A Delicate Little Flower

You’re right.

She’s not a “delicate little flower”

And I don’t want her to be.
I don’t want her swaying in the breeze,
Moving this way and that on the flight of fancy of the wind.
I want her growing strong roots
Deep beneath the surface
Twisting their way into the earth,
Creating foundations, holding her own ground.
I don’t want her petals easily picked off one by one
By a boy playing “she loves me, loves me not”.
I want her to love herself, fiercely
Hold those petals fast in her grip
So that no-one can take hold
And make her less of herself
Unless giving freely is what she chooses.
I don’t wish for her to be simply beautiful,
(Which so often means beautifully simple)
I wan’t people to stop still in their tracks
Look at her unique colours, stop to take in her scent
Wonder what exotic place she comes from
That she was able to grow so wild and free.
I don’t imagine her little at all.
I want her to fill a room, until it overflows with her,
Not ladylike, but powerful
Not delicate, but extraordinary.
I can’t picture her on a manicured lawn
Under a cloche
Protected from the elements, not her.
I see her at all ages, in my mind’s eye.
Raging against the heat of the sun
Dancing in the rain
Moving with the wind
Laughing at the storm she creates around her
And I smile, and smile and smile.
Not a delicate little flower at all.
A powerful, strong-willed woman in the making.

5 Ingredients to Tempt the Pickiest Toddlers

Somewhere between the ages of 1 and 2, you may begin to notice a startling and unexpected developmental stage appearing in your baby. An opinion. While they used to allow you to shovel in any old food all whizzed up in a blender or mashed up with a fork, suddenly they are pressing their lips tightly shut, shaking their heads firmly and throwing entire bowls of spag bol face down on your beige carpet faster than you can say ‘Here comes the aeroplane!”
Never fear, after extensive research into babies entering toddlerdom everywhere, here is the definitive list of the 5 ingredients a toddler will never turn his nose up at.

  1. Dirt.
    We’ve all been there. You’ve lovingly prepared a plate of chicken and rice but your baby won’t even take the first bite. Don’t take it personally. They probably don’t realise you spent 2 hours roasting vegetables to make your own stock for this recipe which you found by googling ‘simple baby food recipes’. We have the answer. Have you considered dropping it on the floor? No, not there by the high chair where you just vaccumed. Try on the pavement outside your house where that dog from next door usually does his business. If that doesn’t work, wedge it down the side of the car seat and give it a couple of weeks, there’s nothing babies like more than the taste of slow aged fowl.
  2. Danger.
    Babies don’t like boring food. You know the rules, you musn’t season with salt, but apart from that feel free to go wild. If tumeric, paprika and cumin don’t work, have you considered letting your baby choose their own ‘toppings’ from the bathroom cabinet? Drain cleaner, Cillit Bang, washing powder, these are just a few of my own kids favourites. If yours prefers a slightly different texture, try wrapping the food in live wires, or poking it into a plug socket as finger food. Be creative! We’ve had some great success placing meals onto turned on hair straighteners- BBQ style, as well as mixing in those tiny pieces of lego all babies love for some extra crunch. Nom nom nom.
  3. Competition.
    Y’know what tastes awful? Scrambled eggs. Y’know what tastes delicious? A sibling’s scrambled eggs. Bonus here is that the older the sibling is the more bribeable they will be, and the better their acting skills can be honed too. Get them on board with the plan by offering a small bribe like an episode of Peppa Pig or yknow, a five pound note, if they can ‘unwillingly share’ the meal they also wouldn’t usually touch with a barge pole with said younger sibling.
  4. Timing.
    This one works just as well for older kids, and it relies on a simple rule. What tastes like arsenic during the day time, is progressively more delicious the further past seven the hands of the clock go. While the cheese sandwich you offered at 4.30pm was the most offensive thing you could ever dare to do as a parent, the 9.45pm meal of quinoa salad and stuffed aubergine with lentils may as well be a bag of chocolate buttons in its inevitable appeal. In short, when your little darlings are shouting “I’m huuuuungry” mournfully from their beds like they’re prisoners of war, this is the ideal time to offer broccoli.
  5. Privacy.
    If all else fails, wait until they are distracted by something else, such as wiping snot on your freshly folded washing or climbing a bookshelf, and quietly prepare the food out of their line of sight. Tiptoe to your own bedroom and hide in a corner with the bowl hidden completely from view. If you’re not sure what I mean, imagine it’s the last chocolate digestive biscuit and nap time is too far away to fairly expect you to wait for. Toddlers find that kind of silent behaviour just as suspicious as we do in return. They’ll show up, indignant and open mouthed in no time. Finish off the theatre with a stern “No, this is Mummy’s food” before giving in. Fair Warning: This will probably only fool them for one bite, so make it a big one.  

