ as often as possible. What parent doesn’t? When we’re out the house, in the land of roads and cars and other people’s best china, I sometimes feel like the only word I say is no. I spend what feels like every minute lifting her onto my hip and away from cigarette butts or the long distance calls she seems desperate to make from other humans landlines.

When we walk back into our home, I breathe a sigh of relief that I can say yes, or turn a blind eye. That she can be free to explore and play without those words ringing in her ears. Stop. No. Wait.

So there are eggshells and sometimes lego men in my meatballs because she ‘helped’ me make them. The DVDs are never on the DVD rack anymore, let alone in their original alphabetized categories.. There are tiny bite marks in most of the candles in the one non-babyproofed bathroom cupboard. I regularly find jewellery in the toilet. And I’m pretty sure I’ve lost about 4 sets of keys and a whole lot of perfectly fresh fruit to the kitchen bin.

And you’re right, none of this would have happened if I had your “amazing playpen”.

But honestly? That makes me want it even less.

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A Grumble on Gratitude

I was at dinner recently when the topic of holding grudges came up. The conversation turned to that certain type of person, be it your great aunt Edna or your Dad’s friend Jim, who pretty much as soon as they’ve mailed the cheque or handed over the gift are tapping their foot impatiently for a grateful call of acknowledgement or a card displaying your thanks.

“Oh don’t get me started!” exclaimed the woman opposite me, sitting next to her husband and nudging him in shared understanding. “My mother is still upset with us for not sending out any thank-you cards after our wedding!”

I opened my mouth. Then I shut it again. I didn’t know this couple. This was the first (and likely last) time I have ever met them. This was completely, and totally, NOT my business.

I opened it again.

“Sorry. You didn’t send out ANY thank-you cards for gifts you recieved for your wedding?”

She looked at me, probably puzzled as to why it was any of my business (it wasn’t) and launched into explaination. We got married really quickly, we were moving abroad the week after the wedding, we were so incredibly busy, we didn’t have a list of who had sent what, people don’t care about thank you cards… 

I asked her if they had registered at a store, and she said yes. I commented mildly that there was probably an online list of the people who had sent gifts and what they had sent, so she could start from there.Worst came to worst they could use their invite list and send out a mass email with an apology and a heartfelt thank you for attendance and gifts recieved. I was then really really going to move on to another topic at that point, I promise. I really was. But then she answered with this.

Ok, well most of the stuff is in my moms house in America so I don’t even use it, and it’s not like I can send an email out now three years later. 

This time I didn’t have time to think. “Three years?! It’s been three years since your wedding and you havent said thank you to anyone?”

“I told you, we didn’t have a list. What were we supposed to do, write a list and then add to it every person who gave us a cheque on the day and spend that last week before we moved abroad scribbling thank yous? We didnt have time for that.”

I couldn’t help myself. “Did you manage to find time to bank the cheques?”

In her defence she looked sheepish. There was a lot more I could have said, but there wasn’t that much point. Her basic argument was that people understand that we’re all busy and that thank you cards are archaic and no one cares about getting them. I didn’t need to have an argument with her on those lines because I agree entirely.

Wait, what?

You heard me. I agree. I would happily never recieve another thank you card again. If anything, I feel bad throwing away photos of you and your new hubby, or those adorable ones of your kids where you pretend they can write their own note to say cheers for the onesie. They are archaic, and we are all far too busy to write them.

But someone, somewhere, went out of their way for you. They went out (or ordered online) chose (or asked their wife to choose) wrapped (or put in a bag) a gift which you either directly asked for on a registry, or they thought you would like. Let’s stick to weddings here for simplicity’s sake. This person shared in your happiness, and wanted to help you start your life together. How can you be so incredibly spoiled and selfish that you don’t want to stop and say a quick thanks. How many gifts can you possibly be recieving that you can’t drop people a quick note and say that you appreciate it? And why ask for gifts at all if you don’t need them and they’re all sitting in your moms attic?

I say that thank you cards are archaic, and I stand by that. I believe that an email, phone call or even text can do the job just as well in 2016. But listening to this couple, it felt to me that they had labelled the act of gratitude as outdated and unnecessary, rather than simply the medium of pen and paper. It seemed like they had been so inundated by generosity that they couldn’t recognise it any more let alone appreciate it.

