Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Party, Party, Party

It's the first birthday of this blog and I've astonished myself by still being here. A year ago today I felt compelled to write a warning to myself and others about the risks of holding your child's birthday party in your own home.

At the time I feared that my sentimental attachment to my children would lead me into repeating my foolhardy mistake. But no. My lovely wife is made of sterner stuff and this year we held Lulu's seventh birthday party at a trampoline centre.

It's an industrial party machine that most parents claimed never to have been to, but on arrival several suddenly recalled having parties there themselves 30 years ago. So these people are experts. Although the jukebox in the trampoline room was decidedly odd. I was trying to imagine the children's party at which it was appropriate to play the first Portishead album or indeed anything by Leftfield.

However, it was all fine. We under catered on purpose. Largely because I object to having tiny sandwiches for tea for most of the following week. We used paper plates so we could just clear up into bin bags and not have to wash up. We didn't plan any games, we just left them to bounce for an hour. Then we fed them and afterwards were driven out as the staff pointedly swept the floor around us. MUCH better than last year.

Lulu particularly impressed me by staying calm and not wigging out about having to wait until we got home to open her presents. She also made a point of speaking to everyone there and if anyone seemed to be getting left out of the games she went and got them and gently persuaded them to join in.

She was charming.

And when present-opening time finally did arrive it was Sorrel's turn to impress by showing interest in what had been received but not weeping at the injustice of receiving nothing herself - something she's done a lot of recently.

Helen was working on the following day and each of the girls had another party to go to. Naturally they were on opposite sides of the town and at slightly different but overlapping times.

So Lulu was collected by some friends whose daughter was going to the same party and we arranged that I would pick her up from them after the party Sorrel was attending

In the car on the way back from Lulu's friend's house the girls compare party bags. Lulu expresses disappointment that Sorrel has cake whilst she does not.

"That's OK Lulu," says her sister, "You can have it."

If that's not surprising enough then when they get home they agree to tip the contents of their respective bags onto the table and share everything out equally.

I'm stunned, but delighted by this display of mutual generosity.  Everything goes into the sweetie jar and we agree on what can be eaten now. A small packet of sweets each. They go off to play. When they leave the room I find in my pocket a further packet of sweets that Sorrel had won in pass-the-parcel. I place it on the kitchen counter.

About ten minutes later it has gone.

"Girls!" I call, "Where is the packet of sweets that was on the counter?"

They make the most hopeless display of innocence I've ever seen. Over-protesting their ignorance of the packet of Gold Bears (I hadn't named the sweets); failing to meet my eye; trying really hard not to smile; Sorrel forgetting to wipe away the one sweet that had inexplicably stuck to her face.

"I want those sweets back here by the time I count to ten", I say. "ONE...."

Lulu's shoulders slump. "We can't," she sighs, "We ate them." And then brightening, "It was Sorrel's idea!"

Sorrel bursts into tears, goes over to the bin, gets out the empty sweetie wrapper and brings it to me, her head hung in shame as her tears drip onto the floor.

I explain, in a very serious tone, how disappointed I am in them both and how unacceptable it is to take things without asking. It's also unnecessary: I almost certainly would have given them the sweets if they'd asked.

Sorrel is very contrite. But Lulu makes one last stab at deflecting the bad feelings overwhelming her.

"WELL, IT'S YOUR FAULT!" She yells in my face.

I pick her up and carry her into the sitting room and close the door - just as I remember my father doing to me if my behaviour ever crossed the line.

"You are seven," I tell her, "That's old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. And what you have done is clearly wrong. I don't care whose fault you think it is. You know you've done the wrong thing and I want you to apologise for it."

Her face crumples as she realises that I am not only right but also that I obviously still love her regardless. She flings her arms around me and buries her head in my shoulder and sobs her "Sorries" into my now soggy neck.

Parties: they're no fun until someone cries.

Sunday, 11 March 2012

A Haircut To Remember

Parenthood provides many challenges and many surprises, not least of which is what your kids will - and will not  - put up with. I am taken aback therefore to find that Sorrel, having noisily refused to go to her dance class on Saturday morning is prepared to come to the barbers with me and to sit quietly whilst I get my hair cut.