There you have it. No more excuses for kids who won’t eat their veggies. Just make sure the meal is a week old and sprinkled with shards of glass, in a secret location where their sibling is chowing down after 10pm. Simples.

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There are other truths, too.

I’ve had a hard few weeks. Unsurprisingly, for those who know me, marking 10 years since my father died wasn’t an easy milestone, and while the day itself was filled with silly fun with my 5 year old, the days which followed were like trudging through thick mud in boots two times bigger than your actual size. Difficult, slow, cumbersome, and with a constant fear of falling and exacerbating an already precarious situation into something much worse.

While I’ve written in the past about grief, I usually write from the middle of it, from the trenches of it, while the bombs are going off around me and I’m struggling to keep myself hidden from target. Ironically, I’ve come to realise that if I’m writing about it from within the walls, if you’re hearing my war reports, the danger isn’t too great.
In this case, no news is not good news. When I can’t hear myself think to write beyond the sounds of gunfire, when there’s nothing to write because the fog is too heavy? That’s when I’m going to need the artillery sent in behind me.

So here I am, out the other side, tilting my head with interest at the woman who looks so much like me, but couldn’t feel more different. And there must be something I can take out of this, by examining her. Or do I just have to sit and wait helplessly for it to take over again, and then wait for it to pass another time, in a cycle of highs and lows that I’ve come to accept is the very nature of grief itself?

Academically I can say I have been miserable. It sounds like a word for a small child, and I suppose in the loss of a parent it fits. Worse still, this year it’s triggered a realization for me that while I have built for myself an incredible family of people who love me, the ones who are supposed to be there unconditionally just… aren’t. I haven’t spoken to my mother in several months, my father is dead, my siblings are… absent. I don’t have extended family around who have taken me under their wing, I don’t have living grandparents or kindly uncles and aunts. It may seem like a strange concern for someone who is an adult and has their own kids and home. But if you’re game, take a moment to think about the people in your life who have to love you. The ones who may dislike you from time to time, who you could make it your life’s work to ruin your relationship with, but would still be family after all is said and done.

I don’t have that.

Last week, and the week before, it was the only thing I could think about, on the forefront of my mind. It pushed aside all other thoughts and plans. Tears came easy, and cold shivery hopelessness too. The truth of it was overwhelming. If this is true, that I have no family, no people who will be there no matter what… how will I ever feel better again?  I reasoned with myself, and I knew it to be true, that I would never feel free of this burden.

And then…. it lifted. Like our good old English summer, the sun re-appeared through a storm cloud like the rain had never existed in the first place, and I felt warm again. Does this mean that I was wrong? That what I thought to be true wasn’t true?
Absolutely not. I have no real family. Not the kind other people have anyway. But while last week that truth was dehibillitating, this week… *shrugs*.

That shrug isn’t self pitying or sarcastic. The tunnel vision which comes with misery and hopelessness has passed, and I can see other truths as well as that one. My amazing husband, my beautiful kids, the fact that the summer holidays are almost finished and I can soon work during daylight hours again. The truth that I work in the field I love and can be entirely flexible with it, my two best friends who I would choose over blood sisters any day of the week. I couldn’t see those truths last week, and yet the weight of them now crushes any depression over a lack of family down to a mere concern at the back of my mind, a shrug in the same way I might say ‘sure, it would be nice to have some more disposable income’ or ‘imagine how great life would be if school took over teeth brushing responsibilities.’

I feel lighter. And yet simultaneously for next time, I feel slightly better armed to go into battle too. This mantra is a weapon, of sorts. Whatever may or may not be true in my life, there are other truths too.

The Last Time

There’s a lot of emotional stuff going around the internet about how you never know [insert event here] is going to be the last time until it’s the last time. You never know it’s going to be your last kiss with someone, or the last time your baby falls asleep on you, or the last time you tell someone you love them, until you realise you can’t do it anymore.

I recently had a last fight with a friend. I didn’t know it was the last fight. I didn’t even know it was a fight at all until we were right in the middle of it. I hadn’t planned it, and I’m not sure they had either. It wasn’t one of those fights where it brews for ages and then finally someone has to say something and it’s taken badly and it escalates. No no. It was more like, here we are having a conversation via WhatsApp, and oh you seem to be getting upset and I’m not sure why, and now suddenly you’re telling me you’re in floods of tears and oh okay,  now I haven’t heard from you in 3 months and we aren’t friends anymore. Haven’t we all had those? No? Not normal? Oh.