Here’s the personal bit. When we got married, almost 8 years ago, we didn’t invite a lot of people. It was a struggle to find 100 representatives from our famillies and friends. We were early to get married which limited the plus ones, and the three parents we had between us are hardly what you would call socialites. We made a modest registry, and it didn’t get cleared. But  I remember so palpably the feeling of wonder every time I logged on and saw that someone had spent their hard-earned money to give us something to start our lives together. And I would say that after the best part of a decade I could probably tell you well over 50% of who bought us what. I think about you, when I use our iron or our fancy towels. When we take out the cheese toastie maker or when we play monopoly or rummikub. When I look at those ridiculously heavy le creuset casserole dishes that I really might use one day. You helped us build our life together, before we had the tools to do it ourselves. I said it eight years ago, and I’ll say it again now whether you’re reading or not. Thank you.

Listening to this couple who I will likely never see again, I felt like a different species altogether. Yes, I think both Great-Aunt Edna and Jim are awful. Let’s feel sorry for them, they probably don’t have a great deal else in their lives aside from keeping tabs on the gifts which have left their possession. But as well as awful, they are besides the point. To me at least, thank you cards have almost nothing to do with the person they are addressed to, and far more about the writer who sends them. I couldn’t care less if I never recieve another thank you card as long as I live. But I’m damn well going to teach my kids to keep on sending them.

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Why Don’t You Tell Me How You Really Feel About it?

In the age of crowdsourcing, political retweeting and public lobbying for change, it’s only a matter of time before the important issues reach the right ears. Mr Zuckerberg heard us ask for a ‘dislike’ button as the only possible solution to the very real difficulties we all face daily as users of Facebook… knowing exactly how to respond to a casual acquaintance who is vocally suffering from a mild illness.
Oooh I can’t possibly click ‘like’ or he may think I like the fact that he isn’t well. But it would be rude to just scroll on by without making some kind of acknowledgement, and yet we aren’t really friendly enough for me to actually write a heartfelt response, plus 17 other people have already written “wish you better xxx” underneath and I wouldn’t want to lack originality… oh what is the correct etiquette here….

In response to the most first world problem imaginable, our dear old friend Mark has provided a solution which is kind of like that aunt you have who offers 17 types of herbal tea when what you really fancy is a black coffee. Sure it’s hot and wet, but it’s overkill, it’s stressful, and it really wasn’t what you wanted in the first place.

Let’s deal with the up sides first. We don’t have to read the most overused comments known to social media anymore, which include “Can I love this?” and a like followed by, “Well, not really ‘like’ but you know! LOL” (We get it, you’re not really happy that Jason’s dog died, your status as a normal empathetic human who doesn’t hate animals is intact.)
Unfortunately we are still left to deal with “Can I like this twice?” and “MASSIVE like!” Maybe in the next update eh? *fingers crossed*

It’s the emotions which the new er… emotions bring up which have got me in a bit of a tizzy. Firstly, there’s the sheer excitement of the new language. Joseph has REACTED to your post. I mean that is not a notification anyone is going to ignore easily. I caused a REACTION with my recipe for Spanish omelette on the Quick and Easy Weeknight Suppers group, oh my goodness what do you think it might have been? Does Joseph Love it? Is he Angry because actually it isn’t that Quick and Easy? Is he Crying from chopping all those onions I tweaked the recipe to include? Is he Shocked that it’s Paleo?* I don’t know, but I can’t WAIT to find out.

Then there’s the insecurity. The photo of my daughter I put up last week before the new reactions arrived got 22 likes and I never stopped to question to what extent those people liked her. This weeks has 23 likes and 3 loves. And suddenly… Oh.
Don’t the other 23 of you Love her? Don’t you Love how I specially found a flower which matches the dress so perfectly? Do you only Like the adorable curls she has inherited from me (every day without her fathers’ hair is a victory in my book) and that tiny little toothy smile she uses to make hearts melt? What’s wrong with all of you anyway?
I see you reacted with Shock to the photo of me baking biscuits with the kids last week. What’s that about? What exactly are you Shocked about, that I do entertaining and resourceful activities with my children, do I not seem like the type? Or was it because you can see the bag of white sugar on the countertop and you are aghast I didn’t run out to grab some silan.**

Stop me if I’m reading too much into this, (#toolate) but has anyone noticed a sense of rivalry on their statuses since it all began, too? I can’t be the only one who has family and friends vying for the right reactions to any given announcement.
Oh really, you Like that our sister has started her new job? Look who’s about to win brother of the year… Love.
Poor old Dad, you’re Shocked that the landlord won’t replace the boiler at Auntie Sara’s? Not me, I spoke to her last night, and can just be knowingly Angry on her behalf.
I see that a bunch of people have written ‘lol’, but nothing says I think you’re hilarious like Crying with laughter. Winner.