I get my hair cut by a Turkish barber not far from the house. I've been going there since we moved to this part of town two and a half years ago. He knows me pretty well by now in the way that two men who spend half an hour saying nothing in each others company on the first Saturday of each month. 

The appearance of a well-known client accompanied by a blond angel child sparks an unusual degree of animation in my barber.

"Hello young lady! Are you having your hair cut today?"

Ever the flirt, Sorrel, shakes her head demurely and hops up on one of the benches with her book to wait.

As my hair is being cut I can see her looking at the pictures in the book she has brought with. Occasionally she glances up to see what I look like and to pass comment. The barber solicitously stops cutting whenever she speaks so I can hear her.

The sight of her sitting there reminds me of the time my father took me for a hair cut when I was about eight. I had long hair and he wasn't paying attention to what was happening. He was a GP in the age when they were paid rather less handsomely and still had to get up to visit well-known hypochondriacs in the middle of the night. Understandably he saw this trip as a rare opportunity to read the paper and smoke a contemplative pipe. Having received instructions to give me "a trim" I watched in horror as the barber gave me a fierce short back and sides. I was shy with grown-ups I didn't know too well and so I said nothing as my blond, curly hair tumbled to the floor. I gazed beseechingly at my Father's reflection but all I could see of him was a broadsheet with legs under a fragrant pall of smoke.

Today, however, I'm having my coarse grey hair cut in a similar fashion but this time through choice. And as it falls down the front of the black hairdressers bib I'm wearing I reflect on how much more grey there is every month. Catching Sorrel smiling at me in the mirror another, more recent memory pops up.

Sorrel has always been a dreadful sleeper and I can count on one hand the number of nights in the last four years that she has not disturbed us. Since she came out of her cot however the disturbance is not so great as she usually stumbles through and sneaks into our bed in the small hours.

So I am a little surprised one night about eighteen months ago to be woken by quiet weeping. I go though to her and find that she's been sick. This is a kid with long curly hair who likes to sleep on her back....

It is a scene of utter horror. Her hair is full of vomit. I lift her out of bed and carry her into the bathroom. Under the strong lights the true state of affairs becomes clear. We had eaten pineapple for tea and the sick is sticky and fibrous. She's thrown up but not immediately woken and has rolled on it so that it is thoroughly matted in.

The only option I can see is to use the shower attachment to rinse it out. By this time she's more awake and is becoming understandably distressed by her predicament. She hates the shower too so the crying becomes louder. I get her our of her pyjamas and start showering her. It's just not effective and now she's screaming.

Helen wakes and comes through. I explain the situation. We don't really have a choice: I have to cut the vomit out of her hair.

I have to take a moment here to describe Sorrel's hair. Lulu, her Mum, her Granny and her Aunt and her Cousin all have identical rich, thick, chocolate brown hair shot through with strands of copper and honey. Sorrel on the other hand has silky-fine blond hair with beautiful relaxed curls at the ends. We've never cut it so it's still technically her baby hair. It's also down to the middle of her back. She has golden eyes, little cubby cheeks and a rosebud of a mouth. She is unspeakably cute. But the hair? The hair is gorgeous.

So Helen sits on the toilet lid in her dressing gown helpfully weeping as I take the scissors and administer a severe bob to the equally tearful child.

When it's done she looks alarmingly different. But at least she's calmer. Helen however is visibly grief-stricken but she's holding it together for the child. I give Sorrel a final wipe down and Helen takes her off to sleep with us in our bed. I start to clear up the mess of hair and sick on the bathroom floor but as I do I hear Helen calling softly from next door. I pop my hear round the door and she says, "Do you think you could find a lock of her hair for me to keep?"

It's a small request but given the attempted rinsing it's hard to tell which strands are tainted and which escaped being chucked up on.

So there I am at three in the morning on all fours in the bathroom, picking up locks of my daughter's baby hair alternately sniffing and retching and then occasionally nodding in approval as I find one that doesn't honk of partially digested pineapple.

The things you do for love....