Elfie Is 4! Again!

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I’d totally forgotten when I wrote about Elfie’s fourth birthday fails a couple of weeks ago that we’d get to do it all over again soon after: her birthday party!

In the whole process of organizing Elfie a 4th birthday party I did one thing incredibly right and one thing incredibly wrong. The right thing was that I agreed it was a great idea to split the birthday party with a friend who is way more capable and organized than I am; her little fella Ralph is 4 at the end of July, is one of Elfie’s BFF’s and was the Joseph to her Mary in the pre-school nativity. Hi, Amy!

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IMG_1966The thing I did wrong was choose to make the cake the morning of the party. WHY, Alice, WHY? I suppose it was too tall to fit into the fridge with all the party food but seriously… that stress was not good. Especially when layer 2 didn’t play ball and decided to jam as two pieces. I fixed it, I don’t think anybody noticed, but still. Stress levels: stratospheric.

Sidenote: if anyone needs to make a chocolate cake it was this one . I found the batter stretched to four of my tins but in general it was pretty straightforward to make. 

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It turned out that, despite us having minimal time together to plan (thank you new job and crazy schedule) the party turned out fabulously. Amy took care of decorations and the games, her mum provided the dance moves for the 4 year olds and I took care of the food, the cake and a kick-ass Spotify Playlist. Which I’m definitely not listening to right now. Honest.

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IMG_1989The village hall looked fabulous, the turnout was great, and we had a wonderful two hours doing everything you’re supposed to do. That is, get sweaty dancing to Katy Perry choons and play musical statues. Amy’s ‘Pin The Lips On The Alien’ was a total hit (I loved it) and I think we had 20 very satisfied (and hyperactive) customers come 3pm.

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As we’d said the kids could come in fancy dress Elfie wanted to be Princess Elsa (obvs – she looked beautiful) and Ralph was a dashing Spiderman.  Hux was ‘boy in jeans and tshirt who was just going to run around like a maniac and spill things anyway’. He carried it well.

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There was a Pimms station for the grownups, because what is a kid’s party without a little bit of booze? Calm down mumsnet, it was post-midday (but we still would have had one if it wasn’t… ;). Amy was given the fantastic Pimms vessel for her recent wedding and you can get it at John Lewis here for £20 or even cheaper if you check out these offers . It was genius.

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IMG_2019And the cake! The sparklers were amazing and the birthday boy and girl did a great job of blowing out the candles together. Party bags were handed out, the mums (and dads and aunties and grandparents) tidied up and sighed in relief that kids only have one birthday a year. I don’t know about Amy but I went home and took a good long nap. And ate a piece of that cake.

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Happy birthday (again) gorgeous girl! What a wonderful way to celebrate the end of your pre-school years with your very best friends. How about next year we just take a couple of them to the cinema?!

Sometimes Shit Days Happen (Alternative Title: Happy Birthday, Elfie!)

 

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In my infinite wisdom I decided that Monday was going to be a big day for Elfie.

It was her 4th birthday so it was already huge. So huge that she padded into my bedroom at 4.55am to say “is it now, mummy? Am I four?”.

(My answer: “you are not four til 7 o’clock. Go back to bed”. She didn’t)

I don’t know if it was the fact I was knackered or that I was just giddy at the thought of an exciting day off work with my kids but at about 8am I decided that Monday would be the day Elfie gave up her dummy.

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And You Are The Girl With Small Hands And Big Eyes

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Every time I read the poem ‘B’ by Sarah Key, I think of Elfie.

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s going to call me, “Point B.” Because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

It is beautiful, the most beautiful piece of writing I have ever read. And not just because the similes and metaphors tumble together in a symphony like I have never read before, so much that I find myself going back, re-reading sentences and enjoying the way they sound. The poem speaks to me. Forget Ted Hughes, Wordsworth, John Keats… it is musical, magical.

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And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

When I look at Elfie’s face, trapped in the limbo between babyhood and childhood, I see the whole world. Here is my little girl, my little girl who I grew from scratch, waiting to be taught. She is waiting for me to mould her into the person she will be forever. She is full to the brim of innocence, wonder, delight and excitement. I wish I could stop time, capture it. Make it last longer.

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There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.

I can’t describe the feeling that is knowing she will be hurt. Knowing she has been hurt and I couldn’t do anything about it. This little person, when she is hurting I want to dive in, remove every single bad thought and feeling and feel it myself. But I can’t, and that is one of the very worst things about being a mother.

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There’ll be days like this,” my mama said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape. 

