26 October 2009

My Little Boy is 4!

I’m not a perfectionist anymore.

I realised this on Saturday, in Morrisons, stood in front of disposable tablewears (Indicator No 1) last minute shopping (Indicator No 2) for Chickie’s fourth birthday party. One pack of perforated paper tablecloths were slung into my basket alongside non-matching paper napkins (Indicators No 3&4).

In 2007, preparing for Chickie’s second birthday party went something like this:

Two months prior, family members received ‘The Masterplan’ outlining the ‘creative vision’ and responsibilities.

Accountant – Runner
Sister – Make Up and Hair Design
Grandad – Set Design and Props
Grandpa – Sound and Lighting Technician
Nanna – Food and Beverage Manager
Grandma – Post Production Co-ordinator
Me – Creative Director

A homemade ‘Happy Birthday’ banner featuring three self-illustrated chicks in orange and yellow formed the central theme.

Co-ordinating invitations, an exact pantone match to the ‘Happy Birthday’ banner, were designed and circulated.

Chick balloons reinforced the theme and we all remember the look of relief on Grandad’s face (Set and Props) when he finally tracked down the only yellow and orange balloons with chicks on them in the Home Counties.

On the big day, the team gathered together at 0800 hours in the church hall for their motivational briefing. This was especially important for Mum (Food and Beverages) who never responded particularly well to the pressure, tending not to sleep or eat for the fortnight preceding the party. Giving her the additional responsibility of creating a three tier train cake with alternating orange and yellow chickie passengers had left her looking unwell. I nodded in my sister’s direction (Hair and Make Up) before pointing at our mother, who was muttering to a tray of ‘chick’ themed fairy cakes in the corner.

“If we can all just focus our attention back to the flipchart” I said, tapping my marker against the board.

Mum looked up with red-rimmed eyes.
“Right then, you clear on what’s to be done?”
Six beige faces stared back.
“Go, go, go!!!” I encouraged, shooing them off to be the best that they could be.

In the post-party de-briefing, Grandad came to realise that incorporating a pink balloon in the entrance decor was against everything the party stood for and clearly not on my diagram, and Accountant was enlightened on the fact that using a ripped piece of serviette as a ‘present table sign’ was grounds for divorce and almost compromised the entire project. Nanna was encouraged to practise her icing skills and Grandma to develop more initiative.

“But thanks for your help. Next year, we’ll make it even better” I concluded.

And we did. Nanna had colour in her cheeks. Grandad had sausage rolls in his. The balloons clashed with the party boxes, the invites had a typo, the cake was from Sainsbury’s and the only theme was mayhem.

In honour of the birthday boy, who has taught me that perfection is not for him!

19 October 2009

The White House

Stood before Lola’s playhouse in the garden, I listened as her mother (a new acquaintance) updated me on its recent refurbishment.
“We just put the carpet in” she explained, stroking the Laura Ashley curtains framing the windows.

I poked my head in. “The wallpaper’s lovely” I added, wondering what species of child she had and why she’d got one instead of me. I pictured Chickie’s playhouse at home, splattered with mud, decorated with dead spiders and mostly used as a giant footstool to scale the fence into next door’s garden.

“The three piece suite is lovely” I cooed, before closing the stable door on dreams of motherhood I’d once entertained.

“Perhaps Chick should play indoors?” I suggested as we walked back towards the house.

“It’ll be fine” she said, waving her hand in that way people do when they’ve no idea what they’re dealing with. Whilst she went to the kitchen to make some tea, I surveyed her living room with its white everything and toys in labelled boxes – ‘animals, dollies, miscellaneous’. I felt like I’d booked a chimp into Champneys. I looked into the garden to see him happily relocating decorative stones from her feature border to her drain.

A bolt of pure anxiety propelled me outside. Whilst continuing my chatty repartee with her, I did my best to sound like my cheek wasn’t pressed against her patio slab and my right arm wasn’t being used as a drain rod.

After a quick scrub down, I perched nervously atop the white leather sofa, resisting the urge to bite my nails as I watched Chickie enter the playhouse.

“Here we are” she trilled, appearing with a tray of French Fancies.

“Lovely” I said, smiling as my eyes crept over to Chickie’s grinning face peering back before he slowly shut the door. Gentle palpitations pattered across my chest.

As my friend ran through her interior design plans for Lola’s dollhouse, I realised this was a mother who had never had to cut her child’s fingernails off to gain access to the dirt underneath. She didn’t have to wash her sofa covers every fortnight. There were no teeth marks in her furniture. And I bet she’d never once had to hose Lola down before pre-school. We were parenting polar opposites.

“They’re playing so nicely” she remarked, nodding towards the playhouse which was now very, very quiet. In my experience, this was not a good sign.

“I’ll just check all’s well” I called back as I fled across the lawn.

And there was my son surrounded by the usual carnage. My friend gasped behind me. “I’m so sorry...” I whispered, tugging Lola out from under the sofa.

