Have party, have invitations, might have nervous breakdown

People like me shouldn’t throw parties. I’m far too fraught to be a host. But sadly if you want to make sure your kids will visit you in your twilight years then you need to throw a party for them every now and again.

Fortunately, Ray is miserable, like his father and me, (two negatives did not make a positive in his case) and he is satisfied with me taking him and his mates to the footy or the cinema. And up until now, Arnie and Mini had been content with family teas and shop-bought cake. Then, they started to go to different parties –  and they saw what was out there – and boom, Arnie was desperate for a “proper” party for his fifth birthday. Shiiittt.

Surprising, husband who has the social skills of a hedgehog agreed. “Yeah,” he said. “As long as the fuckers don’t come to our home and wreck it.”

So I got organised. I outsourced it, naturellement. I found a Venue, entertainer, and food. It worked out about £10 a head. That is important. Each child had better be good value. I decided on the magic number 12, which take away my own three kids, was nine guests.

“Who do you want to invite?” Arnie is in reception and since he didn’t go to the local play school, I hardly know a soul at the school.

Arnie didn’t know. He had no idea who his mates were. Not a scooby. I tried to remember everyone I had ever heard of. But the kids Arnie talks about most are those who have been under “the Black Cloud.” I only wanted kids from under “The Sunshine” at the party. (£10 a head, remember?!)

“How about Johny?”

“Yeah,” he said doubtfully.

“Stan?”

“I don’t like Stan.”

“Remy?”

“Yes.”

I sent out the invitations giving them three weeks to reply. Standard, so I thought. I made Arnie sign the card thus giving him much needed writing practice – boy, I was getting good at this parenting thing.

The next day, Arnie came home looking glum.

“Jennifer,” he said with doe-eyes. “Amelia. Arthur. Jack.”

“You want to invite them too?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you can’t. We’ve reached the limit.”

And that’s where it got complicated.

So I sent out nine invites. Did I hear back? Did I shit. Two, let us call them, two Sunshine parents, texted the next day. Yes, blah, blah, would be delighted to come.

The rest. Silence. Radio Silence.

Now, I suppose you are thinking, that’s no surprise, no one likes you, and you could be right, but these people didn’t even know me. Surely, you have to know me to not like me?

They might not like Arnie, and you could be right, but he’s quite a nice kid. If it were Mini, yeah, I’d understand, but Arnie’s pretty inoffensive, he has never, ever been under the black cloud and he did get seventeen Christmas cards which was more than the rest of the family put together.

The problem was I couldn’t be certain why they had not replied and indeed if they had not replied.

a. Did they even get the invites? They were merely stuffed into the book bag. Still, the teacher is quite on-it and the cards weren’t in bag. Surely, she did not bin them?

b. Did I write my own phone number incorrectly? Hmm unlikely.

c. Did they fail to copy my phone number into their phones? Possibly.

d. Are they just bastards at keeping in touch? Very likely. (Particularly Black Cloud Max’s mother.)

Fortunately, Private investigators managed to track down two mothers and I kettled them at the school gate, direct, bish, bash, bosh. “Are you coming or not?” Both were quite sheepish. “Oh, I thought I had replied.”

“Did you really?” I said, shining the torch in their eyes.

“Yes,” they said nervously. “Anyway, the answer is yes, please…blah blah would love to come.”

So we had four yes’s, but still that was only four out of the nine. I had paid £120 for this! So I gathered the c-list, friends of mine whose kids were approximately 5. Well, they ranged from 12 to 2, but that’s ok and I asked them to come. But that meant I still was in danger of going over the sacred twelve. Quelle horreur.

I blockaded one further parent at the school gate the Friday before, “Oh no, sorry,” she said, “Didn’t we let you know?” “No you didn’t.” “oh.”And on the morning of the party, two people sent texts. Nope, their kids weren’t coming. Worse, they proceeded to give me gumpfy excuses – involving grandparents and spa dates and the like. At this late date I didn’t bloody care. “Thank you,” I didn’t reply, “Had you let me known earlier I could have invited someone else.” (Which in fact I had done, but still…it’s the principle of the thing, dammit)

The party went well, Arnie and his friends, had a ball, and there were no major hiccups. Still, at pick up time, I was under my own black cloud of resentment still seething at the three late respondents and the two who had simply disappeared into the ether. Feckers.

As I complained to my sister, she asked me if I had let some mutual friends know whether I was coming to their engagement party or not.

“What? Oh well, I’ve been really busy organising this hoo-haa for Arnie.”

“You slack arse,” she said, cheerfully.

“Oh.”