All in all, Facebook has become an emotional rollercoaster of similar proportions to a phone call with my mother. Dangerous and only to be attempted when I’m in a good mood, outside of overly hormonal times of month and when I’m sure I can handle a few bumps to my self-esteem.
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*Disclaimer: I don’t know what Paleo actually means (or how to pronounce it) so I have no idea whatsoever if a Spanish omelette can aspire to be such a thing or not in Real Life.
** Ditto.

The Usual Suspects of the Buy/Sell Groups

Social media has opened up all kinds of new ways to communicate with absolute strangers, and there are some real characters out there. While I’ve written before about the mums forums, I’ve recently become active on the selling groups, and the personalities I’ve found… they’re certainly worth a post all to themselves.

1. Embarassing Haggler

As buyers, we all love a bargain. And as sellers, we’re all just hoping to get rid of some clutter quickly and easily, and preferably without needing to get out of pyjamas. No one minds if you ask for a bit of a discount, but come on folks, try not to take the mick.

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2. Cant Take a Hint Seller 

Boy Facebook is in for a treat today. This guy has something they’ve found in a cupboard unused, and is willing to sell it on at an amazingly reasonable price! Some lucky individual is going to be benefitting from what is now completely useless to them.

But wait, what’s this? It’s been up on the group for 45 minutes already and no one has commented. Just bump it, I’m sure you just chose an awkward time for people. Hmm… Ok, try reducing the price. Maybe people want pics? This is strange. It’s SUCH a bargain! Oh wait, that’s it- people probably think it’s gone already. Three letters, S…F…S. That’s bound to do the trick.

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3. Time Waster

Have you ever actually bought or sold anything Time Waster? Or are you just here for the show, and to ask annoying questions? Do you enjoy being on the cusp of a purchase so much that you do this in bricks and mortar stores too, stand in line at checkout and then have a sudden change of heart while you’re reaching for your wallet?

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4. The Difficult Customer

Some people seem to think that the buy and sell group is the equivalent to Argos online, appearing on the group with what may as well be a product number to search for. Filled with details about what they’re looking for, they’re rarely pleased and could benefit from a a point in the direction of Amazon.

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5.  Junk Seller

Not every item needs to be brand new with tags, and we all know the expression “one mans trash is another mans treasure”. However sometimes, if it looks like rubbish it’s probably exactly that. The chances of someone else wanting your daughters’ used trainers? Pretty slim. The likelihood of a rush of volunteers to come and pick up your almost finished Berry Cherry lipgloss? Nil.

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Any firm favourites I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments! 

Wobbly Wednesday 2015

My eyes never stop moving.

That’s not a clever way of saying I spot everything (quite the opposite actually) or that I’m constantly busy (ditto), it’s just a statement of fact. it sounds like a small thing, eyes which jerk or swing from side to side, the way mine and my R have done since we began to see, but as a member of the Nystagmus Network, named after the condition we both have, I see so many questions daily, so many confused parents and worried adults, people who have to work just as hard as their eyes do to get on with a normal day, that when Wobbly Wednesday (a day to spread awareness for Nystagmus) rolls around, I can’t help but jump on the bandwagon.

Spreading awareness is a funny thing. Especially in a blog form. While my closest friends probably know more about Nystagmus than the average person who has the condition themselves, I can ply them with lattes and croissants, and distract them with questions about themselves interjected into an otherwise self-centred conversation about my life and my child and my fears, y’know, to make them think the conversation is two sided.

I can’t do that anywhere near as effectively on a blog. I probably have only about 3 more minutes of your attention span before you realise the jokes are drying up and click through to something about Kanye West. So I’ll try for a top 3.

