I’ve realised that writing a blog about fatherhood is somewhat one-sided, a bit selfish, and a bit me-me-me, and often means that a key figure in our family life is often missing, or relegated to a brief walk-on part.
I am, of course, referring to my partner-in-crime, and best mate: my wife Sarah. I don’t know why she’s often a supporting character in the blog because she is headline news as far as my life and this household is concerned. And she’s not the tutting, eye-rolling presence this blog might make her seem. She’s often the instigator of fun and surprises. And she’s brilliant at imaginative and creative ideas that make our daughter’s life as magical as we can make it.
A prime example of this was only a few weeks ago. It was Alice’s 7th birthday, and in many ways, I’m still only just recovering. This year, it was a “spy party”, and for the first time, rather than hire out a soft-play, or a local hall, we held the party at our home. According to other parents, this is regarded as ‘being brave’.
As usual, Sarah came up with the concept of the party and held regular discussions with Alice as to how to execute it. She was responsible for:
The menu ideas
The making of the props
The decorating of the house
The invitation designs
The printing and distribution of invites
The planning of games and activities
The following-up of invitees
The schedule for preparing for the party over two weeks
Captaining myself, Alice, and volunteer grandmothers into tidying and cooking for multiple people
Designing the look of each room
Providing photographs and visual aids and written material to support the whole ‘spy’ concept; including maps, photos of Sarah, Alice, and myself in spy/villain gear, photos of Bond, George Smiley (the Alec Guinness version of course), and various S.H.I.E.L.D. characters.
Built a ‘laser maze’ for the kids to negotiate in the back garden using red wool strung all over garden furniture
Arranging drinks and refreshments
Making a piñata (an Avengers one this year. Unlike last year’s Death Star piñata complete with superlaser)
Supplying the toys for the party bags and stuffing the bags.
And during the party, she was in charge of the time-management, refereeing the games, and keeping the kids actively involved for two solid hours. This is what Sarah does to make our little girl’s day special. And this is typical of the work she puts in to every birthday Alice has ever had.
I made a chicken shawarma marinade and picked some crap up off the floor. I know my place, and I know where my skills are best used. My contributions are nowhere near as profoundly brilliant or creative. Food and tidying is where I’m at (and both of those things would cause long-standing friends a little guffaw at the thought of me being responsible for either. Yeah, well…).
Oh, and in keeping with Alice’s party traditions, I played the hissable baddie. I’ve previously been a pirate king, “Captain Innuendo”, and last year, a non-descript Dark Jedi. This year, I was the super-villain “The Black Wombat”, and I made a ransom-demand video of me mwahaha’ing and telling the kids they had to defuse a ‘bermb’. This was deemed amusing by the children (well, they shrieked a lot).
Also, as per party tradition, at some point I was horribly uncomfortable. While unlike last year, where I was battered by 20 or so children simultaneously hitting me with foam-rubber lightsabres in a brutal assault, this year it was more of a mental torture. I had to leave the living room at one point when the sheer noise and exuberance of the kids caused the TV to wobble precariously on its stand. I could feel myself getting anxious, so rather than be”that Dad” who loses his rag at their kids’ party, I went upstairs to sit alone in a dark room for a bit. The TV survived.
Then, towards the end of the party, I was ordered to take up my position at the other side of the ‘laser maze’ in the garden, as the end-of-treasure-hunt boss, holding the piñata. Of course, that would be the moment on Saturday that the weather went from being mildly drizzly, to utterly pissing it down in a howling fucking gale. So I stood there, drenched, cold, alone, holding a sagging piñata full of damp sweets, waiting for instructions; while a dozen children gathered at a first floor window, pointing and screaming and laughing at me standing alone in the rain (not for the first time, it has to be said).
The day after, Alice wore my present: A rather muscular Iron Man costume. She has worn it many times in the days since. That’s nice.
But more importantly, as her birthday present, Sarah took Alice to see the touring production of Mamma Mia! at the city theatre. This was Alice’s first time at a proper West-End musical. They sang and danced in the aisle, and Alice was rapt with attention throughout. Alice now has an indelible memory thanks to her mother. And this is why I love Sarah. She’s all about ‘experiences’, not ‘things’. You can own ‘things’, but memories are precious.
This is what Sarah does. She thinks about the fun experiences in life, and then goes and does them. Because they’re fun, and they create something worth more than money, and they last a lifetime. If something needs to be made (a costume, a prop, or the above-pictured ‘laser maze’), she makes it using the simplest of designs, and the clever use of materials. Whereas my idea of a fun day out with Alice (usually a museum or some abstract, make-it-up-as-you-go adventure in the countryside together), Sarah thinks of doing the things everyone likes, and can enjoy together. There is usually ice cream involved. And some sort of outing with lots of people.
Games, company, and food. That’s Sarah’s recipe for family fun. If there’s an opportunity to dance or run or shout, or some combination of all three, so much the better. What always slightly bothers me is that I just don’t think of doing those things.
Sarah is the best mum for a such a smashing little girl.