Two birthdays, one day
In one of those strange quirks of life, Elsa and I happen to share the same birthday. I remember looking up at the hospital clock just under two years ago: It was a few minutes after 11pm on the 19th of August, and I was ten hours into labour and less than an hour short of turning 35. I dimly recall wondering if it was better just to get things over with, or if having come this far I should hold out a little longer for a double birthday celebration. As if it were me who was in control of the process (how we kid ourselves!). Elsa was finally born by emergency Caesarean section in the early morning hours of the 20th – my first birthday present of the year.
This year promised to be somewhat more enjoyable than the fun and games in the hospital two years ago. Since we’d be with my parents in the UK for the actual day, I decided to move the festivities forward so that both Elsa and I could celebrate in the company of our peers. (Elsa’s first birthday was marked by a random assortment of village elders deep in the English countryside where my parents live; the youngest party guest was her senior by about 70 years.) After careful deliberation, I decided to throw Elsa’s bash the day after my own modest commemoration. I figured that children’s parties are best borne with a hangover anyway – lots of sugary stodge to soak up the previous night’s excesses, plus the cotton wool head blocks out most of the squealing.
Accordingly, the evening before Elsa’s big day a few friends and I convened on the rooftop terrace of the Drum and Bell for some pre-birthday-dinner drinks. It was a rare pleasure to sink into the sofa cushions with my gin and tonic – on most of my Drum and Bell visits, I’m constantly jumping up to make sure that Elsa is not propelling herself over the side. One relaxing gin (okay, maybe two) was followed by wine, dinner, birthday cake and gossip at Luce restaurant, and we rounded the evening off with a margarita at Bed Bar. Then it was time to go home and rest up for party number two.
Despite the reckless drink mixing, Sunday morning wasn’t as bad as anticipated thanks to the surprise discovery of some Nurofen tablets during my dawn raid of the medicine bag. Usually I’m up forever tearing open Elsa’s Calpol sachets to get to the adult dose (eight and a half sachets does the trick, for you other desperate parents out there). Thankfully, I’d also had the foresight to do most of the cooking for the party the day before.
However, the most important birthday item was still outstanding: the cake. Two trips to April Gourmet later (I forgot the greaseproof paper), I was armed with all the necessary ingredients and a printout of Google’s finest lemon cake recipe. Unfortunately I misunderstood the term “all-purpose flour” and neglected to add baking powder. But at least my Frisbee-like cake didn’t require any filling, so my oversight turned out to be a serendipitous time saver. A quick slather of frosting and some strategic carving, and my creation was complete. Although Elsa identified my masterpiece (“CAKE”) with gratifying certainty, to my chagrin she was unable to recognise the cute rabbit shape I had painstakingly fashioned it into. I knew I should have gone for a Pingu penguin.
Three o’clock came and the guests started to arrive. Predictably, Ayi, invited strictly in guest capacity, was taking out my rubbish just five minutes into the proceedings. Eventually I managed to force her out of the kitchen to join the mounting throng in the living room. Perhaps it was her presence, but the children were remarkably well-behaved considering Elsa’s uninspiring toy collection (I avoid purchasing anything that can speak/sing/dance/perform in any hangover-enhancing manner – in other words, almost anything of remote interest to small people). In fact, they were doing so well, I soon abandoned my rather hastily thought-up “find the shoe” game even though I had spent ages hiding all my left shoes around the flat, and I left the kids to amuse themselves.
The noise level was perhaps a little higher than at Elsa’s gathering the previous year, but it was definitely worth all the effort. After the other guests took their leave, my best friend and I cracked open some beer (we couldn’t face the three bottles of specially purchased Prosecco that lay unopened in the fridge), sat back, and looked on contentedly as her son and my own delightful charge fought over the remaining blue M&Ms.
After all the sugar and excitement, getting Elsa into bed proved a major challenge. But eventually, I had the evening to myself: It was me, my couch, and a particularly cheesy chick flick, and it was the best birthday present I could have asked for.