Top 3 things I wish you knew about Nystagmus

  1. My glasses don’t mean I can see as well as you, any more than a walking stick turns an arthritic into a cross country athlete. I wear glasses, and so does my son. They support us, help the development of the eyes, and in my case-improve my vision where short-sightedness is involved. But Nystagmus means our vision is poor, with or without our specs. In R’s case, it means he is registered partially sighted. No amount of “lens 1, or 2? better with? or without?” will make a difference to that.
  2. We’re so tired. The simplest way of explaining it is that our brains have to work a lot harder to produce a still image for us to understand what’s going on around us. It’s an extra step in processing information, in seeing what someone is showing us, in reading a book, in playing a game. New settings are particularly difficult. It can be frustrating (especially if you’re five), it’s always exhausting, and often when I’ve been to a new place for the day, my eyes physically hurt by about 4pm.
  3. I just can’t see that. Whatever it is that you’re pointing to on your computer screen, yes even if it’s font 18. The faces of the people on stage, yes even from the front row. That sign out of the car window, yes even if you slow down. The detail in that drawing, yes even if I hold it closer to my face. Your face in the sunlight, yes even when it isn’t hot ouside. Who you are when you drive past me in the street, yes even if you beep and wave.

Next week, my R is having an eye surgery to help with some of the symptoms of his Nystagmus, in particular his head tilt, (adorable though it may be.) We are nervous about the operation as any parents would be, but we are also indebted to the UK Nystagmus Network and the Barnet VI team for being not only a font of knowledge, but also a community of kind listeners and intelligent answers and support. There is no cure for Nystagmus, but people like the ones we’ve come across not only never stop tirelessly looking for answers, but also help us get on with our daily lives so effectively that we have to suffer through people insisting there’s nothing wrong with us in the first place. A great testament to their hard work.

Lastly, I don’t run marathons, I don’t do sponsored mountain climbs, but I do write things down.

If you enjoy my writing, if you’re one of the people who stops me in the street and says “Hey, you haven’t blogged in ages”, please consider texting WWNN15 followed by any amount at all to 70070 to donate to Nystagmus Network.

Wobbly Wednesday

Bah Humbug

It’s that time of year again, and while I love Chanukah as much as the next Jew, it’s impossible to get away from the Xmas spirit. Winter sales, goodwill to all, and chestnuts available at every corner shop, what’s not to love?

Well, a few things actually. And maybe you’re all too close to see it, but with all the respect in the world, let me give you a run-down of the things I would change if my household kept Christmas.

1. The menu.

I think it’s fair to say that the whole of Xmas day centres around the big festive meal. For thousands of years people have been gathering around the dinner table and breaking bread together to celebrate this pinnacle in the Christian calendar. But who came up with the ideas for the grub? On what other day in the year would anyone choose Turkey, the arguable worst meat of choice to be the centrepiece of the meal? Beef, Lamb, Duck, even Chicken is preferable to Turkey any other day of the year. Let’s call a spade a spade here, Turkey is dry and hasn’t got much flavour, hence why you’re spending 2 to 3 hours preparing stuffing and sauces to accompany it. To top it off, although no one’s arguing with roast potatoes, does anyone eat Brussel Sprouts at any other meal the entire year? Let alone the weird tradition of Cranberry sauce, a foodstuff that just doesn’t exist whatsoever outside of December 25th.
Lastly, every meal should be complimented by the grand finale of dessert. And dessert will never ever mean fruit cake. I don’t care what you call it, or how much alcohol you add to it (although it probably helps), a Xmas Pudding is not dessert. Give me chocolate cake, give me ice cream, even something citrus-y would round off the meal well. But why are we pretending that Xmas pud is in any way appetising? In my house, it would be Haagen Daaz and sticky toffee pudding, maybe with a pavlova on the side. Extra points for the fact that none of those options takes months of my life to prepare. If I wanted to spend 2-3 months feeding something in small increments daily, I would buy a hamster.

2. The decor.

Love the Christmas lights, in fact I think we should add that to Judaism, a festival where we decorate the outside of our homes with ostentatious flashing lights and various plastic accompaniments. I can just see my home now, with a rendition of the 10 plagues of Egypt on my front lawn, and a replica of Mount Sinai on the roof. Fab.
This brings me to Christmas trees. Excellent idea I would even up the ante. Let’s bring all of the outside in, creating an indoor Xmas garden, complete with flowers and grass (astro-turf if need be) and why not woodland creatures, so cold at this time of year and in need of some Xmas spirit just as much as you.
Yes, I’m joking. But it is kind of weird that you bring a tree into your living rooms. Doesn’t it make a crazy mess of needles and twigs? Doesn’t it brings in bugs and the like? Do you have to buy a special spray for that? So many questions.

