Posted in birthdays, cake, celebration, craft, food, hospitality, parties

fairy party!

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When both Missy and her best friend independently asked us mums for a fairy party to celebrate their 3rd birthdays, a joint bash seemed obvious. Born just eight days apart, I wasn’t sure how two fairy parties on consecutive weekends would go down…and, perhaps slightly too enthusiastically, urged my good friend Jen to consider a joint party. Initially, she was all “But you’re MENTAL when it comes to planning parties…you’ll drive me CRAZY…we won’t sleep for a week…it’ll all end in tears, if we’re lucky – if we’re not, it’ll end in a huge fisticuffs, probably in the middle of Pass the Parcel, wrestling on the floor, squirting glitter icing at each other and tearing each other’s fairy wings to shreds…”

OK, so she didn’t quite say it like that – Jen is a diplomat. In a very tactful and polite way, she basically said the above. I reassured her that I was turning over a new leaf when it came to parties – and that she was to be my Party Insanity indicator. She agreed.

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Party planning was mainly very fun (if you take out the bit where the girls were all like “But we just want a bouncy castle…” when we were in the throws of making pretty fairy skirts and incredible crocheted Peter Pan hats). Making the cake together could have resulted in the end of our friendship – but, fortunately, we got through that stressful Friday afternoon, the cake was still standing by morning, and even ended up looking enticing. Anyway, onto the party:

We had a mixture of girls and boys coming, between 2 and 6, so we didn’t want it to be too…well, pink. The aim was more garden fairy, going for the fantasy/mythological angle over the rather illogical (when you think about it) fairy/princess hybrid which seems to saturate the toy and clothing market for young girls. Besides, a mutual friend had organised a wonderful princess party for her daughter just a couple of months previously – so we weren’t about to try and compete.

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On arriving, each girl was offered a fairy skirt (alright, so these did include the colour pink – nothing wrong with a smattering of girliness). We made these following this amazing YouTube tutorial.

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Wondering what we could offer the boys (although they probably would have been happy in fairy skirts too), the amazingly talented Jen whipped up these beautiful crocheted Peter Pan-style hats. No, I wasn’t kidding when I dropped that into the third paragraph. They really did happen. And they were brilliant.

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Up till now, my kids’ parties have always been held at home, where there are toys to keep everyone happy between the games and such like. So, as this party was held in our church hall, with no such luxury, we needed a variety of open-ended activities to entertain the troops while there was nothing structured going on. We found these wings from Baker Ross, and set up a table for wing decorating, using bingo dabbers, glitter foam and sparkly gem stickers.

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Then there was a wand-making table:

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A fairy cake decorating table, with plenty of sparkles and sprinkles:

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And a fairy-themed play dough table. Two glittery play doughs, one lavender-scented and one basil-scented. Sparkly beads, cup cake cases, conkers and a selection of rolling pins and plastic knives gave the kids a variety of options:

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Here’s Missy, unable to resist having a smell of the basil play dough (or is she wiping her nose with it?!):

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Putting the finishing touches to her creation:

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We were fortunate to have a safe outdoor space with a few toys – and fine weather – as an extra form of entertainment.

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Three-year-olds (in our experience) don’t have too much stamina when it comes to party games, so we kept these short and simple: Pass the Parcel (of course!):

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Musical lilypads (musical bumps, but on…er, lilypads):

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And a fairy wand hunt:

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It was fun making these little wands from small colourful craft sticks and star stickers, and finding all 50 of them kept all the children going for ages:

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We kept the food straightforward and simple. Previous parties’ experience has shown that a) kids never eat as much as you’re expecting them to at a party, and b) sandwiches just aren’t a popular option. (Why go for something you eat for lunch every other day of the year?) So we went easy on the sandwiches – but cut them out as flowers and hearts just because.

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For dessert, there was fairy jelly – i.e. normal jelly, with sweets at the bottom, served in disposable Martini glasses (don’t they look fab?) and sprinkled liberally with edible glitter, stars and pearls. My friend Laura had a chuckle at the many ensuing sentences you’d never expect to hear at a 3-year-old’s birthday party: “It’s impossible to get these sweets out of the stems of the Martini glasses”, “Oops, the base has come off your Martini glass”, and so on.

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For no particular reason, I wish to point out here that the marvellous Tinkerbell plates came from Poundland. I love that place. Here’s Tinkerbell, with a bouffon a-la-sausage-roll:

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And the cups were also Poundland – customised with cheapo flowers from Tesco. (Scroll to the top for the pic.)

And then the cake. Hooray, it stayed upright! Jen pointed out that we didn’t want two entirely separate cakes, as that might force our guests to choose which one of us they liked most. And, seeing as we couldn’t think of an idea for a second fairy cake anyway, we just made a massive cake board and baked two toadstool cakes. I’d give you a tutorial, but it really was quite a shambles. Anyway, they survived, were iced (just), and actually ended up pretty decent, don’t you think?

