Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Grown up but still cute

So, God, my little Katy is six. 

Six, and very proud of her sixness. On the morning of her birthday she announced that she did indeed feel different. She had been concerned, she went on, that it might turn out slightly disappointing, like her fifth birthday last year when she realised that she didn't feel any different at all. I hadn't realised that she'd had a disappointing fifth birthday; her disappointment on the day manifested itself as excitement and delight, and so I am not going to worry about it. 

Daddy and I had festooned the house with Happy Birthday banners and her presents were arrayed on the kitchen table next to a house-sized helium balloon in the shape of a number 6. She'd picked out her birthday clothes, and mercifully her school decided not to celebrate World Book Day by insisting on dressing up as a favourite character because her chosen look was Grown Up But Still Cute. Her words.

She sported a badge telling the world that she was six, had on her lovely red and blue knitted dress with a big flower  and she went off to school the proudest, smiliest little girl in the world. My heart swelled as she waved bye bye, secure in the knowledge that the world was waiting to celebrate with her, and that she was indeed, grown up but still cute. 

As an extra-special treat, Bryan and I spent the morning tidying her desperately chaotic bedroom. For a child who is careful and painstaking in so many ways, she has a mental block when it comes to putting things away.

Around this age big sister Elizabeth decided that a tidy room was essential to her emotional wellbeing and these days is obsessive about a place for everything and everything in its place. She takes this to the extent that any new toys bought for them to share are quickly allocated a spot on Katy's floor, rather than upset the status quo in Lizzie's. So, when I go in to kiss Katy goodnight I sort of have to feel along the floor with my feet to avoid snapping antennae off aliens (now on Daddy's gluing pile) or setting off the siren on a fire engine (she didn't even wake up). 

It looked lovely. The sort of room that I would have loved when I was little. Bright, child-friendly accessories were rediscovered and colours that weren't invented when I was five. Katy came home from school and declared it her best present. She's played up there in her room ever since.


Meanwhile, back at party HQ, I shopped for party food. It always makes me wince, this twice-yearly trip to the supermarket in March and then again in June, where I approach the check out with a too-full basket full of treats and party-fare that has no nutritional value whatsoever. Still, there were grapes.  And cucumber. Ahem.

Party tea for family, more presents and cake and candles. Sausage rolls and chicken nuggets and popcorn and crisps and hula hoops on fingers and chocolate crispies and choruses of Happy Birthday. Oh, and grapes and cucumber. 

Lovely, lovely. It just was lovely. Katy went to bed saying that it was her best birthday ever, and she still had the party with her friends to look forward to on Saturday. I breathed a sigh of relief that today was Thursday and Friday stood like a blessed oasis of calm between today and Saturday. 

Saturday dawned bright and sunny in all the Enid Blyton books I've ever read, but this one was breathtakingly cold and wintry. Frosty morning, moving through drizzle into steady sleet by mid afternoon. I have never been to the bowling alley when it's not been raining, you know. How weird is that?  Is it some sort of sign?

Party morning was not my finest hour. Tired and overwhelmed at the prospect of all that needed doing. I still needed to shop for ingredients and bake buns for the Happy Birthday slot, put together twelve all important party bags while making a curry from scratch with my older daughter for a school project and chauffeuring Katy to swimming lessons. I found myself limping tearfully to the church coffee shop for vanilla lattes and a quick panicky offload and snivel to a friend who understood. It helped. Reassured and armed with coffee I went back into the fray.

It all got done.  I was ready. 

Ready as I'd ever be.

Twelve small children for a bowling party. Lots of background noise, a million kids' shoes to exchange for natty bowling shoes (what proportion of five year olds know their own shoe size?) and orders for party meal to be taken. Bowling screens to be programmed by our party helper who kept misplacing the list of names and panicking more than I was.

A has to be on the same team as B because they're best friends, but C can't be because she used to be best friends with A and isn't any more. D is from a different class so had better be with Katy so he feels involved but then that leaves E as the only boy on team Lizzie so best rethink that one. A to G have all bowled before, except C, who only watched her big brother. J has a poorly finger but hooray! It turned out to be on her non-dominant hand! Crisis averted. Turns out that all the kids who could bowl ended up on one team and all the delicate feminine young things were on the other. Hmm.

Elizabeth inadvertently took someone else's turn and scored a strike which was a reason for great delight until she discovered her mistake and then there was great gnashing of seven-year old teeth when the strike was recorded in someone else's column. I accidentally mixed up the names of two similarly solemn five year old girls and got them in the wrong order but no matter - they both scored six and so I breathed a sigh of relief.  We had highs and lows and now and again even managed to miss all ten pins despite the bumpers at the sides of the lane. 

I spent an hour cheering, high-fiving, feeling slightly embarrassed at having my high-five proposal ignored by disgruntled bowler (alright, it was a score of two, but still...) and perfecting the lunge onto one knee to be on a level with a small person. Almost without exception they found it hard to put three fingers in the bowling balls and instead tended to heft it two-handed down the lane with an almighty thump where it moved at a glacial pace towards the pins. I perfected the art of encouraging commentary:

'Great! It'll get there eventually!'

'Good shot. I think that ball might bounce off this side...then that side...yep, there it goes... then it might just glance off that bit and... look! You knocked one over!'

'Well.  Look at that. Would you believe it? Unlucky. Let's try again! We've got plenty of pins left!'

...and so on. My thighs were screaming at me by the end of that session from kneeling down and getting up again. I am not a lightweight person and a million lunges in the space of an hour without any training meant that when it came to the exodus to the cafe for tea my knees wobbled.

The following day I could barely stand and I still can't walk down a flight of steps without wincing. Of course, Katy is full of her new Wii 'Just Dance' game and trying to boogie away rhythmically to Boney M or Bob Marley without bending one's legs is quite a challenge, I'll tell you. Ever tried it?