3. The list of demands.

This one is actually pretty serious, as I’ve read that the average household will spend £868 on Christmas this year. Nearly a thousand pounds on one day of the year, that just can’t be affordable for 95% of the UK. And meanwhile your kids are sitting at home writing a letter for Santa? A magical being that flies in, drops off their hearts desire and leaves again without so much as a thanks for him or his hard working elves [AKA unpaid midget workforce]. (Seriously, does anyone’s kids write thank you notes to Santa?) Doesn’t the whole thing seem a bit entitled? From the outside looking in at least, it seems like the last way I want my children to consider the presents we work hard to provide for them. Maybe it’s a little Scrooge of me, but I like to think that I would use the opportunity to talk to my kids about wants and needs, earning and spending, and ask them to think of one or two things they really want, which Santa won’t be bringing, but their hard-working parents will be.

4. The Xmas season

This is a tough one, because we all enjoy some of the elongated Xmas perks, such as Starbucks red cups which appear Nov 1st, or Xmas songs on the radio from what feels like mid-summer. But when I try to get an email response at work on December 3rd, and get told that the company are “winding down for Christmas”, it can really make me feel peeved. Similarly, spending the whole of December attending various Xmas lunches and functions with the people I anyway see and speak to every single week can be a little grating. Cmon boss, just give us the afternoon off if you’re trying to make us feel festive. It would probably cost you less.

Any other holiday traditions that you would scrap?

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Overworked and Underpaid

We writers have a special ailment all to ourselves. Arriving without warning, with no hint to how long it’s going to hang around, and no hard and fast cure (although many old wives tales to try while we suffer) this is known as Writer’s Block. It attacks our inspiration, it stifles our muse, and leaves us with ineffectual fingers hovering uselessly over a keyboard, or nibbling absent-mindedly on the end of our pencils.

Once in a while though, something magical happens and an event occurs which causes the complete opposite of Writer’s Block. Writer’s UN-block if you will. It generally happens like this. You see something which is so obvious, that the words pretty much write themselves. A gift from the universe, an article fully formed in visual form in your minds eye, before you’ve even opened your laptop.

That happened to me this week, at a place which is well known for its inspiration to me, Soft Play.

But truthfully, once I got home, I realised that this is one of those cases where a picture really does speak a thousand words. And all I really needed was a title. So here we go. I had many runners up, but I find the beauty of my choice is that it can be read as entirely sincere, or as totally sarcastic and judgemental. I’ll leave you to decide which way I meant it. Enjoy, and you’re welcome.

Who says Dads nowadays don’t do their fair share? 

This looks like a totally unobtrusive place for a quick 40 winks..  I'm sure the 4 year old will watch the 1 year old... Zzzzz...

This looks like a totally unobtrusive place for a quick 40 winks.. I’m sure the 4 year old will watch the 1 year old… Zzzzz…

Do you need to see my tax return?

Advice please faceless crowd of the Internet. I’ve offended someone, and although I’m certainly not to blame, I’d love to try and help her if I can. My friend has approached me, armed verbatim with various comments I’ve made recently, and she’s hurt and annoyed.

As long as I’ve known her, she’s wanted to be a career woman. She worked hard in high school, studied the relevant subjects, got into a great university, got a fantastic degree, completed various summer work experiences, and obtained the certificates necessary to practise her vocation. Then began the hunt for a job.

She called me one night a few months ago, excited. She had just heard about an interview opportunity in her field. “I’m sending off the application now” she bubbled. “Hmm” I replied. “How much does that pay?” In hindsight, she deflated, and mumbled a reply. I wished her good luck, although apparently by focusing on the money I wasn’t being supportive.

Another time, she told me about some temping she was doing, picking up the odd shift here and there, honing her skills, working from home, making contacts. I was baffled. “But what are you DOING all day?” I asked genuinely. I mean come on, how can it be a REAL job if it isn’t 9-5 in an office right? That one wasn’t my fault. She’s just being over sensitive.