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Who wants a perfect cake anyway?

[Incidentally, I rather fancy the idea of Slummy Mummy YouTube tutorials…perhaps I could film myself making a mess of Missy’s hair, demonstrating a rubbish art activity, or ballsing up a fairy toadstool cake.]

You may have guessed that I didn’t stick to a £30 budget like I did last year. (Read about Missy’s £30 dollies’ tea party, and Mister’s £30 robot party if you’re interested.) It’s a good reminder that spending more doesn’t necessarily mean less work. However, you probably realise that I go mental over kids’ parties, so I actually (dare I say it?) enjoy the preparation. And sharing our girls’ birthday party meant that Jen and I could go that little bit more extravagant, and still keep it to a reasonable cost.

Disclaimer: this party was brought to you by the letters I (for Insomnia) and M (for Madness), and (of course) the number 3. My bedroom is thick with dust, the drive is overgrown with weeds, and various friends’ texts and messages were ignored during the making of this party. So we shall hear no comments along the Supermum lines, please – unless they’re directed at Jen, of course, who did this all whilst Very Pregnant and also Trying-To-Sort-Out-A-New-Phone (possibly the most time-consuming challenge known to man). Credit where credit’s due.

Posted in birthdays, cake, celebration

missy is not so tiny anymore…

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My eccentric little Missy is 3.

It’s interesting how you don’t need verbal language to be able to express complete and utter madness – we had a strong suspicion that Missy was pretty crazy before she started to talk – which, if you felt you were left hanging after last year’s birthday post, was the first week in December. (Just like that. Typical Missy – waited till she wanted to, then came out with pretty much whole sentences.) And when she did, her role as the most eccentric member of our little family was confirmed.

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I write these birthday posts partly as a family memento – something for Desert Dad and I to look back on when our kids are grown and we want to remember how they were at different ages. As I look back on last year, I realise, in some ways, that not much has changed for Missy. She is still obsessed with dolls, still loves to be physical (especially in a wrestle with her big brother), still enjoys games (Guess Who being a current favourite) and still loves to draw, paint and make. She is still feisty and determined, cheeky and strong-willed. If it’s a princess party she’s going to, she’ll add her own indie touch.

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Diplomatic friends would call her spirited.

But, of course, there are changes. Besides the increased chattiness, Missy can now perform a pretty good forward roll – something she couldn’t do when she was two. She can wee in a toilet. She can write a wobbly ‘Missy’ on a large sheet of paper. She loves to cook.

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She frequently writes, and tells, her own jokes. They’re particularly cute and funny because she insists on ending them with a ‘ha!’, just to remind us how funny they are. Here’s an example:

“Why does an eye go in a banana?”

“I don’t know. Why does an eye go in a banana?”

“Because it’s an ear – ha!”

Oh, and this was the year Missy learnt to do jigsaws. Believe me when I say she can do jigsawsFor two months, around Christmastime, she did virtually nothing else – and now she does them like a machine.

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Missy has her own mind – and follows her own path. I pray this will work in her favour as she grows. But she is also immensely kind and thoughtful. She brings tissues for Mister when he’s upset. When he fell off his scooter and scraped his knee recently, she wanted to pray for healing: “Lord God,” (for all her prayers begin this way) “Mister’s knee get better. Amen”. When a new girl started at preschool, and started to cry when her mummy left, Missy went to get a brown doll (the little girl was of Indian origin) and brought it to her, to cheer her up.

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When Missy was in utero, we prayed for her – and the words ‘peacemaker’ and ‘servant’ came up. I found myself praying that she wouldn’t be a doormat – something often, wrongly, associated with servanthood. I wanted her to grow into a woman who would serve others out of a strong confidence and security in her identity in Christ, not out of fear or low self-esteem. Missy is only 3, and her character has years to develop – but I’ve certainly never seen her be a doormat. I think God might be answering this prayer. 🙂

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So, yesterday, we celebrated. We remembered how Missy came into the world, thanked God for her last three years, and celebrated who she is, this eccentric little person who brings so much joy to her family and friends. There were balloons and presents and cards and nostalgia bunting and her scrapbook and old photos and videos and cake for breakfast. Mummy and Missy enjoyed a sunny day in town – more cake at York Cocoa House, a wander round the Castle Museum (questions, questions, questions!) and a play at the fabulous new Waterstone’s bookshop. We were blessed indeed.

And tomorrow, we party…watch out for the next blog post!

Posted in change, identity, jesus, me, parenting

memoirs of a preschool mum (or: letter to a new mum)

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Tomorrow, the boy in my belly in this photo starts school. I’m not anxious for him – he’ll be fine. It’s me who has to adapt.

You see – my baby boy, who was born approximately 5 minutes ago, is starting school. He’s got a uniform and everything. He’ll be learning important, grown-up things – and relating to people for several hours each day without any intervention from me. He’ll even have to wipe his own bum.