So, food for twelve at a long table with balloons. Minor catastrophe when children found themselves seated next to the wrong person and Best Friends Forever were inadvertently placed adjacent to Previous Best Friends Forever. Some minor adjustments were necessary before chips could comfortably be consumed. Tomato ketchup was squirted on plates, juice distributed and mopped up. Coffee was drunk by some but I was already on to the next thing; I hastily arranged the slightly smudged buns (icing hadn't had time to dry) onto a plate and stabbed them with six candles. 

K-A-T-Y-6 spelled out in those little pink edible ball bearings that you can break a tooth on. Made a mental note to select one of the naked ones from the bottom row, should any survive. None did.

Happy birthday, dear Kay-teee, happy birthday to you.

She looked so made up at being the centre of attention. So delighted with her friends, with the ten-pin bowling (she got a strike! 'So. Did. I.' spat big sister, only Katy's strike counted towards her own score...). Delighted with her pile of freshly baked buns, with blowing out her candles for the second time - even if the little girl next to her did blow out the nearest three before she'd taken a breath. There's my little girl. All grown up and six. 

And then we were quickly into party bag and goodbye mode. Each bag painstakingly packed with cheap craft activities, sweets and small bun with icing unset. Lots of sweet prompted thank yous and goodbyes. And then it was just us. 

In the car on the way home, little sister smiled out of the window, cheeks bulging, with cake in one hand and chewy sweet in the other. Big sister negotiated the exchange of chewy sweets for the Kinder egg (don't do it, Katy! - ah, but how magnanimous...)  Mummy and Daddy planned feet up, takeaway and the early opening of a bottle of wine. 

So much to thank you for. So much.

That the children were so, so tired that night that they were asleep before our takeaway arrived.

For my gorgeous girls and the inexplicable fact that they're already six and seven years old.

That they are bright, funny and beautiful. That twelve children can come together in a noisy place and throw heavy objects down a runway and nobody was hurt. That it's been a day of generosity and fun and laughter, even if hard work.

That you have given me a love for my children that is so out-of-proportion huge that I will tidy rooms, buy balloons, wrap presents into the night, place little flowers in bud vases, bake last minute buns, put together dubious curries and over-use my long-forgotten quads just to make them smile.

Thank you that we can celebrate. We should celebrate! Just look at all we are blessed with. Thank you for all that we have, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually. Thank you for bowling balls and chicken nuggets (I think). Thank you for high fives and delicate little girls hopping from one leg to another in excitement. For Batman birthday cakes and candles.

Lord, most of all thank you for being there. For watching the bowling balls hit the pins and cheering or commiserating along with us. Thank you that you and the angels sang happy birthday to my little angel and smiled down at her with an infinite love that leaves mine standing, no matter how hard that is for me to understand.

Thank you that you're a God who likes parties. Who turned water into wine just because you didn't want to see the party finish prematurely. A God of joy and celebration. And what's not to celebrate?

Whether we're six, seven, forty, sixty, eighty. Life's to celebrate whenever we get the chance, and usually there's an opportunity if we open our eyes to it. How often I forget that and dwell on the difficulties and disasters when the banners are there to get out and pin up and Spring is on its way even if there's a cold, cold wind today. Katy comes home with a Clean Plate sticker from the lunchtime supervisor (that's a dinner lady to you and me) or Lizzie gets a Star of the Day award - we should celebrate! If I survive another children's party without my head exploding, we should celebrate!

We should blow up balloons just for the sake of letting them zoom round the room with a farting noise.

There's always the possibility of opening a bottle and raising a toast. There's always a reason somewhere.  Laughter and family and fun are worth celebrating as well as good school reports and the first daffodils and a pound or two less on the scales.

I'll let you know when we can do that last one. Don't hold your breath.

Until then, remind me often. When the helium balloon has drooped and Bryan has done the silly voice thing and the Happy Birthday banners are back in the cupboard, help me to celebrate the children, the weather, the fact that I get to wake up another day.

Celebrate that I know and am known by the God who placed the stars in their places, the One who calmed the storm.

Known by the God who knew me when I was just two cells on their way to meet each other.

The One who watches over me, loves me, forgives me, loves me some more.

The One who died for me.

Thank you for my six year old daughter who delights me.

Grown up but still cute. She makes me smile.

Thank you. 


  1. This is a lovely post, and a lovely record of Miss Katy's birthday :) Also, your encouraging bowling remarks made me giggle, very very similar to the things I say when we take the youth club kids bowling!!!!

    1. Thanks Lauren. You know it took until Thursday for my thigh muscles to forgive me for all that lunging. That's not good....

  2. Happy Birthday to your sweet girl! This brought back party memories by the bagful!

    1. Thank you Ginger. Was a good day. Exhausting, but good. And we'll do it all over again in some form or other in June. Phew.

  3. O Katy, You have no idea of course; probably won't have, until you are old and grey, but you have an amazing gift of a Mommy. One who loves you unconditionally (and delights in you)--that's the greatest gift--and one who can write. Wow! can she write!
    This is the most beautiful and moving birthday story I have read. It gathers up every emotion and carries us along on a rollercoaster ride of joy and pain and delight, gently putting us to rest in the Father's arms. Katy is going to LOVE this when she is older.
    Almost every paragraph begins with a stunning sentence that touches an emotion and compels us to read further.
    "Saturday dawned bright and sunny in all the Enid Blyton books I've ever read, but this one was breathtakingly cold and wintry." and
    "Party morning was not my finest hour." Just to mention two.
    Thank you for giving us such a treat and welcoming us into your family celebration.

  4. Oh, you made me cry. Thank you so much for these lovely words encouraging me on so many levels. It means an awful lot to me. Thank you.


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