I didn’t see her for a while after that, and then our paths crossed at a social function. After catching her up with my life, the drudgery of finding childcare and commuting and never seeing my spouse, I asked her how her work was going? Had she found a job yet? She seemed nervous to talk about it, but told me she had a few different part time jobs going on, working for various different employers, bit of this bit of that. She told me it gave her the chance to see her kids, be home for her spouse in the evenings, make time for friends and hobbies, and that she’d never been happier.
Not wanting her to feel bad about her clearly flailing employment status, I smiled. “As long as you’re keeping yourself busy eh?” I sympathised, hoping for her sake that one of her ‘part time’ dabblings would become something concrete at last.

Later that week, I saw an admin job advertised online, and kindly sent her the link. Full time, in a proper office, with proper holiday days and benefits. Minimum wage, but beggars can’t be choosers eh? I thought she would be delighted to have someone in her corner, showing her what she was capable of if she just took the plunge into the real working world.

Now she’s sent me this email, telling me I’ve been condescending, patronising, unsupportive, rude even! But how can she call herself a professional? She never knows how much work she will have from one month to the next, she never knows how much she will be paid, she doesn’t even have real colleagues, or a desk to call her own. Sometimes she’s clearly so unfulfilled that she even works for free. But not ‘real volunteering’ for a charity or something worthwhile. She just obviously isn’t good enough at her job yet to deserve being paid.

I feel terrible for her. I’m trying not to take her harsh words to heart, as I’m sure it mainly comes from jealousy, and maybe some embarrassment that I’ve seen through the brave face she puts on when we meet.

A tragic story, I’m sure you’ll agree. And entirely not my fault.

Any leads for her gratefully received, so she can finally give up this “writing thing,” and get a real job.

Just don’t mention the edible glue.

I never had birthday cakes. As a kid I mean. I admit, it’s not the most often cited form of child abuse, so I can imagine you’re finding it hard to drum up appropriate sympathy. I doubt the NSPCC often whisper in hushed tones about birthday cake neglect as they try to rehouse badly cared for children. “Y’know, I heard he had to make do with cupcakes. And they weren’t even chocolate. I shudder to think.”

But it’s true nonetheless. I think the word ‘never’ might be a little harsh, as I have a couple of photos pre the age of 5 of me standing in front of store-bought rectangular monstrosities with calligraphy Happy Birthdays and chalky icing numbers that would never taste as good as they looked. After that age, I remember the odd year where I could sneak a supermarket-bought chocolate cake underneath the rest of the shopping in the trolley, once we’d checked for a V for Vegetarian of course. Our aim in life being to appear to the world as ultra-orthodox even though we were in reality nothing of the sort, these had to be eaten quickly and stealthily, and the trappings thrown in the outside bin so that no passing visitor (like my brother for example) would see that it wasn’t ‘strictly kosher.’ Eating cake in secret wasn’t something I would ever learn to enjoy, the self loathing pretty much overriding any of the butter-creamy goodness they ever had to offer.

So perhaps it’s more honest to say I never had the birthday cake ‘experience.’ No candles to blow out, no friends singing embarrassingly at me, no parents up to their elbows in fondant the night before the big day, cursing at Thomas’s funnel for refusing to stand upright. If I’m honest, it’s that last part that bothers me the most. I’m not the most creative person in the world, and a step by step recipe is going to be the least of my expectations if I’m going to make anything half recognisable, but making my son a birthday cake every year is one of the ways I say, “I know you.”

I know that before you were one, and you couldn’t even see our faces, reading the Gruffalo out loud was the only thing that could calm you down, so committing the entire book to memory was the least we could do for you. We spent the best part of that year regaling audiences across coffee shops and shopping malls and London transport whenever you were cranky. I’m pretty sure a couple people missed their stops to find out how that crafty mouse escaped consumption.

Before you were two, and you began to enjoy the world, you learned to reach out and have your own effect on your surroundings, lifting flaps and beaming at the results of your own hands. We read Dear Zoo over and over again, buying every version we could find. The devil makes work for idle hands must be based on a toddler, as keeping a book in your reach was the best way to keep our house intact.

This year, almost three, and you are making your own sentences, demanding to ‘read’ books to us, and with the patience given at birth (not mine, his) we listen to your babble with the odd word thrown in for good measure.  Each step I follow in making your cake this year is my way of showing how proud I am of your achievements.

