Saturday 27 July 2013

The Evening After The Morning Before

Is it normal to have actual chest pains at the thought of a fourth birthday party? This morning, as I was icing a cake and preparing the house for an influx of miniature people, I could actually feel something like a band squeezing my heart. It was pretty painful, but there was a silver lining - at least if I have to go to hospital, I thought, I won't have to supervise ten children in a small space who are all hopped up on way too much refined sugar. 

I do know, by the way, that it is theoretically possible to do a party without a huge amount of sugar, but frankly I'm not sure what the point of that would be. They can have carrot sticks any day, and if their birthday party isn't fun and different then why would I do it? I'm not putting myself through this pain for my own edification. Also - let's be honest - things like healthy snacks require both preparation and planning, and neither of those are my special gifts. Neither is any other kind of party planning. In fact, I'd say that insofar as this birthday party had a theme, it could best be summed up as  Denial. I recommend it, I think. The way it works is that you pretend your children aren't actually having a birthday, and refuse to discuss or think about any details of a party until about four days beforehand when you pick a time at random and then send frantic invitational texts to their friends' parents.

The advantages of this approach are obvious - the late notice means fewer children can come; you can honestly answer all those what are we doing for my birthday questions with a legitimate I don't know; and no paper invitations means that you make significant savings on postage. However, the downside is - well, the chest pains, as you frantically try to do about three weeks' worth of organising in a few hours.

"What are we going to actually do with these children?" I said to Jay, during the ten-minute planning session we had on Thursday.
Jay suggested that he take the children down to feed the ducks. We live about twenty metres away from the river and the Thames Path goes practically right by our house. Just in case you think that makes us fancy - our tiny house was originally built to house abbatoir workers, since the river was the most convenient site for that kind of activity (don't think about that too hard. I try not to).
"Okay, ducks," I said.
"Musical statues?" he suggested. "Or maybe What's the Time, Mister Wolf?"
"We don't have a big enough yard for that" I said (because it's true).
"I know," he said. "We can just play it on the path beside the river."
"Problem with that," I said, "is that ten kids will kind of block the path, and then half of them will get run over by cyclists."
"Well okay then," he said. "Not the actual path, in that case. Just the bit before you get to the actual path."
"You mean the street?" I asked.
"Yeah, I guess" he said. "We won't play there for very long".
"The way things are going," I said, "I think people are just going to remember this party as the one where Jay and Claudia encouraged everybody to play on the road. What else are we going to do with them?"
A long pause.
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe television?"

I really wish that at least one of us had some kind of aptitude for this sort of thing. I begged my friends at work for help, and one of them suggested - brilliantly - the idea of sitting all the children down at a table, giving them some plain biscuits (you know that means cookies, right?), a few bowls of icing and some sparkly sprinkles and standing back while they 'decorate'. I told Jay about this, and then we had an argument about party bags. He's anti. I'm not really pro, but I don't really see how they can be avoided when you have ten little faces looking at you expectantly.

"Party bags always seem to have: something sticky, something to choke on, and something that will stain. Surely we can manage that? " I said.
"It's the principle" he said. "It's just plastic junk. Children need to accept that not every party has party bags."
This didn't sit right with me, and a day or so later it hit me why: any sentence that starts with Children need to accept.... is going to end in floods of tears. I can't be doing with that. In the end, I won, and we prepared to send the children home with their dubiously iced biscuits and tiny toy cars that were absolutely exactly windpipe-sized.

The chest pains continued as I iced an octo-alert onto a bought cake, introducing the party's sub-theme: copyright violations. Half an hour before it started, I realised I'd left an important part of the snack menu in a friend's car.

Then the children came, and it was awful. The whole thing was awful. One little boy licked all of the doritos and Blue got in massive trouble from Jay for some unsanctioned sampling of the cake.

Do you know what though?

In a horrible way, it was also kind of fun. I'm sitting here, about ten hours after the party ended, still wearing my paper octonauts hat and remembering that Blue walked into the kitchen then and said OH WOW, LOOK AT MY CAKE! He wasn't judging my skilz at all. The whole thing was an MSG and sugar-fuelled disaster, but they loved it.

They loved it.

Roll on next year.

I think.

Thursday 18 July 2013

War Stories

So a friend of mine recently had a baby. (Shocking, I know). She had difficulty conceiving this time around, and during that time I was the person she turned to.

I was happy to be there for her (obviously; she's my friend). But then she got ready to actually have the baby and suddenly I was surplus to requirements. I have exactly zero useful advice about what to pack for that particular journey. And then it all happened and the baby (lovely, of course) was born and I remembered how weird things always get after that.

There's this ... ritual that groups of mothers always go through when someone comes back to the group after giving birth. You know the one I mean, right? I mean the so, what was your labour and birth like? ritual. It's like the so, show us your ring! engagement ritual, but with way more mucous and placentas.

It's always a strange word salad of body parts and intimacies. It always sounds sort of like:
"Well I was only four centimetres, but then I remembered that when I was at four centimetres with Rose, Dave had gone to get coffee and ..." and then someone breaks in with "... I was being pushed down the corridor in a wheelchair, screaming and begging for an epidural..."and then suddenly everyone is talking and it's all "Honestly, I had no idea meconium was going to be that colour" "and he's yelling 'Push!' and I'm saying 'I am pushing!'" and then someone always says something like "Well when I had Charlie, of course, I thought I was never going to be able to poop again" and then everyone goes mmmmm-hmmmmmm, mmmmmmmm-hmmmmmmm because they have heard this story so often that it's practically like they were there when Charlie's shiny wet head started crowning. Suddenly I know all about all of their lady parts and they're sharing all this incredible detail but I never volunteer any information about my lady parts, ever. After all, they aren't doing anything interesting.

It's a strange and one-sided intimacy, and I've realised that I'm tired of not knowing what to say when other women swap these labor-and-birth war stories. More than that - I don't even know what to do with my face. Am I supposed to look interested? Curious? Sympathetic? Repulsed? I know what all the words mean, obviously, but I don't have any first hand experience. I don't have these war stories. I'm not ever going to have these stories.

I do get it. get it. I get that it's a big thing (fwoaaahh, I think a person just came out of me!) and I get that there is a lot to process. And I know that it's an important bonding experience for women, to swap The head was HOW big? And it came out of WHERE? stuff, but it makes me feel distinctly un-bonded and lonely. This is the weird side of adoption - the bits of the fallout that have nothing to do with how I relate to my children, and everything to do with how I relate to my friends.

After all, I don't think there's anything more isolating than a universal experience that you're not a part of, is there?

Four years into adoptive parenting, and sometimes these feelings still take me by surprise.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

Twenty-Five Things I've Learned From Five Years Of Blogging

So Saturday was my blogoversary. Five years. Five years! It's been so much fun. Thanks so much for being here with me; it means more than I can say. Here's to the next five, right? (What a thought).

Anyway. I could reflect on the last five years, but I've already done that - see a) the archives and b) the book. And I generally try my hardest not to blog about blogging (see #8 below) but after five years of reading and writing blogs, I think I've earned this. So here goes, internet - here are my top 25 rules of blogging for fun and profit.