I have had another birthday and whilst it brought the usual moments of self doubt and the odd twinge of dismay that, I m getting older and I still haven't reached where I want to be, on the whole this was a pretty good birthday. It is a sad fact that I look forward to my Birthday primarily for the Birthday Money I get sent by devoted and overly generous relatives. Now this may sound crass and greedy, but actually a little financial flexibility, affords me the luxury of spoiling those I love,with treats, whilst still being able to pay all the bills!
So, at the sound of the first Birthday Card plopping on the doormat, I was all primed and ready to race to the bank before closing, so that the awaited cheque would clear that working day. Now I must be clear that I am not angling for sympathy but just reflecting on the "State of Play" that many parents find themselves in, these days. Single Parent or Happily Married the recession has landed many in families in hot water. Middle Class Parents are no longer tossing up between a holiday or a new car but between school fees or the mortgage. Either way it's a no win situation, unless you happen to be the blessed couple who collected the £56 million lottery rollover! But being very British everyone has rallied around and Wives and Mothers have proved themselves endlessly resourceful. Many Mothers I know, have swapped roles with their husbands as City jobs came crashing down around their ears and the newly crowned Househusbands group together for comfort in the playground with the demeanour of shell shock victims. Meanwhile their wives have raced off to the office or classroom secretly hoping no one will discover spare knickers for a potty training two year old, in their handbag?
On the back of the strained financial climate, those of us lucky enough to have jobs clamour like starlings for more hours to try and bridge the deficit between income and expenditure.
Into this dark crevasse falls; the summer wardrobe winking up from the glossy Boden catalogue, the holiday deposit (now camping in a Yurt in Devon instead of Club Med), the Ballet lessons for your youngest, the school ski trip for your eldest.
But in those rare moments of solvency, one experiences a lightness of heart almost like a suppressed giggle. Suddenly you can book an excursion or a treat for the family and the payment clears! My Birthday Money paid the Water Rates; bought a much deserved bunch of spring flowers for my wonderful mum and booked 6 seats for the WWE wrestling for myself, the children and two friends. As I sat on the folding seats at the local Leisure Centre, accompanied by five near-hysterical children, I pondered the contradiction that, although I was way outside my comfort zone and about to watch an event that held zero personal appeal; my children were ecstatically happy. And that, in a nutshell was all it took for a deep sense of contentment to envelope me as I sat surrounded by an ocean of waving, giant foam fingers!
A mother behind me leaned over and asked "Wrestling Virgin?" I nodded and she announced cheerily" Ah, me too, I have to do all this stuff since my husband of 22 years left me six months ago!"She too had a fleet of overexcited small boys accompanying her. " I can't really afford it" she whispered conspiratorially " but you do anything to make it better don't you?"
She settled back to enjoy the show and I did too. It was surprisingly good fun, but for me the highlight was watching my children's faces glowing with delight and anticipation and I was profoundly glad that I had brought them. The Mother behind me poked me shortly before the end of the show and the Compare announced that three little boys had Birthdays that day. They had been granted Back Stage Passes to meet the WWE wrestlers and her son was springing up and down on his seat in delight. "Beat that, Dad!" she muttered through gritted teeth, winking at me.
It seems there is nothing that Parents won't do, to secure those golden moments where your children are ecstatically happy. In a World where nothing is certain and where a Parent cannot even promise their children, that the family they have so painstakingly created, will stay together; then the struggle begins, to create happy memories from the scattered remains of the ideals you once held. Money can't buy Happiness; but the sad truth is, that it sure as hell offers a helping hand, to those of us upon whom, the sole responsibility to create a happy childhood, rests. I asked my son what the best bit of the evening was and his reply was "Seeing you having a good time, Mum!" And it is true, on those rare occasions where I am completely reassured that my children are happy, I do let down the wall I put in place three years ago, at the start of my solo voyage. That in itself is a gift to me, for which I am profoundly grateful and has made this a Birthday to remember.