How do I even go about telling my little girl there are bad things in the world? Admitting this means I am admitting they are real, the baddies are real and we can’t stop them from hurting us.

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Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

Elfie, you are the girl with the small hands and the big eyes and every day I will kiss those hands and you will know I am always here to look after you.

And don’t you EVER apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.

I wrote more thoughts on this poem over here. Another huge thank-you to Charlotte for introducing me to the most beautiful piece of literature I’ve ever read.

A Love Letter To Elfie

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Apparently I’m unable to write about how much I love my little boy without going in to spasms of guilt that I haven’t done the same with Elfie. It’s true what they say, you know: you really never love one of your kids more than the other. You might like the one that doesn’t wake you up at 5.30am a little bit more sometimes (hey Hux, you were definitely my favourite this morning) but when your number one child punches you in the face you’ll soon switch your allegiance.

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Elfie’s at a funny stage. She’s working out that she’s her own little person with wants, needs and decision making abilities, and this has meant that she’s realised she can say NO. NO MUMMY I DON’T WANT TO. Why, Elfie? BECAUSE I DON’T WANT TO. Oh, ok. She’s headstrong, I’ll give her that, she knows her own mind and isn’t afraid to assert herself. That’s my girl.

She quite a lot of these wobbles, doesn’t want to go to see her dad, come home from her grannie’s house or get down from the shopping trolley. Refuses to eat her sweet potato chips that she very politely asked to accompany her sausages and her mother slaved over. She has a huge ‘thing’ about fireworks, can’t stand the sight or sound of them which made November 5th and the surrounding weeks a lot of fun. The tantrums that follow these wobbles can be catastrophic and I know my mum worries they are an after-effect of the divorce. Really though, I think they’re all an after-affect of being three and a half and a bit of a drama queen.

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Elfie and I, we have our moments where we clash. I’m convinced it’s because we’re just too similar; she’s a talker like me and will rabbit on for ages and ages and ages, chat chat chatty chat. About anything and everything, her friends at pre-school (Oliver, Ralph and William are her favourites), making sense of what she’s learned that day (“Mummy, where was I when Jesus was born?”), snitching on her brother (“MUMMY! Huxley’s DOING SOMETHING!”) or wanting to know in minute detail exactly what I’m doing. Whether I’m on the loo or cooking, she needs to know. Poo or wee? Flour or sugar? She’s a real bright spark though and has such an inquisitive nature, I’d rather her be this way and slightly irritating come 5pm than not care about what’s going on around her. Her need to question why I’m asking her to do stuff – whether it’s why she has to get strapped into her car seat or why she has to go to bed – is when we argue the most. Sometimes I run out of answers (or patience) and she simply won’t accept the fact that I don’t know. Which, now I think about it, is kind of cool. My daughter thinks I know everything… awesome.

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She also insisted on being a cat for three whole days over Halloween and I lost my rag (and whisker painting abilities) by the end of that period. There are only so many times I can wash black eyeliner out of pillowcases and not be annoyed.

Elfie adores pre-school and I’m delighted it’s suiting her so well. I made the decision to send her to a small village school three miles away and I’m really glad I did; her class is tiny and the key-workers are wonderful. They’re always off doing activities like digging up potatoes and cooking them for their snack (then making pictures with their muddy roots!), making lanterns or learning about what’s going on in the world. The knowledge she comes home with astounds me, whether it’s a new song she’s learned, a shape, or new words. Watching her learning is incredible and seeing how her education is already shaping her as a person is wonderful to see.

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She’s incredibly kind-hearted and is a big softie. Elf and I, as much as we get cross with each other we cuddle lots more. She likes to be snuggled when she’s feeling scared, unsure or tired and I’m always happy to oblige. I recently started mummy and Elfie’s special time so now she’s that bit older she goes to bed half an hour later than Hux. We spend the time on the sofa chatting about her day, reading books, watching Come Dine With Me and drinking milk. She’s been known to sneak into my bed once or twice (ahem) in the middle of the night which in theory sounds lovely but in practice means teeny toddler feet crawling up my back all night. And the 5.30am wakeups? UGH. As soon as this particular stage is over I’m convinced I’ll regain some sanity.

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We look out for each other. She asks me, mummy, will you always look after me? – yes Elfie, forever and ever and ever – and when she caught me snivveling over hormonal single parent guilt a couple of weeks ago she put her arm around me and said she’d always look after me too. Then she asked me if I was sad because I was all alone, which didn’t help so much, so thanks for that kiddo. It gave me a laugh all the same. If I do request a bit of privacy on the loo (very rare these days) she will stand outside the closed door shouting, “mummy, I’m here if you need me! Do you want a hand?”. It’s nice to feel looked after, even if it’s by a three year old.