Regardless of whether you’re worth working it out for or if the death knell is ringing on your relationship, isn’t there a kind of friend etiquette that means you have to have a post-fight conversation?
I understand the Fadeaway. I’ve watched Garfunkel and Oates. I’m not talking about that. We’re not having a discussion about a brief friendship or a new relationship where it’s kind of awkward to say it out loud but they’re just not that into you. We’re talking about the better part of a decade here. Plenty of meals at each others homes. Cuddling each others kids. Long breaks and then picking up where we left off. Y’know. Friendship. And now… nothing. No final message which says why they want to take some space. No euphemistic let down about why their life is so crazy right now and how it’s not me, it’s them. Not even an angry outburst that I deserve to lose their friendship due to all my terrible character flaws. I can’t get in touch when I hear good news, I can’t thank them for all the times they’ve been a most excellent friend and neighbour, and I can’t turn to them if either of us are in need.

It’s kind of… insufficient.

I know what you’re thinking. Maybe I should make the first move! They’re probably embarassed. It’s been a while now, no contact, they aren’t sure what to do. Let me stop you right there. The first move has been made. I’ve sent multiple messages, via WhatsApp, Facebook, even tried calling on that old fashioned medium called the telephone. Christ I even got in touch with their spouse in the hopes that they just hasn’t checked their own phone in a few days or perhaps seven weeks. Short of turn up unwanted on the doorstep, I’m not sure what else I can do.

The one or two people (everyone who will listen) I’ve casually (obsessively) mentioned it to all say the same thing. Not worth it. Get over it. Move on, they obviously aren’t going to get in touch. And they’re right. I’m clearly not going to get any understanding of why this seemingly quite trivial argument signalled the end of our relationship. And I can’t work out whether expecting some kind of closure is my admittedly often sky-high expectations, or completely understandable. I don’t want to fight, I just don’t want to pretend we’ve never heard each other’s names, or that 8 years of friendship can dissipate without gratitude or feelings on the matter.

Maybe it’s a symptom of this over-sharing thing I’ve got going on, but I would say there’s enough ‘last times’ we aren’t going to get to enjoy as it is. If you know the door is closing on our relationship, give me a quick wave through the window as you disappear and give me a chance to say goodbye, and thank you, too.

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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.

One Day I Will…

We look to our mothers. As women, I mean. We look to our mothers to see what being a woman is all about, what’s going to happen when we grow up, what our place in the world might one day look like. Little girls with too big handbags on one shoulder, a playphone tucked under our ears as we stir fake soup on a tiny version of the kitchen we beg for treats in. We take everything in, and learn silently how to hold ourselves, how to talk and argue back and reason and pick our battles. How to care and nurture and go out to work and build a home.

But what happens if what we’re looking at is intrinsically flawed? If that formative relationship is poisonous instead of restorative? You want to find a life-long partnership and your mother insists on being hopelessly alone. You want to create a career which you love, but your mother never loved a thing in her life. You can’t imagine a future where your children don’t mean everything to you, but your mother doesn’t know the first thing about you or your siblings. Who should you look to then?

I don’t know about you, but I look to my daughter. This week is Mothers Day, and International Womens Day too. So many people seem to feel that they can’t be feminists, or worse still, that they are somehow ‘bad’ feminists because their main focus is on being a mother. Whether you choose to work at home or out, have kids or not, wear red lipstick and thigh high boots or dungarees and army boots, I wish more women understood that simply to support each others choices and freedoms is to be a feminist.

“My mother taught me…” “My mother showed me..” I won’t pretend I don’t envy the strong and smart women around me who have been given their confidence in feminism as an inheritance. Passed down, from one generation to the next. My feminism is uglier than that, more awkward, self-made. But there’s something pretty special about that too. I’m creating something brand new, something I never had. I was told quite plainly by the woman who should have made me feel invincible, that “It’s only natural to love your sons more than you love your daughters.” So how could I help but feel somehow inferior? Almost.. unwanted.

And yet, this year on Mothers Day, and this year on International Womens Day, for the first time I have a daughter of my own. A daughter I love so much I sometimes think I might squish her little face off. A daughter I want to inherit not just my feminism, but the whole wide world too. A daughter who I want to feel invincible.

So I look to her. I look to her despite my gaze being dragged towards the past more often than I’d like. I look back to her every time I forget that I’m not inferior. I look to her to decide what my place in the world should look like, what being a woman should be all about. I look to her so that ‘One Day I Will’ see her looking back at me.

 

 

 

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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