Turning 18…

Sunday 8 August 2021

This week Prom-dress daughter turns 18 … and, for the first time in quite a while, I wobble …

I don’t actually think it’s the birthday weekend itself. Celebrations, that start with a lovely family meal in a city restaurant and quickly become more raucous and merry as relatives give way to friends, fizzy wine and a hot tub in the garden, seem fun. Seem joyful. Seem happy.

I don’t actually think it’s the milestone either. Yes my middle child is now officially an ‘adult’ and, after 18 month of lockdown restrictions in this North West town, is more than ready to head out into town, brandishing her ID to make the most of newly re-opened bars and venues. But, let’s face, that’s just the fun part of being a grown-up. I am sure that I shall be parenting, financing, providing support and guidance … and being taken for granted for a few more years yet.

I start to feel emotional when I turn the clock back 18 years, to the traumatic days of her birth and think about that first week of life on NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit). Although the experience, so far removed from the joyous picture you have of giving birth and bringing your new child home, adopts a surreal dream-like quality, certain moments and phrases still dance around my head, with chilling clarity, to this day,

come through to the family room, the consultant will be free to discuss this with you shortly”

” a number of seizures…. loss of oxygen to the brain”

“the next 48 hours will be critical…”

But, you meet some truly inspiring people in the NICU community. Heroic parents who have battled for weeks by the sides of those incubators … and never complain. Instead they wrap you, the dazed newcomer, in their love, support and camaraderie. The doctors and nurses, who so quickly learn your name, as well as your child’s, and take time to care and communicate, so that you feel like a person who matters and not just another patient on a lengthy list. And Prom-dress daughter herself, such an incredible little bundle of fight and fury that we only stayed for a week before being discharged, with a few more tubes, dressings and needle marks than the typical newborn, into outpatient care.

It is in this context that look at her now. She did make it through the next 48 hours; she made it through the 2 years of neurological check-ups and testing, … she made it to 18 and a brilliant 18. If I stop to think… it feels a little overwhelming. But, she is an August birthday and with examination results out next week, I also know that I may not have too much time to dwell. Praying that she gets the grades she needs, in less than a month Prom-dress daughter will be off to Uni. As my middle child, she is naturally the buddy of choice to each of the other two and they both adore her. She is a unique mix: super high maintenance but warm, accepting, funny and incredibly smart. We sometimes call her the heart beat of our household and suddenly I know why I’m wobbling. The 18th birthday has started the clock ticking down to the time when she sets out to make her own way in the world. She is definitely ready; I am just not sure that I am prepared to let my little ‘incu-baby’ go …

Birthday blues

Sunday 7 February 2021

The balloons and banners in the lounge look cheerful enough, as the February calendar counts down to our ‘double-birthday’ week. But, for the first time since Small Boy surfaced in the birthing pool, 15 years ago, only one of the birthday duo is here to celebrate. My eldest marks the start of her final teenage year away from home at Uni.

We send packages. We write cards. We even manage a cake. My daughter face-times around noon, a picture of smiles to show off her gifts and take us on a guided tour of the decorated student kitchen. But as her lovely face fades from the screen, the mood falls a little flat and blue for the rest of us. I think it is the first day, since she headed off to Higher Education in the Autumn, that being three and not four just doesn’t feel right; just doesn’t feel as good; just feels a little sad.

Birthdays! Family landmarks indeed, with long shared and much loved traditions. Maybe that’s why they stir the emotions like no other day in the 365. I do remember, in the first year after I lost my father, it was actually not his birthday when I wobbled, but mine. The arrival of my special day with no card from my dad, no flamboyant ink-penned message, no familiar voice on the phone, it was a moment to feel his loss more deeply than at other times.

A year ago, my home was being invaded by 18 years olds, with bottles and music, shrieks and laughter. 10 years ago it was: birthday sleep-overs, soft-play centres, roller-rinks, pass the parcel and pinatas. 45 years ago, ‘murder in the dark’, cake, jelly and my elder brother bring hauled out for burying his face in the crisp bowl! Yes we did it all and thank goodness we did! Because the years do go quickly and there is no turning the clock back. I’ll pull myself together in a moment, but for the next half hour I think it’s okay to think back and miss all of it … quite a lot …

….

Coming of age…

Friday 7 February 2020

This week is double birthday week in our house. Small boy careers further through his teenage years and my eldest turns 18…

As 18 is a landmark birthday, I agree to a small gathering. We stock up on snacks and festoon the house with balloons, banners and bunting. And, at 7:30 pm sharp, the house is invaded by about fifteen sixth-formers, brandishing bottles of booze and alive with youth, energy and party spirit. They are delightfully polite but as the music strikes up and my careful array of plastic glasses is cast aside, in favour of larger beakers and…just glugging it from the bottle, I sense that I am pretty irrelevant. I resolve to ‘leave them to it’ and retreat, to hole myself up in the dingy den inhabited by Small boy and his xbox .