So these have been my new years resolutions.

a. Always reply to invitations promptly

b. Never, ever, throw a party again.

The worst thing that ever happened at Soft Play

I’m a veteran of soft play. First conscripted in 2003 when Ray was three, I’ve been serving time ever since.  The noise is terrible. The food is invariably crap. That’s if the staff bother to serve you. Mostly, they just take your money and forget your order. Occasionally, a new Soft Play will open with high hopes and big dreams but they always end up the same: a fight on the inflatables, a poo in the ball park, verruccas back home.  Your kids are whining all the time and hating it until ten minutes before the end when they have a massive volte face, decide they love, love, love it and it takes forty minutes to get them out and get on their shoes. And don’t even mention a soft play birthday party, when twenty parents you’ve never met before, dump their kids, and you have to bounce over to every six year old firing plastic missiles out of a tube, “Alfie, are you having chicken or burger? Oh, you’re not Alfie, ok. Who are you?”

A few years ago, when Ray was about six and Arnie was just a scrunched up woodland creature in a car seat, I took them and Grandad to our local soft play experience that is ‘Kiddy’s Kingdom’. Unlike Farmer Franks and Monkey World, this place aspires to be nothing else than what it is: trad soft play. Expensive and crap. Grandad carried Arnie in and parked him under the table and we sent Ray off under orders to have fun. Ray wasn’t too keen that day. I’m not surprised. His co-soft players looked like little terrorists in training. They all had shaved heads and earrings. No one, but no one, was wearing socks. And that was just in the baby area.

I got Grandad a milk shake and the foam gave him a jovial pink moustache. I got some crisps and settled down with a newspaper. Soft Play is not so bad, I decided, when you’ve got someone to share it with, especially someone who gets up every few minutes to check the children still have their limbs intact.

“Where’s Ray?” Grandad kept asking anxiously, peering into the Soft Play gloom.

“Meh, don’t worry,” I said, meaning if you’re that bothered, go and look.  He did go and look, which was great of him, he had a bit of a bounce, then came back. “It’s alright,” he said, “Ray knows how to have a good time.”

Just then, his phone went. He answered and I could hear a woman’s voice. He walked off over to the yellow counter where the teenagers were busily ignoring customers from behind the deep fat fryer. I think, eh, what’s he doing?

He comes back. All cool I ask across the tarpaulin table, “Who was that then?”

“Oh,” he says, a little flustered. “Yvonne.”

“Who’s she.”

“A friend,” he says.

“She’s got a funny voice…” I say, fishing.

“She’s got no teeth,” he says cheerfully.

“Oh!” I am surprised. She didn’t sound old on the phone. “How old is she?”

“Mid thirties.” Bout my age?

“Oh. And she’s your friend?”

He smirked. “Kind of,”

“Wha-at?”

“Oh Ruth,” he said. “Don’t be such a prude. She’s very open minded” he added – Open-minded being something I couldn’t possibly be accused of. 

“She’d have to be!” I hissed. “Eurghhh.”

I don’t know what was more horrifying. The fact that his ‘friend’ was the same age as me, the fact that she had no teeth, the fact that she was, in quotes, open-minded – or the fact that he was telling me this, now, in Soft Play. I didn’t throw up – not that it would have made much difference to the general ambiance – but I wanted to. I was as unsteady as if I were dashing across the inflatables with a kid with a nose bleed under one arm and everyone’s shoes under another.

Then Ray came over crying. A big kid had pushed him over Jelly Mountain. Grandad was furious. “Where is this big kid?” but Ray said “It’s ok, Grandad.” He wanted some of my crisps.  “No,” I said furiously. I was fed up with everyone else having a bloody good time. “We’re going home. Where are your socks?”

So we left Kiddies Kingdom and I never, ever managed to go back.

Lovely little Bear

Little C,  still with his milk spots, puckered lips and just a hint of ventouse comes to visit.

One month old, he is my husband’s son’s son.

Are we used to being grandparents yet? Not really. We had been anticipating a pregnancy for two or three years, but still. When I tell people, their expressions remind me that it is unusual.

“You’re 42? Wow. You were a young father,” they say to husband.

“It wasn’t exactly planned,” husband says, encapsulating twenty difficult years of fatherhood first time around.

“Wow, it must be weird to be a Grandad.”

“Not as weird as it is to sleep with one,” I say.

It is weird. I went from geriatric mother to nana in two and a half years.

Husband -or Grandpa as he now is – is a natural with babies. He is employed to wind Little C. I watch him, rubbing little C’s back, the baby’s chin is cupped in husband’s big hands. I feel emotional. Our baby days are over. A jealousy that I’ve never felt before, sneaks up at me, at this baby that is not ours, but his.