At nightfall, after re-categorising the toys according to purpose and colour, we returned to the home specifically tailored to suit our child. With washable paint on the walls, washable fabrics on the soft furnishings and nothing white in sight.

12 October 2009

Cat and Mouse

It was risky but, due to babysitter shortages, Chick was coming with me to meet the Headmistress of his potential new school. Before we left, I gave a short but inspirational ‘briefing’.

“You see these sweeties” I removed the jar of Percy Piglets from the shelf before wafting them around his nose. Chick inhaled, his pupils dilating with longing as he nodded emphatically.

“Well” I whispered, crouching down, “they can all be yours.” Now in a trance like state, Chick’s eyeballs never strayed from the piglets. “All you have to do is be SUPER good when we go to big school.”

He licked his lips. “Agreed then” I said, patting his head before bundling him into the car. On the way, I ran through some behavioural expectations.

“Remember manners. Don’t run. No squawking, roaring or spitfire impressions. Whatever mummy asks, do it quickly and quietly.” Chickie stared ahead.

“Your entire future depends on it” I added in a sinister whisper for dramatic emphasis. Confident that my four year old now understood the importance of the occasion, we trotted off, to meet Mrs Bewbush.

In my head, when imagining the introductions, Chick had been waiting, cross legged, whilst flicking through ‘GCSE Maths: Higher Level, The Revision Guide.’ What I hadn’t anticipated was that I’d be pulling him out by his legs from beneath a giant paper mache elephant.

“Let go of that carpet tile now!” I spat through gritted teeth, whilst turning around to smile sweetly at the Headmistress and the other families who were all waiting patiently for Chickie to release his grip.

Once retrieved, I whispered, “They’ll be no Percies now, Mister” before he scampered off down the corridor. And then nipped through an open door into the playground. Agog, I stared at the retreating silhouette I couldn’t quite believe was mine as it sprinted across the running track before disappearing. I apologised to Mrs Bewbush who continued her presentation as I took up pursuit.

“They’ll be no sweets, no aeroplanes, no playdates, no bike, no trains and no FUN!” I ranted at the child smirking at me as I pulled him back across the field towards the normal families. “Wait till I get you home” I jabbered on.

Later, at home, Chickie was distinctly unimpressed as I closed all his blinds and tucked him into bed at lunchtime. Ignoring his wails, I stomped downstairs to email his father.

Eventually, all that could be heard was the tv. Until the chuckling started. Curious, I checked his room, where he was no longer in residence. Nor was he in our room, or anywhere upstairs.

That’s because he was on the sofa – enjoying cartoons. Until I started chasing him around the living room, out into the garden and then back up into his bedroom - the Tom and Jerry theme tune, playing in the background.

05 October 2009

Street Wars

As I waited in the car park for my sister and our appointment to view the ‘out of catchment’ school of choice for Chickie, a sudden knock on the window almost made me wet my pants.

Two familiar faces peered in. Philip and Louisa from No 32. The perfect couple with above average everything.

They waited, all attractive and intelligent looking, whilst I clambered out of the car. After a posh double/triple kiss (the one where I never know which cheek to kiss first or the right number of kisses to apply and end up headbutting everyone), I casually asked, “What are you doing here?”

“We’ve got an appointment to see the school” Philip chimed. Drat - they lived at least 20 metres closer to the school than us.

“You’re both looking especially dapper” I commented, raising an eyebrow. Philip looked like he was wearing Armani and Louisa’s outfit seemed tightly based around the tones of his aqua pink twill stripe Windsor double cuff shirt.
“Yes, well I was wearing something very similar to what you’ve got on” she nodded at my woolly dress and leggings, “but Philip sent me back upstairs to change.”
“Yes, it’s very important to make the right impression, don’t you think?” he beamed.

At which point my sister over-revved her way into our lives before abandoning her giant car at an angle that effectively shut off emergency access to the school.

“Her boys used to come here” I explained as she started to weep as we made our way across to reception. “And she was so very active within the school” I added, smiling up at Philip sweetly as all the teachers rushed out to hug her.

After signing in, my sister and I took our seats across from the administrative team. Philip began to tut. “Oh dear, I think you’ll find it’s the 30th today, Liz” he said loudly, peering smugly over the visitors book at me. “Shall I correct your entry?” I glared at my sister who had told me it was the 29th.

When the Headmistress appeared, I resisted the urge to curtsey, and to stick my tongue out at Philip as she asked after my two nephews.

Then the tour began. Louisa and Philip powered through a list of Jeremy Paxman style questions including curriculum, funding and class sizes. I cooed over the shabby chic toilet cubicles.

“It’s all so tidy” commented Philip.
“Thank you” said the Headmistress.
“Yes, how is Meredith getting on with her destructive phase?” I asked Louisa.

“Have you heard about Chick’s ASBO?” Philip asked my sister.
I laughed along before mentioning how he got a special star for ‘Participation’ in his Sunday School last week.

Afterwards, when Philip had finalised their harvest festival donation arrangements, we walked back to our cars, before double kissing each other and racing each other back to our street.