Post Party Blues and 2013 365 Challenge Day #28

The Jungle Party was a success

The Jungle Party was a success

Everyone is sad and jaded this morning. Husband has a second-interview tomorrow and no energy to spend on learning his competency-based answers. I’m behind on my post and can’t keep my eyes open, and I left two crying children at nursery which always breaks my heart a little bit.

I phoned ten minutes later to check they’re okay and Amber had been let into her brother’s room to give him a cuddle. I love that they look out for each other and are a comfort to each other. I must work hard today to make up for their sadness. I do wonder how my daughter will cope with going to school every day in September. She does so love being at home, particularly since Daddy has been home too. Let’s hope his interview goes well.

Party Girl in the Zebra mask she made as part of the craft activity

Party Girl in the Zebra mask she made as part of the craft activity

The party was amazing but we were all exhausted afterwards. The only problem with having it in the morning was surviving until bedtime. And my daughter’s birthday isn’t actually until tomorrow so there are still visits from grandparents and more gifts to come. It’s overwhelming for children even though we’ve tried to keep it as calm as possible. It’s tough on the little one, too, as he doesn’t really understand the gifts aren’t for him. Especially so close to Christmas when they both got presents. So I’m going to get him a little something today so he has a toy to play with tomorrow.

The tightrope walk of parenthood!

My daughter told me this morning (after I lost my temper at their constant whining about not wanting to go to nursery) that she wanted a different Mummy rather than me. Husband was horrified:

“Mummy gave you an amazing party this weekend, aren’t you grateful for that?”

I just shrugged and said, “But that’s my job.”

The Jungle Party Room

The Jungle Party Room

If she doesn’t hate me from time to time I’m probably not doing my job properly. I love her, I want her to be happy but I also want her to grow up knowing the balance between times when she is the centre of everything and times when the world gets on and she must fit in.

I want to be her friend but first and foremost I’m her Mum. The two are not always the same thing.

Anyway, I’m late with the post because I had no words by bedtime last night. I have twelve minutes to post pictures and write something about Claire. Might be a bit of 200-word flash fiction today. I’ve been reading some great Flash Fiction over on the Apprentice, Never Master blog and it’s a skill I don’t currently have.

And then I have to make a dozen Valentines Day cards for the Gallery, buy Amber a gift from her brother, wrap all the presents and make dinner for Grandad’s arrival this evening. I might not earn a wage but it still feels like work to me!


“Julia? It’s Claire. Don’t bother: I know Carl’s in an end-of-the-world summit in Timbuktu and can’t be reached. I don’t want to talk to him, I just want to pass on a message, seeing as that’s his preferred method of communication. You tell him it will take more than his sister’s friend’s stupid husband to make me quit my assignment. If Carl wants to fire me he’ll have to do it in person. Until he grows a pair and tells me to my face that I’m no longer required I will do the job he is paying me to do. That’s all.”

Claire hung up the phone and grinned. An unfamiliar surge of liberation flooded through her, starting in her chest and spreading out down to her fingertips. She pictured Julia’s face as she listened to the diatribe pouring down the phone, imagining the perfect cherry-red O in the middle of her flawlessly made-up face. Glancing in the mirror on the back of her phone Claire realised with a start that she hadn’t put make up on for two days. And she didn’t care. Who is there to impress out her in the sticks? She stroked her face. It felt clean and smooth, like it could breathe. I don’t remember the last time I went out in public without slap.

The sun shone on the while walls of the Byrness hostel as Claire loaded her things into the car ready to drive to Kielder. She looked at the building with more fondness than she could have imagined two days earlier. Settling into the icy seat Claire pulled on her gloves before touching the freezing steering wheel. She tugged the choke, gave the car a pat of encouragement and checked the Sat Nav instructions. Her heart felt buoyant as she poked around for a gear and drove away.


Jungle-Party-Eve and 2013 Challenge #27

This was me around four years ago, before this parenting adventure really began

This was me around four years ago, before this parenting adventure really began

It’s the night before the Jungle Party and right now I’m hoping my little girl feels better, as she’s been pale and poorly all day. Are you sick of hearing about the party? I’m a bit tired of it if I’m honest. It’s definitely been worth it though. My daughter is thrilled with her helium zebras and the room is going to look amazing – pictures tomorrow when everything is up and in place.

Understandably there wasn’t any research today. I have done about eight hours’ cleaning just to get my house ready for strangers. I’m not someone who does cleaning on a regular basis. I prefer to do a major blitz every few weeks, usually when we have visitors coming. Sometimes we invite the father-in-law over just to force us to clean and de-clutter.

The clock says it’s about an hour to bedtime. We still have wall hangings to put up, the kitchen work-tops and floor to clean and I should probably be making egg mayonnaise too but I think that will have to wait until the morning.

I had a moment of terror today when a friend of mine turned up with her daughter just after eleven. Poor lady had the wrong day for the party. She’d done her daughter’s hair and everything. My heart bled for her, after I’d recovered from the horror that it was me who had the wrong day. It wouldn’t be the first time. I make a habit of getting the wrong time or day for everything from doctors appointments to kids parties. My phone is my friend, and if it’s not in there as a meeting chances are I won’t make it.