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Elfreda Daphne (soon-to-be) Talbot-Harold you are the brightest little star and you don’t even know it. I hope when you grow up to be old (like you think your mum is) and read this you will know how much I love you.

Our Shutterflies Photo Shoot

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I don’t like having my picture taken. I think this is part of the reason I’ve found online dating so hard: in most pictures I have of myself I’m gurning in a ‘you might take my photo but I don’t care’ way, or they’re shameless selfies taken in the mirror. And I don’t want anyone’s first impression of me to be a person who either gurns a lot or takes unlimited shameless selfies, no thanks.

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So when Hayley of Shutterflies Photography contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in a photoshoot of me and the kids I was like ‘no thanks, I have enough pictures of me gurning’. But then I thought it over a bit more. I’ve always been the photographer of the house, there are shedloads of photographs of everybody with my kids but none of me with the little cherubs. It might be nice to have something to remember these tired years by?

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So that is the story of how I found myself with the kids meeting Hayley at a local country park a couple of weeks ago, best gurn faces on. I was terrified, mostly because  of the camera, and because I was fully expecting each and every photograph of me to turn out like this:

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But you know what? It was EASY. Hayley made it easy. She told us to just get on with what we’d be usually doing in the park (the kids were in their element) and just snapped away. She’d brought a picnic blanket for us to have a few more ‘posed’ shots on but apart from that it was just about the kids having fun and capturing them as naturally as possible.

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I wasn’t sure what I was expecting but I am over the moon with the shots Hayley got of us. She used two cameras – one film, one digital – and I love the different feelings these lend to the photos. Not only is there minimal gurning from me but there is something so magical about the way she captured Elfie and Hux. She has caught them exactly as they are in real life – their facial expressions, their mannerisms – my babies.

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And me? Well, Hayley must have managed to work some sort of crazy magic because I actually like the way she captured me. I can only put this down to how relaxed and at ease she made us feel throughout the whole process, it was like spending a couple of hours at the park with a good friend rather than a photographer.

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I’m absolutely delighted with the results – so much so that I’m going to make our Shutterflies shoot an annual occasion. How precious is it that we have such beautiful photographs of us all together? Very. I love them.

shutterflies-026 shutterflies-028 shutterflies-009 shutterflies-020Thank-you so much to Hayley for a lovely couple of hours at the park and these gorgeous photographs of us. If you’re looking for some lovely memories I’d definitely give Ms Shutterflies a call; Hayley lives in Bedfordshire but is available to shoot far and wide from newborns to children to families to nuptuals. Just look at this beautiful wedding she recently photographed in Hertfordshire (I may or may not have provisionally booked her for my hypothetical second wedding). You can also take a look at her gorgeous blog here, add her on Twitter, follow her Instagram or like her Facebook page.

 

Lizzie, Jamie and Their Flower Girl

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Attending a wedding alone as a recently separated single parent was never going to be easy. There’s the struggle of trying not to joke about divorce (I didn’t – hoorah!) and the worry that actually, are you going to be hugely cynical about weddings now and look at the day with a weary sense of ‘been there, done that, got the divorce’?

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Luckily I didn’t, I had just the same appreciation of weddings as I’ve always had (and that’s not just the free booze talking). Even more appreciation perhaps, as despite mine and Will’s relationship coming to an end after a great 10 years I still believe in everlasting love, happy ever afters and saying ‘I do’.

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This wedding was always going to be very special as Lizzie was not only marrying the love of her life – who she met on match.com, there’s hope for me yet! – but Elfie was to be a flower girl with her second cousin Emily. We had been practicing for weeks, learning how to dance and twirl, looking up flower girl dresses.

She was absolutely brilliant, somehow knowing to whisper in the church, asking “is this the party now mummy?” as we sang the hymns, delighted in having her photograph taken and generally looked her lovely beautiful self. I was very very proud of her.

My cousin Lizzie looked amazing; I’m a huge fan of wedding dresses and hers was spectacularly beautiful.

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Hux was a dapper little thing in his bowtie, too. He refused to sleep all day so got a little fraught towards the end but just look at his face – you can forgive him anything! He spent most of the reception trying desperately to escape out the marquee doors.

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And as for me, well I drank too much wine, danced with my dad (who also drank too much wine… it’s genetic you see), took hundreds of photographs and had a thoroughly brilliant time.

Here’s to true love, to Lizzie and Jamie, to happy ever after and the two little loves of my life.