Preschooler Party Postscript: 2013 365 Challenge #265

Birthday boy covered in chalk (post party)

Birthday boy covered in chalk (post party)

Phew, we survived.

The son’s third birthday party was neither a terrible failure nor a resounding success, but it’s done. All the things I worried about – was there enough fruit, did everyone like pizza – were irrelevant, as none of the children ate anything.

Only a couple of the scones and blueberry muffins I made this morning for the parents were eaten, but as mine and hubbie’s parents all turned up as the party was finishing they all went to a good home. (My Devonian Step-dad pointed out we’d bought double cream instead of clotted cream by mistake, but we were forgiven.)

The person who suffered most today was my daughter who, despite our best efforts to include her by giving her a gift of her own, letting her invite a friend to the party, and her even winning pin the tail on the shark (by virtue of being one of only three who would take part) she spent the day feeling left out.

Pin the tail on the shark

Pin the tail on the shark

I suspect by left out she meant not receiving enough gifts, despite our son’s pressies mostly being books, clothes or other practical things like a lunch box, duvet cover and wellies. When she had her last birthday we wrapped up half the playroom for our son and he still spent the day in tears. We hoped a four year old would care less than a two year old but we were wrong.

My mum had the right idea: she had two girls with birthdays only a week apart. Joint parties, joint birthdays, problem solved. Ah well, life isn’t about what’s easy. And at least I have another three months until Christmas and four months until I have to paint another ‘pin the tail’ poster. Do they still pin tails at five? Maybe we could take them all ice skating instead!

I get to go to someone else’s kid’s party tomorrow and let them do the worrying. Bliss.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog: 


“Aren’t you going on the Speights tour? You’re on the bus, right?”

Claire looked up at the woman who had spoken and recognised her as the person who had checked her in earlier, although she hadn’t noticed then that she spoke with an English accent. Now it felt like a raft in a choppy sea.

“No, I’m not really a beer person. Besides, I’ve had my fill of touristy things.”

“You went on the wildlife tour today, though? That’s a tourist attraction.” She smiled and Claire swallowed her defensive response.

“I suppose so. But it’s real. Oh, I can’t really explain it, but at least the animals are native to this country and in their natural habitat. Not like Puzzling World or the luge or any of the dozen other ways I’ve been convinced to spend my money this trip.”

The woman leant against the wall and dried her hands on the tea towel she was holding. Claire realised she must have been washing up in the small hostel kitchen, and wondered if she’d left any pots out unwashed. She hadn’t really thought about the people that ran the hostels before.

“I think some of those things are the real New Zealand too, you know.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Kiwis love doing anything that makes the pulse race. Jumping in the sea in the middle of winter, or throwing themselves off bridges. They’re a hardy bunch and they like to prove it.”

Claire thought about her words, and her tone of voice: she sounded like an indulgent parent talking about the antics of her adorable but naughty children. “You live here now, then? Or are you travelling through?”

The girl smiled, and her face softened. “I live here now. I married a Kiwi last year. We met on the bus, though, so I’ve seen both sides of the country.”

Claire opened her mouth to ask if her husband was a driver, remembering the lewd phrase Mitch had taught her, and that she’d thrown at Neal. Something of her thoughts must have shown in her expression, because the woman laughed.

“Yes, I was a DAF. Don’t judge me for that! I did several circuits with him, before getting a job in Nelson and seeing him only when he travelled through. It’s not as glamorous as it sounds. Or as sordid. He works here now: he took you on your tour today.”

Claire thought back to the man who had shown her the sea lions and penguins that afternoon. She couldn’t imagine him with this gentle woman.

I guess it takes all sorts.

After a moment of silence, the girl pushed herself away from the wall. “So, what are you doing this evening? There are some great bars in Dunedin, if you head down to the Octagon. You’re welcome to come with us, we’re going out for a glass or two after work.”

Claire raised her eyebrows, and considered the offer. “Wouldn’t I be intruding?”

“No, of course not. Half the people who come with us are Europeans, working in the town or passing through. You’ll be fine. Come and see the real New Zealand if you like.”


Claire looked around at the gathered group of people in the small, dark bar. The woman from reception, whose name was Sally, was chatting to a group of girls of various ages and nationalities. Laughter echoed from the group, although Claire could tell at least two of the group didn’t speak good English.

In some ways it was no different to her nights with the rest of the tour group, although the average age was much higher and the amount of alcohol consumed significantly less.

Cupping her hands around the small glass of beer that had been poured from the jug in the middle of the table, Claire was content to sit and let the conversation wash over her. Even though she didn’t know anyone present, there was a real sense of camaraderie that Claire hadn’t felt for some time, if ever. For the first time in weeks she could understand why people chose to emigrate half way round the world to live in this place.


Pin the Tail on the Zebra and 2013 365 Challenge #25

I'm rather proud of my Pin the Tail on the Zebra

I’m rather proud of my Pin the Tail on the Zebra

Today my husband and I have been getting ready for the party. He has been decluttering (his area of expertise) while I spent three hours painting a zebra for Pin the Tail on the Zebra. We’ve still got palm trees to assemble and craft to prepare and the party date is looming. Today was the last child-free day between now and Sunday: I foresee busy nights ahead.

