The best laid (birthday) plans …

Sunday 6 February 2022

February arrives, bringing birthday season to our house, as within very quick succession, my eldest waves goodbye to her teenage years and Small-boy turns sixteen.

My first-born celebrates away at Uni-land, which just leaves me to plan something momentous for my son. The first treat is his other sister, Prom-dress daughter, who pops home for the weekend and certainly raises a smile. We re-unite with a Friday Chinese and a movie before Saturday dawns; she head out to meet pals for a ‘bottomless brunch’ and my son and I spruce up the house. .. because ‘the boys’ are coming round.

Now I learned a very important ‘teenage party lesson’ several years ago when my eldest turned 18! (Coming of Age). And I am happy to share it with all fellow parents,

‘Make sure you go out for the evening!’

So by 7pm, with 6 nice teenage boys happily gathered round an x-box, the table piled high with fizzy drinks and a take-away pizza menu pinned to the notice board, I grab my coat and drive into town to meet a friend for a quick bite.

‘Sorted!’ I foolishly dare to think.

For, just as I raise a first fork-full of lentil and mushroom ragout to my mouth, my mobile buzzes into life; Prom-dress daughter.

Arghh mum! Got an email to say my train to Edinburgh is cancelled tomorrow…I am so stressed. Can you pick me up?”

What.. right now?’ I ask. We compromise on a 10pm ride home and I get back to my pasta. I do actually make it through some truly, delicious desserts before the dreaded mobile flashes again. This time it is the party-boy.

Hi Mum. We’ve decided to play a bit of basketball… just letting you know so that you don’t run us over when you get back!”

‘An odd choice on a cold, wet and wild February night’ I muse, plus ‘How bad do they think my night driving is?’

But I manage to push these thoughts away and finish the rest my meal in peace. And how I cling on desperately to the memory of that civilised adult company as, having collected Prom-dress daughter, the two of us head home. And what a sight greets us…

About nine teenage boys are now on my property. Clad in sleeveless baseball tops, soaked to the skin and brandishing basketballs, they seem to fill the kitchen, with noise, laughter and limbs – it’s like a scene from a Village People confederation! What, in the name of goodness, the neighbours made of it all, I can only imagine. Behind me I hear my daughter desperately trying to suppress a giggle as the slightly sheepish troop now shuffle back into the lounge so that we can make it to the kettle.

Armed with trusty cuppas, we retreat upstairs to re-book a train journey back to Scottish Uni-land and the boys regain their swagger. The noise level rises again, so do the occasional crashes and cheers and … it actually sounds like a whole lot of fun. Some go around midnight and a few stay over but I am done and descend into a speedy slumber …

Sunday arrives and I awake to find teenage boys straightening-up my house with military zeal – who knew? Sleeping bags are tightly rolled, bedding folded and rubbish re-cycled. Someone even offers me a morning coffee. They can certainly come again! Prom-dress daughter and I bid them a brief and slightly bleary-eyed fare-well as we hit the road for …Wigan! Yes, I wave my middle child off from a bleak and windswept platform in the land of the pie-eaters.

By the time I make it home, all is quiet and, at least until next year, party season is over once more. But I’ll confess, after the dreary Lockdown years, I did enjoy seeing the house full of life and laughter again. February gatherings; they might not always go quite to plan, but may just be the perfect way to see off the gloom of January and get the new year started…

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, albeit 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.

If 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 …

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!!