“Mum,” says my daughter when she rings the night before a granny day. “Could you bring over your mixer tomorrow morning? I need to make Rose’s birthday cake.”
I can hardly believe that Rose is four. At times it seems as though she has been with us forever. Yet I can remember the day she was born as clearly as if it was yesterday. The agonising wait during my daughter’s three day labour… That emotional call to say she and my son-in-law had had a little girl! And then my dash into hospital to meet my one-hour-old granddaughter.
It brings tears to my eyes just to think of it.
And now it’s time to get ready for Rose’s birthday party. So I dig out my old mixer which I haven’t used since last Christmas (I’m more of a blender girl myself), pop it into my bike bicycle and cycle over the following morning to “work”.
“Thanks, Mum,” says my daughter. “Just pop it there will you?”
She points to the overflowing little hall which is already packed with her work bag, my son-in-law’s and enough stuff for nursery school to last a week instead of just one day. (It’s hard enough carrying all this paraphernalia to the school gates let alone pushing the pram and hanging onto Rose and George!)
“I’m beginning to panic about the party,” adds my daughter.
I must admit that I’ve been quite busy with the edits on my novel for next year. So I haven’t paid a great deal of attention to all the preparations.
“How many are you having?” I ask
“Forty,” she says.
“Forty?” echo my son-in-law and I in one breath.
My daughter looks slightly embarrassed
“Rose has so many little friends. We’ve hired the church hall but I’m beginning to wonder now if I should have got an entertainer.”
“How are you going to keep them all busy?” I ask.
“We thought we’d have lots of traditional games.”
I have to admit that my heart is sinking at the thought of forty, four year olds plus all their parents, playing musical bumps. It sounds like a bigger version of toddler group which always has me on my knees from exhaustion.
Still, as my daughter keeps reminding me, she’s the mother!
“It’s a Frozen party,” I tell my husband when I get home.
“Does that mean the hall won’t have any heating on?” jokes my husband who used to very hardy about the weather until he left the north and moved south to be with me.
“No,” I say. “It’s the film. Rose loved it. You’ll see when we get there.”
The following day when it’s a non-granny day and I’m at my desk writing, the phone rings.
“Mum,” says my daughter. “You know that mixer you lent me? Did you know it’s missing a piece of plastic on the side?”
No, I didn’t.
“The thing is,” she says, “I’ve been up all night making the birthday cake and now I don’t know if the plastic has ended up in it.”
How awful! I have visions of guests choking and a mass exodus to A & E.
“I’m going to have to make it again, aren’t I?” she says.
“I think you are,” I agree. After all, we can’t risk anything.
My sweet-toothed husband, who had to be persuaded to eat vegetables when I married him ten years ago, thinks this is extremely funny. “You ought to offer a prize for the person who gets the slice with the plastic,” he suggests. (It’s the kind of joke that only a non-parent might make.) “I’m quite happy to take my chances.”
Luckily, my daughter has already make 40 little cup cakes as well so she decides to save the dubious big cake for show only! I have to say that it looks amazing with its carefully iced blue and pink roses. She shares this culinary gene with my sister who inherited her talent from our mother. It certainly by-passed me! I only have to look at a cake and it sinks.
The day arrives!
Rose is rather like the Queen in that she has two birthdays. The actual date falls on a Monday but most of the parents are working then, including her daddy. So the party is scheduled for the day before. I usually take Rose to Sunday school but time is tight before our guests arrive. So instead, I say a quiet prayer of thanks and dash off to the hall to help my daughter decorate.
I have to hand it to my children. She’s not a teacher for nothing! “When did you do all this?” I ask, as she instructs me to put treasure hunt clues round the hall while she sets up craft areas on tables scattered round the room.
“At night,” she says. “Give me a hand with this, can you, Mum?”
It’s a massive poster of Frozen which is four times taller than the two of us put together. (Apparently the cinema gave it to them and my son-in-law gave a donation to its food bank collection as a thank you.(
“Hold the left side, can you?” she says as I stand on top of a stack of plastic chairs in lieu of a ladder and attempt to follow instructions.
“It’s too tall,” I protest.
“No it’s not. You’re doing fine. There! See? It looks great.”
Actually it’s a bit wonky but there’s no way I’m going up there again.
There’s only just time to dash home, grab husband-on-crutches; change into my leather trousers (us grannies can’t let the fashion side down); and get back to the hall before everyone arrives. For the first few minutes, it feels as though we’re in the middle of a zoo where the gates have been left open.
Hordes of children are rushing everywhere along with bleary-eyed parents. But then my son-in-law starts the games and I’m spellbound. So are the children. We play Pass the Parcel, Hokey Cokey , What’s The Time Mr Wolf? and all the other favourites.
As my first husband and his wife and my husband and I help to make tea and look after little George, I can’t help thinking about all the children’s parties I organised over the years.
There was the time when we had a power cut for my eldest son’s seventh (it was Christmas so we sang carols until lighting was restored). And there was the ice skating party for my daughter when my youngest son had just been born and I sat at the side, feeding him, hoping no one was going to break a leg. (They didn’t.)
When I was a child, we simply had a small tea party for a group of friends. My mother would put out the green glass jug which was only used for special occasions and we’d have orange barley juice and sandwiches. How I wish she was here now. I did tell my 96-year-old father about the party on the phone but he didn’t seem to take it in. Still, I’ll show him the photos when I go down next week.
After Rose’s guests had gone and we’d all finished tidying up (great team effort!), my husband and I slink back home. We’re exhausted and besides I need to walk the dog in the howling wind by torchlight and finish those copyedits for my novel.
The following morning, I get on my bike to cycle over to my granddaughter and wish her a happy birthday for the second time!
I dump my bag in the wicker basket at the front – and that’s when I see it. Something hard and white which is caught up in the side.
Could it be… Yes, it is! The missing piece of plastic from my mixer bowl. It must have broken off when I’d gone over one of those bumps in the lanes.
“Great,” says my husband, when I tell him. “Can you bring me back an extra slice please?”
Why not? And in honour of my mother, I fill the green jug (which I’ve kept safe all these years) and we toast her with orange barley juice.
I Looked Away by Jane Corry is published by Penguin Viking. To buy, go to https://amzn.to/2Lq2rew and https://www.hive.co.uk/Product/Jane-Corry/I-Looked-Away/23635139