What do you do with a 3-day-old? Why, take him to a wedding of course! Friends, I am not lying when I tell you I knew ZILCH about babies
What do you do with a 3-day-old? Why, take him to a wedding of course! Friends, I am not lying when I tell you that I knew ZILCH about babies.

I don’t feel old enough to be a mum, let alone a mum of a school-age child. Several of my friends have become mums recently, or are shortly to become mums. They are just starting out on the journey. But despite the fact that I don’t feel very far along the road myself, I need to man up and realise that the preschool days (for Mister, at least) are over. So, to mark this transition, here are a few thoughts on the last few years.

Joel's dedication. We didn't only spend our preschool years in churches, I promise you.
Mister’s dedication. We didn’t only spend our preschool years in churches, I promise you.

I had no idea what I was doing with baby Mister. Not much of a clue when it came to baby Missy either, to be honest. But they’re still alive. Let that be an encouragement to you as you read this at some stupid hour of the morning, nursing your child whilst keeping your brain alert with a small smartphone screen and some little ramblings from a friend.

I watch you with your babes, you new mum friends, and you are utterly fantastic. You rock them with confidence. You know all their different cries, and where to pat when they have wind. You’re in tune with their rhythm. I had no.frigging.idea. God’s grace, folks. That is all.

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Mister’s first birthday. Still loves a slide!

Then there are the Baby Groups. You need and fear these in equal measure. You need mum friends who understand and nod sympathetically and empathise and share tips and encouragements – you need to find your tribe with whom you will navigate these important early years as you raise your kids together. But you also fear becoming someone you are not. You fear only ever having conversations about nappy rash and weaning, not knowing what’s happening in the Real World, memorising breastfeeding stats, learning which Tweenie is which. You fear that you will not fit in. And I understand. I’ve been there. I arrived in a new city, had a baby, and had no choice but to frequent these groups in order to find my tribe. I found it – and breathed a huge sigh of relief. These were not ‘mumsy’ mums, with nothing to speak about but the length of time it took them to conceive – but real people, like me, flung into motherhood in a variety of situations, none of us prepared, none of us experts. Some of these early friends have become very close – and I now count it as a privilege to have a group of people around me who I can chat to about anything. You stick at it, new-mum-friend, and the tribe will come. Not quickly or immediately, but you persist and it will come.

I loved babyhood so much I did it again. Note the sarcasm.
I loved babyhood so much I did it again. Note the sarcasm.

Moving from a very structured job, with every hour marked by a bell, into the most unstructured job ever, I was determined to fill our week with activities: regular events with a start-time to aim towards – milestones, if you like, in our week. Friend, hear this: these groups rarely create community. We enjoyed baby yoga, baby signing, Tumbletots, music classes and more. Did we make long-lasting friendships in these groups? No, we did not. We turned up, did the thing, then left. Did we fork out a small mortgage? Pretty much. Do I regret it? No – I was aware of not over-filling our week, and these groups do give amazing opportunities to babies and toddlers. But we made our friendships at the children’s centre, at church toddler groups, at the spaces which were designed for us to simply sit and chat and play. Understand the difference, and you’ll be a happier mum.

I’m massively grateful for being able to have stayed at home with Mister. We’re not all in this position – but, whatever your situation, don’t fret. My friends have done a variety of different things – some at home full-time, others working part-time, others working near full-time, others taking a bit of time off then returning to work after two or three years. Don’t regret the time you can’t spend with your child – but do make the most of all the time you can.

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Another church shot. We really are obsessed with the place.

I never expected to feel guilty as a stay-at-home mum – but yes, guilt seems to just come as part of the parenthood package. Whatever you choose, whatever you do, there will always be some guilt attached. For me, it comes every time I fail to give the kids my full attention, any time I play half-heartedly (or not at all), any time I whack the telly on, any time I read some super-duper, arty-crafty parenting blog. The voices come thick and fast: “But you’re a stay-at-home mum! You have no excuse! You don’t have a job to fit in! You’re not juggling enough! You’re lazy!” These voices aren’t helpful. They’re from a greater force who wants to tear down every last bit of confidence we have in raising our kids. Friends, recognise that you will feel guilty at some point (maybe at lots of points) – but remember that Jesus takes it all. It is not God’s plan for you to live in guilt, because it’s not God’s plan that you shoulder the weight of parental responsibility yourself.

New-mum-friend, take heart. This is not your show. You’re in it, for sure, shaping and influencing your little person to become a great player themselves – but leave the directing to the One who knows your baby more than you ever could. Who has known them since the beginning of time. Who loves them even more than you do. When I drop my baby off at his Reception class tomorrow morning, I’ll be doing just that.

With my boy this summer. He's not a baby. Sniff.
With my boy this summer. He’s not a baby. Sniff.