Husband wants me to hold him. I’m not sure why. Maybe he is concerned that his son and his girlfriend will have noticed my reticence. This isn’t our first meeting, little C and I.  I have cooed at him in the hospital and I have taken one hundred photos of him at his home. And he has visited us once before, on boxing day, when I dashed for water to heat up his bottle and I have admired his outfits and collected some old outfits of Arnie’s, but I haven’t held him yet.

It is our fourth date – physical contact is long overdue.

I’m no baby whisperer. I prefer babies when they are less fragile, like when they are eleven or something. I don’t know what to do with them when they cry other than to offer them the breast.  And they always cry with me, I think they know I am scared of them.

When she was pregnant, step-son’s girlfriend asked what I would like to be called, and I said, “well, there are two other women in front of me, let them go first.” It looked like politeness but I think really, it was something else. Not an age thing but an unease. I was never really a living breathing ‘step-mother’. Husband and I met when step-son was fifteen. He didn’t live with us and he didn’t need an extra mother. But now, I’m a step-grandma. And I am just emerging from the nappy and milky way of life with my own children, that I don’t think I have the capacity to do all that for someone else’s baby.

I sit carefully on the sofa and arrange myself first – like you do when you are preparing young children for their first hold – and then carefully, reverentially, husband passes me Little C. His Grandson. His blood. I mustn’t drop him. I feel this more strongly even than I did with my own babies. Little C stares at me and I stare back into his dark blue eyes and wonder what he sees.

He is lovely, little C, little fat mittens, waving and scratching out the past and giving us hope for the future.

A Broken Nail and A First Marriage

The consultant examines Ray’s fingernail.

“I’m going to have to take it off,” he says. “I’m unhappy doing it, because it looks like a good nail, a young nail, but it’s split right down the middle here, and if I don’t get it out the infection will get worse.”

“Do it,” I say as Ray gulps and shuts his eyes.

*

This is what happened. Two days ago, Ray got home from school. “My finger hurts.”

“Did you have lunch?”

“Ow, it really hurts.”

“What happened?” I asked grudgingly.

“Don’t remember,” he said. “Maybe I banged it on the locker.”
I gave the finger a cursory look, and handed him some ibuprofen.

By eight that evening, the kid was in agony. I was still inclined to “let it sort itself out”, a medical philosophy that has failed me on a number of times – but husband, being the more proactive one, said “you had better get to A and E.”

And so commenced the night of the short nails.

As usual, A and E was packed with people who appeared radiant and in rude health.  There was this one guy who kept looking at us and it turned out he was the dad of Ray’s school friend. It’s rude to ask “what are you doing here?” but I did so anyway, and he too appeared to be suffering a problem that was neither accident nor emergency, but hey.

After about two hours, I called Ray’s dad. I was thinking, he has a right to know. If this was happening on a night Ray was with him, then I’d want to know. I was also thinking, I’m bored. I wonder, if he comes, will I be able to go home?

If he was not entirely delighted at my nine o’clock call, then he did not bother to conceal it. Not at all.

“At the hospital? For a finger nail?”

“My thoughts entirely,” I smirked. “But it looks quite painful.” I added. By now, Ray was writhing around, squirming in his seat, and asking for milkshake.

“Well, it might be broken,” I exaggerated to up the ante. “We need an x-ray!”

At half past ten, Ray’s Dad came along with a flask of tea and some rice-cakes. The tea was great but the rice-cakes were disappointing. Ray got x-rayed, his finger was not broken, however, it was a ball of diabolical green puss. A Doctor drained it, that is, she stuck a pin in it, and loads of stuff oozed out, and we made an appointment for the consultant the following day.

“Thanks for coming,” I said to Ray’s dad.

“No worries,” he said and disappeared into the night.

*

First, they freeze Ray’s finger, then when its swollen up, they get out the instruments of torture. I become like a performing chimp in front of a Doctor, any Doctor.  I can’t help myself. “Ooh, do you think you’ll be able to play the piano now?”

The nail is leveraged off. Its as violent as it sounds and there is blood everywhere.

“Will it grow back?”

The consultant shrugs. “50-50?”

Ray is in shock. After the ‘amputation’, I text his dad and he replies. “Poor thing. Give him lots of love from me and S.”

Once upon a time, Ray’s Dad and I were split down the middle, and in pain.  The marriage had to end and new, hopefully strong, relationships have grown in its place.   As we walk to the hospital car-park, I put my arm around my beautiful, if nail-less son and feel lucky for our ‘broken family’.