I met a five year old recently who had been given a guitar cake for her birthday. “Amazing!” I exclaimed in my special over excited voice I reserve for children and the mentally challenged. When she shrugged I decided to probe further. “So how long have you been playing guitar?”

“I don’t.” She replied forlornly. “I play piano and recorder.”

Hello nspcc? It’s me again, I don’t think you’re understanding the gravity of the situation. She plays recorder, and the cake was in the shape of a GUITAR. That’s not even close frankly. It’s not even a wind instrument… .

It was like looking in a mirror. Over the top or not, slightly crazy or otherwise, this nugget of ‘I don’t know you’ from my own childhood has stayed with me. And so, I’m a little bit obsessed with birthday cakes. Weirdly enough, the birthday itself I can take or leave, buying random gifts last minute on Amazon, and choosing cards based on the ‘least awful one in the bargain bin’ criteria. (All I’m saying is, if I have to buy a five pound card, you aren’t getting a present. Or a card for that matter.) I’m not even a fan of the happy birthday song, as frankly I think if we all put our heads together we could do a lot better both musically and lyrically, but damn-it if I’m not going to get you double figure ‘likes’ on your cake photo on Facebook.

So it’s definitely not birthdays in general I feel passionately about. Although I’m glad I have one.  I once knew a man who had no idea when his birthday fell, or even how old he was. This to me was extremely newsworthy.

But.. but… how do you fill in forms? How do you sign up to things online? What’s life like without that oddly satisfying feeling of seeing your birthday written down on a pint of milk or a movie poster, like a private joke between you and the universe?

He seemed unperturbed, but I wasn’t interested in letting this go.

How did you ever get employed anywhere?!

“Ah, Mr Smith, lovely to meet you. Please do sit down and let me take a few pieces of basic information before we start the interview.”
“Sure, go ahead.”
“Full name?”
“Mr Horatio Brandon Smith.”
“Gender..? Male… Good, UK citizen?”
“Oh yes, for over three decades now.”
“Excellent. Date of Birth?”
“Ah… well actually… I’m not sure.”
“Sorry, I said date of birth. -pause- your birthday.”
“Yes, I don’t actually have that information to hand.”
“How about year of birth at least? … -awkward pause-  How OLD are you?”
“Cant help you there. Somewhere between 50 and 60 I would guess?”

It blew my mind. I mean, when does he have cake with his name on? Just randomly when he feels like it? Has he chosen a day in replacement? If so, how did he choose it? Statistically most people are born in August. Would he go with probability, or purposely choose a less likely month for fairness sake? I still have so many unanswered questions! Unfortunately, we never traded contact info, and it’s hard enough to track people down, let alone without a date of birth to go by….

This generation, birthdays have become a much bigger deal, with endless yummy mummies making their fortune with at-home bakeries sure to make even the pickiest birthday brat girl beam. And if like me, you’re a little bit hysterical and have based your worth as a parent on making the cake from start to finish by yourself, it’s much easier to be creative. Spending a mortgage payment at a shop called Sugar Shack, which is basically baking erotica, and armed with a step by step recipe pilfered from the Internet, I am now in possession of all the cheats necessary to make me a temporary Nigella. Edible markers, edible glitter, edible paint… Another plus of Sugar Shack is the ease you can convince your other half it’s a necessary investment just by reading out the names in your shopping basket. (Just don’t mention the edible glue.)

I’m not naive about the likely reception to my efforts. At the grand unveiling, I fully expect more praise from old high school friends I haven’t seen in a decade than I do from the eponymous hero of the cake itself. I imagine R looking briefly at the masterpiece, sussing it’s food and shouting ‘eat it!” before descending into a full blown tantrum. But that’s part of the magic for me. If a parent had made me a cake with half the effort that this one is going to take, I would probably be a blubbering mess of gratitude. I actually think it would be too much love to take. And while I do love cake, I’m aware that’s not a normal reaction.

Don’t get me wrong, as they grow old enough to understand both the concept of effort and the hassle of food colouring, I fully expect a heartfelt thank you for my yearly forays into domestic goddess mode. But I like the idea that birthday cakes will be the norm. Along with dinner on the table, bed times, cuddles, help with homework, and any number of other things I never had.

Probably the way my grandchildren will feel about expensive birthday cards.

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