By 8:30 pm, it already feels like an endless siege. The noise is incredible. There’s singing. There’s shrieking. There’s laughter. There’s …. my hoover…? Small boy, racing to take up sentry duty at the door, reports a sighting of ‘Vanish Carpet Cleaner’ disappearing into the lounge. I crave a large whiskey, but I have work in the morning and force myself to swig on a Diet Coke instead.

I make a half-hearted effort to persuade Small boy that ‘Netflix with Mum’ could be as much fun as gaming with his mates, but he is unimpressed. Accepting (inevitable) defeat, I balance my lap top in one hand, my coke in the other and head upstairs. Prom dress daughter, looking calm and unperturbed, is plugged into her phone and writing an essay. I decide to get on with a bit of work too. At least it’s productive… if not quiet. Endless troops of teens giggle and gaggle their way in and out of the bathroom and at one point a party goer, who has got drink all over her hair, pops tipsily in to ask for a hair dryer!

At 10-ish, I pack Small boy off to bed and am tuning my radio into Question Time when he bobs excitedly back into my room.

“Mum …. did you hear that? Something’s smashed!”

We venture down together to find the merry bunch sweeping (and hoovering) up the remains of one of my glass bowls.

“Mum!” slurs my eldest affectionately, “Don’t worry we are all ok!”

As no-one is actually injured, and my hoover is clearly having a night to remember, we wish them all lots of fun and head for bed.

And that’s the last I hear as weariness takes over and, in the middle of a BBC debate about Tracy Brabin’s off-the-shoulder jumper, I drift off to sleep.

In the morning … all is quiet … all is tidy… all partying is over. And, as I set off to work, I know I have learned a valuable lesson. When Prom dress daughter turns 18, I am going out for the evening!!

Birthday Season!

Saturday 9 February 2019

The Birthday Duo – many years ago!


Oh dear, it’s been a truly, terrible week and I’ve spent much of it feeling like the worst parent on the planet. My head has been overloaded with deadlines and difficult decisions at work, and overloaded at home with demands for my time, the mum taxi and my wallet. My body is exhausted with day-in day-out drudgery. If only my big mouth could have been too weary to make an appearance this week. But alas no, feeling the stress, it has been guilty of firing out stupid, and at time awful, comments at the people I work with and live with. With horrendously bad timing, this has hit Birthday Week for two of my children and so, in move to drag myself away from the whirlpool of gloom that is threatening to submerge me, I have decided to concentrate on them, worry about everything else later. So here is a paragraph about each of my Birthday duo.

I’ll start with ‘Small Boy’ my youngest, but tallest child who continued to march through the teenage years this week. Described by one teacher, at a recent Parent’s Evening, as ‘remarkable’, he really is a remarkable bundle of creativity.  He tootles away for hours on the piano my mum gave us, re-creating and then rearranging his favourite rock and pop tunes, he’s just teaching himself the guitar and already does a brilliant rendition of Phoebe‘s ‘Smelly Cat’  (from Friends) and his writing is so amazing, I once accused him of copying his English homework from a published novel!  He’s witty, he’s clever, he’s unbelievably good company. More importantly he is also incredibly kind and thoughtful, gets spiders out of rooms, takes his Nana on day’s out, always gives money to people begging on the streets and once called the RSPCA to rescue an injured bird in the garden. He also does an amazing job of coping, as the lone man,  in our home of females. We may all shout  ‘Shut the door!‘ whenever music from the piano or his latest vinyl starts to fill the house, but the truth is ‘Small Boy’ rocks our world!

My eldest child also celebrated her Birthday this week. She is an unstoppable force who just takes our breath away. When my girl sets her sights on a goal, her drive, determination and discipline kick in and she grafts her way to glory!  But, while we all marvel at her achievements, we all love her because she is just beautiful on the inside and out. Day to day, she quietly tries to make my life easier by doing jobs around the house, but in a crisis, such as the time Small Boy cut his eye open and I passed out, or the time I forgot to collect him from the school Panto, she just takes over and completely comes into her own. When the chips are down, there’s simply no-one alive I’d rather have by my side. We may all groan as she launches into her latest scientific fact at mealtimes, gets potassium into a game of I-spy, or insists on sharing a pack of Smarties into equally coloured as well as equally sized portions, but the truth is she is our oxygen, our carbon, our hydrogen, our nitrogen, she is the essential element in our lives and we would not survive without her.

Well…. that was good therapy as it goes!  I feel much better and thinking about how wonderful and unique all three of my children are,  I conclude that whilst there are many better in this world, I am possibly not the worst parent on the planet after all.  Hopefully by Monday I might even be up for ‘Smashing’ this single parent life again…