You can only imagine how delighted I was the day I found out I was pregnant with you, only to realise with dismay after an hour or so that you would be born right in the thick of the festive season. It just seemed so unfair to me that you would celebrate your birthday and Christmas within a couple of weeks and then spend the rest of the year watching everybody else have parties and get presents while you had nothing to look forward to. I also worried that you and your special day would get lost amongst it all. Sure, it’s a nice time of year and there are twinkly lights and songs on every corner, but it always ends up so chaotic. There’s just so much to do, with lots going on, all that shopping and endless lists of stuff to organise. And somewhere in the middle of all this – there’s you, turning four.
This year, your birthday fell in the last week of term, just before family descended for the festivities, and through an unfortunate series of events it managed to surpass all predecessors in sheer craziness. Your birthday was a shambles. And all I can do is tell you how sorry I am that it turned out the way it did, but you just need to believe me when I tell you that it was meant to be the perfect birthday that you so completely deserve. But it wasn´t, and it wasn´t my fault. I blame it all on timing. I blame it all on December. And you´ll see that there really is no other explanation. Here´s how it went down:
Friday Afternoon: Jail time at the Christmas Fair
Dad and I are working at the school’s Christmas fair (bottle raffle and food hall respectively) so you are bunged in a classroom with a teaching assistant for the duration. We have five-minute visitations with you as we might have done had you been in prison, smuggling in provisions. I even manage to facilitate a jail break at one point and convince one of your friend’s mums to take you to sit on Santa’s knee, eat some candyfloss and stand in an endless queue for the bouncy castle. After that brush with freedom you are back in your cell, colouring in yuletide pictures while odd reindeer cartoons play on the whiteboard on an endless loop. Finally, Dad and I are done humping tables up and down the stairs and we find you inside a pet carrier with the adopt-a-kittens. And we have nearly done it, we’ve nearly escaped, when you tell me your tummy hurts, seconds before hurling bright pink candyfloss vomit all over the school corridor lino.
Friday Night: Puke-o-Rama
No need for details beyond the fact that I spend the night holding you over a bucket every hour or so while you bring up everything that passes your lips, even water, and I feel sad. I mean, of course I feel sad, watching your precious little body heaving away like that even when there is nothing left. But on this occasion I feel most sad because the next day is your new best friend Sophia’s birthday party and I know how much you have been looking forward to going and it looks like that is now completely out of the question.
Saturday Morning: Christmas Waits For No Man
Now, look, as I’ve already said, this is basically the week before Christmas and with family about to arrive and festivities soon to be underway, there just isn’t time for you to be ill. So, armed with a bag to be sick in you are bundled off into the Christmas shopping crowds where we lose your sister on an escalator, lose you in the linens department (all because we’re trying to buy you a Barbie in secret), then shove you in the seat of a trolley and haul you round a supermarket. Trembly, green and still unable to hold anything down, you gamely choose a gift for the birthday party you are so unlikely to make it to – not that you’ve accepted the fact yet. I make a deal with you – if you can hold down a piece of toast and some water then I’ll let you go to the party for an hour or so. Once we’re home you tackle your toast and, in typical fashion, in a triumph of mind over matter, it is the first thing that doesn’t come straight back up in almost twenty four hours and you are in your glad-rags and off to party in Puerto Banus.
Saturday Afternoon: (Almost) Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic
And I think we both let ourselves believe it is all going to be OK, right up until the moment that we walk through the door of Jack’s on the marina and you chuck all over the floor, right in the middle of the busy lunchtime crowd. I’m so mortified I hardly even hear your repeated assertions that you’re fine, you feel great etc as the waiters rush over with mops and buckets and tell us it’s OK and the party is upstairs. So up we go, sheepish and vomit-splashed, to where the party is in full swing and as you trot off completely happy into the throng, I’m thanking my lucky stars that we managed to have our ugly scene downstairs well out of harm’s way, when the hosts of the party explain to me that the restaurant actually belongs to them. In any case I try to relax while stealing looks at you jamming mini burgers, chips and nachos in your little mouth and trying not to imagine how they’ll look on their way back out. And my God you pull it round – eating, playing, even getting picked by the mad Russian magician to be his assistant in doing a pretty impressive trick that involves setting fire to something in order to make a live goldfish appear. Standing and watching while chatting with the other mums is pretty funny too – particularly when, within the space of five minutes, I am told by six separate mums how glad they are to meet me because apparently you are each of their daughters’ best friend. But this is you. You’re not as outgoing as your sister, you’re a slow burner, but once people fall under your spell, there’s not a lot they can do about it.