The kids and I shredded crêpe paper into hanging vines yesterday and chose a Monkey cake, zebras not being available. My daughter is having her Zebra/Jungle party despite my early misgivings.

Husband and I worry that we spoil the children by giving them exactly what they want. From the little things like choosing their breakfast and dinner, through the middle-sized choices of where to go everyday (zoo, farm, coffee shop tending to be the options) right to the big decisions of what colour scooter to get for Christmas.

Crepe paper vines and my Dad's old zebra blanket (I knew we kept it for a reason)

Crepe paper vines and my Dad’s old zebra blanket (I knew we kept it for a reason)

We’re easy-going people, my husband and I, and like a quiet life. So it doesn’t matter to us if the kids are in charge. It might matter to them though. My daughter starts school in September and I’m worried she will struggle with being told what to do, where to go and how to dress five days out of seven.

Don’t get me wrong, we are parents. They go to bed (more or less) when they’re told, they wear (more or less) what we want them to and two or three days a week they go to nursery. That’s a given. On the plus side they are really good at choosing and negotiating. In terms of choice both children can pick a meal off a menu, select clothes from a full drawer or decide which cake they want without long deliberations or fuss.

I can’t. I’m useless at making decisions.

And their negotiating skills are legendary. The answer to “would you like a cookie?” is always, “two?” My youngest could count to two before he was 18 months old, particularly if it was two rice cakes or two breadsticks.

I have to keep reminding myself all these things add character and, in today’s world, a bit of stubbornness and knowing your own mind is a good thing. I’m just not looking forward to the day when the choices are between tattoos, piercings or which tiny skirt to wear (that goes for both of them: my son chose to wear blue nail-varnish and pink heels to nursery today. I did veto the dress.) In the meantime I’m just glad to have an excuse to paint.


Claire shuffled deeper into the corner of the brown leather sofa and tried to get comfortable. The book on her lap remained closed. Her iPad was in the tiny room she had hired for the night. There was no signal in the hostel so she had the perfect excuse not to update her blog or Facebook account.

Silence blanketed the deserted building. Claire had arrived just as the lady who ran the B&B with her husband left to take some hikers up to the Pennine Way.

“Who hikes in this weather?” Claire had asked and had received a withering glance in reply from one of the passengers.

“Excuse me!” Claire had responded, too quiet to be audible.

It turned out that plenty of people wanted to stomp around in the snow. Everyone staying at Byrness Hostel to be exact. The host lady had explained that they would be back for dinner so she wouldn’t be lonely for long.

Lonely? Ha. This is bliss. Claire looked around the empty room and stifled a sigh. Okay, more boring than blissful. She felt guilty even thinking the word boring. Her mother’s words to her and her siblings when they were growing up echoed in her head:

“Only stupid people get bored,” she would say. “You have the capacity to entertain yourselves, to read a book, play the piano, invent a song, game or story. Your genetic code is embedded with the facilities to not be bored. Use them.”

Claire looked down at the romance she’d bought at the second hand book store. It was so happy it made her miserable. Her brain seemed to be empty of ideas and there was no piano.

 I guess I’m an embarrassment to my blood. Either that or I was adopted. Maybe that’s why mum hates me.

Claire looked round the room for inspiration and spied the Visitors Book.

Maybe I should read it, try and understand what draws people to this nomadic life.

The comments were mostly vague, complimenting the accommodation, the hosts, the food, the views and the hikes. She flicked the pages looking for something that might stand out. She had almost given up finding anything interesting when a lead weight dropped into her stomach as she saw handwriting she knew. Familiar sloping characters with curly fs looped gs. Writing she had last seen on a Christmas card inscribing the words Dear Claire, with all my love.

She looked at the date on the entry and tried to work out whether it was before they got together. Without really needing to, Claire checked the diary in her phone.

That was only a week or two before we met.

She swallowed, thinking she ought to get a glass of water. The central heating must be drying my throat out. Her heart beat loudly as she read Michael’s review. It was several lines long, written in small, cramped words. How thorough. So very Michael. She read through his views on the Pennine Way, the charming hosts and the wholesome food. His words were balanced and fair and Claire could hear them in Michael’s rich voice. The final line grabbed her guts and gave a twist. Debbie and I very much enjoyed our stay. The room was extremely comfortable and the company delightful.

A growling noise echoed loudly in the silent room, making Claire jump. She realised with a start that she was making the noise, deep in her throat. Debbie. His darling ex.

I wonder why he left her. Sweet, delightful Debbie.

Michael was recently separated from Debbie when Claire first met him. They had parted amicably, so Michael said, agreeing that they didn’t suit. I wonder if he went back to Debbie, when… She couldn’t finish the thought. Unwelcome images of the last time she saw Michael swamped her over-wrought emotions and dragged tears from her eyes.

Claire slapped the book shut and shoved it back on the shelf before clumping to the kettle to make tea. I wonder what room they slept in. She looked around the doors, her skin prickling. Did she love hiking and all things outdoors? Did she always make it to dinner engagements and remember to call when she promised? Did she want kids?

The thoughts clattered loudly in Claire’s quiet brain until she thought she might lose her sanity to the sound.

How do people bear all this damn silence?