At the end of the month I’ll be pulling all of January’s instalments into an e-book or pdf for anyone who wants to catch up without reading all the daily family chit-chat. I just have to decide whether to charge for it or have it on the site as a free download. I’m not out to make money (not off this book anyway!) but it might be interesting to see if anyone actually buys it. Anyway, on to Claire’s exploits.


Claire tried to roll over to see what time it was and let out a wail of pain. She felt as if she had been slam-dunked by a twenty-stone bruiser. Time check could wait: still was best. If she stayed completely motionless only certain parts of her hurt. Her feet, covered in blisters that had only revealed themselves when she had peeled off her snow boots. Her cheeks, wind-chapped and raw. Everything else was a dull ache until she used any one of the hundreds of screaming muscles, when agony shot through her like a five-year-old trying out acupuncture.

The evening before replayed in Claire’s mind. There had been a sense of camaraderie when they got back to the hostel. The host prepared hot drinks, took their clothes away to dry them and then served up a delicious meal. The five of them sat together discussing the day, with Fi showing photographs she had taken on her iPhone. Claire was amazed at her ability to use the camera in sub-zero temperatures but Fi explained, with a strange look in her eye, that she thought they might be important.

They’d all gone to bed early. The two couples were leaving in the morning to return to their day jobs and there wasn’t a television for them to veg in front of anyway. Claire thought she’d never get to sleep before nine o’clock and surprised herself by sinking into the bed and closing her eyes with no palpable effort. It felt good, as if her body had been doing what it was built to do. Maybe this hiking lark isn’t so bad after all.

That was then. Now, as the sun came up, Claire happily cursed every deity that deigned to come within earshot. She had never experienced so much pain, not even after a brutal spinning session or an all-night-rave.

There was a scrape at the door and Claire turned her head to face it. She couldn’t find the energy to speak, never mind get up and answer it. Go away, she thought silently. I have no desire to see any of my torturers this morning. Go back to your happy, healthy, over-fulfilled lives and leave me to die in peace.

The scratching sound came again. Cursing her visitor’s inability to understand the silent command, Claire opened her paper-dry lips and croaked, “yes?”

“It’s Fi, can I come in?”

Fi. What the hell does she want? Come to gloat? Curiosity overcame ire and Claire called out, “Come in.” She flushed as she heard the weakness of her voice.

Fi’s head peered round the door and her brows contracted in concern at the sight of Claire in bed. “I’m so sorry, did I wake you? We’re off early I’m afraid.”

“No. I was awake. Just unable to move.”

Fi moved closer to the bed, her frown deepening. “Does it hurt? A hot shower and a gentle walk will help loosen off the muscles.” She smiled in sympathy. “I remember my first major hike. Jason dragged me over Scarfell in new boots. I had blisters on my blisters and my body felt like it had been filled with molten lead.”

“Yes.” Claire tried to nod and thought better of it. “That sounds about right.”

There was silence as the two girls watched each other warily. “I wanted to get your email address, so I could send you photos from yesterday.” Fi hesitated. “…for your blog.”

Claire sat up, then cried out as a dozen muscles protested the sudden movement. Her mouth opened but no words came. Her shock must have been obvious though because Fi blushed.

“I’m sorry. We should have come clean yesterday. I’m friends with your boss Carl’s sister on Facebook. When we put in our status update that we were staying in Byrness he said to look out for you. He asked us to goad you into hiking, as your blog was about healthy lifestyle but you weren’t leaving the hostels. I didn’t like it but Jason wanted to see if he could. You did really well especially if that was your first hike?”

The words all came out in a rush and, when she had finished, Fi stood and twisted her hands, staring out the window. Claire didn’t know where to start. She hadn’t heard from Carl once since her arrival in Berwick, despite calling several times and leaving messages with Julia. It made her skin itch to think of that snake discussing her with strangers. As for Jason dragging me on that infernal hike at Carl’s bidding. How dare he? Claire wanted to stalk out the room and find Jason so she could smack him in the face. Except it would hurt too much and Jason didn’t seem worth the extra pain.

“What will you do?”

Claire had forgotten Fi in her rage at Carl and Jason. Aside from being weak and silly and doing what her husband wanted, she hadn’t really done anything wrong. It was a good question. What should I do? Claire’s brain began to ache more than her thigh muscles as she tried to pick through her options.

“What would you do?” Claire looked up at Fi who was still standing by the bed. She thought about her situation, stuck in bed talking about her boss with a total stranger. She looked around at the sparse bedroom, the still-damp rucksack, the worried-looking lady, and began to laugh. It hurt her tummy muscles but she laughed anyway. It felt good. Fi looked shocked at first, as if Claire had snapped and had some sort of breakdown. Then she too began to giggle.

“I’d probably smack Jason in the face if he played a trick like that on me. Except I wouldn’t because I’m a wuss. I bet you could though. And that boss of yours. He sounds nothing like his sister, she’s a darling.”

Claire laughed harder and wiped at her streaming eyes. Eventually she had no more mirth left and she sank back into the pillows like a punctured balloon.

What should I do?

“Can you send me those pictures? If Carl wants outdoor pursuits, I’ll give him outdoors.”

Fi grinned and started tapping details into her phone. As she was leaving she turned back to face Claire.

“Piece of advice?”

“Of course, fire away.”

“Buy some hiking trousers.”

Claire grinned and nodded before sinking back into the protective hug of the bed.


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?