Today, I am burdened with the unenviable task of dismantling the decorations. The tree, the balloons, and the banners must all come down. Having a child’s birthday overlap with the last day of Christmas would motivate most people to rid the room of one lot before replacing them with another. Not us. For one day of the year, our house is such a staggeringly awful monument to kitsch, it qualifies us as contenders for a Channel 4 documentary. Better make that Channel 5, or, if the barrel is really being scraped… TV3.
Being middle-aged parents to a young child means we reminisce about the sketchy details of the labour and birth as though it happened fifty years ago and we were both really drunk at the time. Our indulgent game of This Time *insert relevant number here* Years Ago kicks off on the eve of her birthday. “This time three years ago, I was locked in the bathroom trying to shove a suppository up my arse that the midwife had fobbed me off with that morning”. Ah, nostalgia.
By noon on her birthday, we have already done a recap of Dad helping himself to a lengthy kip, the derision the birthing ball was greeted with, and the offer from the midwife to listen to Norah Jones when the pain was really revving up. The throat-cutting gesture I mimed in response tends to be more aggressive in the re-telling, which is only fair. Norah fucking Jones. The aural equivalent of knocking back half a Disprin with a glass of your own piss. I have vague recollections of the next bit. “This time three years ago, your Mum was doing her best Bernard Black impersonation to the Midwife called Rowena”. Or Roweeeeeeeeena, as I fondly knew her as.
My labour outtakes
“And not long after that, you arrived!” Before one of us quickly added… “And for a few seconds we thought you were a boy!”. At three years, she is already bored of her parents’ nauseating, heavily exclamation-marked story of her birth, so despairingly asks for another cookie. I stare into the middle-distance and think how mad it is that I’ll never get to go through childbirth again, before asking for the bill.
A series of appointments with her public awaited her back at Decorations R Us. Her farthest flung grandparents first since they’ve reached that age when they will only drive in day-light for fear of getting lost and not knowing who they’ll meet on the road. “You’ll never know who you’ll meet on the road”. There’s an oft repeated statement of fact. I began to wonder if it was my Father’s codified way of announcing “I’ve had enough of this child’s woeful attempts to play the harmonica. Let’s get the fuck outta here, Dear”. On second thoughts, he would never say Dear. I embrace the shift system as the new way to do birthday business.
A steady, yet manageable, stream of Aunties, Uncles, cousins, and the other set of Grandparents, dribble in and out till bedtime. Their generosity and thoughtfulness the perfect antidote to the New Year Comedown; the presence of her biggest fans a real reminder of our good fortune.
Forced to take just one breather in the kitchen, I was about to behead Olaf with the bread-knife when a neighbour sidled up to me with an update on her daughter’s brief encounter with a work colleague. If I recall rightly, I was in a similarly compromised position last year when she chose the moment to tell me of her own sexual conquests with a married man. “I hadn’t had sex in twenty years! I can tell you it’s quite something!”, she whisper-shouted before retreating to the living room to discuss the price of furniture in the local charity shop circuit with my Mother-In-Law. I wondered what’ll it be next year. Our girl will be four. Perish the thought of progress.
This time three years ago, I was alone in the midwife unit suite, cradling our newborn in the quiet before the silence was punctured by the swing of the door ushering in the first round of visitors. The tree stayed up for a further two weeks.