Saturday Night: Christmas Dos (and Don’ts)
Home, and after a sleepless night and crazy day, you and I are looking forward to our beds. But they are to prove elusive. Tonight is the school’s staff Christmas party, a pretty lavish affair happening at a hotel up the coast. So for me, it’s a quick shower, cover-up on my eyebags, dress and heels, and for you it’s welcoming a colleague’s kids for a sleepover. Your dad and I aren’t sure who wins out in this deal (I think it’s him) but either way I’m off up the coast in my LBD and he’s left attempting (and failing) to convince the four of you to watch The Polar Express. You don’t last the course for long, and apparently pass out on the sofa half an hour after I go, leaving the other three to bounce off the walls and give Dad the run-around late into the night, while I eat turkey and am deafened by a club singer doing ‘Love Is in the Air’ and variations thereupon until 2am.
Sunday: Frozen in Fuengirola
Although it’s still a day away, this is the day we have decided to celebrate your birthday with you, so first thing in the morning we wheel in your brand new bike to much delight and take it down to the park. You’re a bit tentative at first but it’s amazing how quickly you get the idea. All this time I’m already feeling pretty nauseous but it’s far more reassuring to put it down to a mild hangover than to let myself consider the other possibility (horrible winter vomiting bug that eventually cuts a swathe through everyone we know). Anyway we have tickets to the matinee, in English, of the big Christmas Disney movie, and you and your sister have been looking forward to seeing this celebration of sisterly love with all your hearts all advent (you have Frozen advent calendars). So we head off to Fuengirola, a town we’ve never been to before, and follow a completely fictional map to an imaginary cinema before nearly running a few people over, feeling like we’re in a pinball machine of narrow Spanish streets and finally finding a local who can give us the right directions. So it turns out, following a lot of sweat and stress and one-way systems, that the cinema is deep in the bowels of a gargantuan uber complex of a shopping centre where THE ENTIRE POPULATION OF SOUTHERN SPAIN is currently doing their Christmas shopping. This combined with the fact that we got lost and are therefore a bit late, renders our lunch plans impossible. So after agreeing to make do with popcorn we queue up (forever) to go into the cinema only to be turned away at the front because our tickets won’t scan. I am then sent to the back of yet another of the longest queues in the world to wait for the problem to be solved while you head to the scruffy looking concession stand and I ponder a bit more on my queasy stomach and banging headache, while talking myself out of having a bit of a cry. Anyway whatever, the film turns out to be good, and I seem to be able to ignore the clenching grip that is tightening in my stomach and it’s only once we’re back out in the foyer and your sister’s looking a little green around the gills and I’m feeling it that the wheels come off once and for all. Picture this: your sister and I jostling for space as we simultaneously hurl our popcorn down the cinema toilet, being steered by your dad through the endless surging crowds, gagging in the greasy cave of Burger King while begging for a paper bag to be sick in on the way, me bent double vomiting noisily in a busy car park while horrified shoppers look on aghast. And it doesn’t get much better at home. We can’t face dinner but we force ourselves to sit at the table so that we can do your cake and candles; regrettably we don’t even make it through the happy birthday song before your sister has to make a run to a bucket and so do I, leaving you alone with the abandoned camcorder, finishing off the song yourself and blowing your candles out against a background of puking noises. Happy birthday.
And yeah, guess what, Monday, your real birthday, wasn’t much better. We all went to work and school despite getting almost zero sleep, at a supermarket stop your dad’s laptop was stolen out of the car, and back at home we were greeted by a sea of sick-stained sheets, pyjamas, floors, buckets, you name it, which all had to be made presentable for the arrival of your grandfather and uncle the following morning.
Well, look, you get the picture. Proof if ever you needed it that life doesn’t always work out the way it does in Disney movies. You can plan the perfect birthday weekend and it can still descend into chaos, and vomit. And believe me it was supposed to be perfect, because you deserve nothing less. I want you to know how heartbroken I was that we weren’t able to show you how much we love you, because you are just such a joy to us every single day.
So,yeah, having your birthday at this time of year wasn’t part of the grand plan, but I guess if you hadn’t been born when you were you wouldn’t be you, and I wouldn’t change a single thing about you. Look, I’ll level with you – the truth is I was never the biggest fan of Christmas; I’ve been accused of being a Scrooge on more than one occasion. As I’ve said it’s so busy, so commercialised, there’s so much pressure to have a good time, so much danger of the whole thing being an anti-climax and descending into disharmony. But here’s the thing – all that changed on 16th December 2009, four years ago today, when I got the best Christmas present anyone ever had…and it was you.
Mi cielito lindo, I wish you the happiest of birthdays.
All my love, as always,