Friday, 24 February 2012

A tired salute to the family people

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I really want to write this entire post in CAPITAL LETTERS. I always tell my students, in the writing workshops I give in the summer, not to use capital letters, or exclamation marks, unless absolutely, categorically necessary. Exclamation marks are what Scott Fitzgerald called laughing at your own jokes, although this is not always the case. Sometimes, it’s just too much jauntiness in one sentence.

Capital letters, on the other hand, feel like failure. If italics and vivid vocabulary won’t do it, then the writer is not trying hard enough. But when you need to give the impression that you are yelling through a megaphone, in rank disbelief, when you want to do the literary equivalent of red in the face and palms raised and head shaking, sometimes capitals are the only resort.

I do this little riff every time I come here. The regular readers will know I love almost nothing more than the three weeks twice a year with The Cousins. I love the house, I love the country, I love the dogs, I love the children, I love the grown-ups. I love the kitchen; it is sheer luxury to cook in, and has many utensils which I lack. I love it all.

But, family people, I write, every damn time, I DO NOT KNOW HOW YOU DO IT.

I was going to write:


Then I wondered if that was being rankly sexist. There are fathers in the picture too; I know the dads do important work. Statistically, the fathers do not put in the hours in the way the mothers do, but statistics are a very blunt instrument. Also, I am not an expert in family life.

But the reason I am ranting in great big CAPITAL LETTERS is that someone was four today, so there has been a birthday party. The Three-Year-Old is now The Four-Year-Old.

The day was lovely and adorable and seminal and every tiny moment should be recorded for our family posterity, and I would love to tell you about it, but I am too tired. I cannot think or type or make sense. I am on my knees.

Yet, I hardly did anything. I wrapped one present, and made some cheese straws. I bought some flowers for the table. It was the Mother who plotted and planned and wrapped and cooked and organised and remembered.

It is the remembering, I think, that really marks the mums, and I might be completely out of order, and empirically incorrect, but oh, oh, the amount of things that must not be forgotten. And I don’t mean the birthday cake candles and the card from the dogs, written at eleven o’clock last night, with special paw prints drawn on it. I mean all the things that a newly-turned-four person loves and needs and wants, and some of the things she does not even know she wants or needs; the things that run from sandwich fillings to preferred colour.

Admittedly, the father in this house is out of the country for work, but my strong suspicion is that when it comes to this kind of occasion it is the mothers who are the magnificent major-generals, and major-domos, and major-everythings.

So that was why my first instinct was to put the mums in caps. But really I do mean you PARENTS. YOU ARE BLOODY MIRACLES.

This level of tiredness is something for which I cannot find words. And it’s not as if anything dramatic or awful happened. It was enchanting. Everyone had a delightful time. The small people were impeccably behaved. The whole thing was a riotous success. There was a pink cake, for heaven’s sake. THE MOTHER MADE A PINK CAKE. (Sorry, there I go again. But really.)

The birthday girl could not have been happier. She ran around in her pretty dress singing Happy Birthday to Me, which made me laugh quite a lot.

I just do think that to keep a family ticking over, let alone happy and fulfilled, is work of the highest, most remarkable order, and I wish it got more credit. I wish it got lauded and rewarded in the way that acting in a film or heading a Footsie 100 company or being an Arctic explorer does. Running a hedge fund or trekking the frozen wastes is a piece of piss compared with the complexities and relentless needs of bringing up small humans.

I know there is the reward of the heart, and of course that should be enough; certainly it is enough. But I’d like a bit of public applause, for those guiders of tender young spirits. There should be a few ceremonies, a moment with The Queen, a party or two, for the parents who manage to produce well-rounded young people.

As I write this, my crabbed fingers crawling over the keyboard, my battered brain wondering if it is making any sense at all (answer: probably not), the Nine-Year-Old is lying on the floor gazing into the eyes of my old Pigeon. The dog gazes back, with the limpid eyes of love. The Nine-Year-Old says, to no-one in particular: ‘This is what she likes.’

She rubs the ancient canine in the very particular place just above the ear where she loves to be rubbed. They both sigh, in unison, a little unified picture of content. That is why it is all worth it, I think. That’s the point.

And, just as I am waxing a little sentimental, The Nine-Year-Old's friend, who is staying, says, in a conspiratorial whisper, cocking her head at me: 'What is she doing?' (I am typing this at the kitchen table.)

The Nine-Year-Old says, matter of fact: 'She is doing the blog.'

'The blob?' says the friend, horrified.

The Nine-Year-Old breaks into peals of delighted laughter.

'The BLOG,' she shrieks.

'I don't know what a Blob is,' says the friend.

She is not at all impressed.

She is right. It is a blob. I love that it is a blob. It shall be an official Blob from now on.

I know my place.


A couple of quick pictures for you.

The snowdrops are out:

24 Feb 1 24-02-2012 16-38-26.ORF

The flowers I bought for the birthday table:

24 Feb 1 24-02-2012 16-55-52

This is the kind of concentration required for putting the finishing touches to the special pink cake:

24 Feb 2 24-02-2012 16-57-04

More flowers, picked by the birthday girl from the garden:

24 Feb 3 24-02-2012 17-05-06

My cheese straws. I was quite proud of them:

24 Feb 5 24-02-2012 19-58-24

The arrival of the cake:

24 Feb 6 24-02-2012 20-15-30

And the half-demolished pink glory. You do see:

24 Feb 9 24-02-2012 20-22-54

Meanwhile, the Pigeon catches up with her sunbathing:

24 Feb 10 24-02-2012 16-39-12

The blinky eyes. THE BLINKY EYES. Oh, bugger it, it seems that capital letters have got the better of me today, and that really is all she wrote.


  1. Thank you, thank you, thank you. For praising parents (I am a very weary one now that my offspring are semi-adults), for enjoying and appreciating The Four-Year-Old's birthday in all its tiny details and, last but by no means least, for relating the "blob" conversation! I laughed out loud - hilarious! I'm sure the cheese straws were delicious; they certainly look tasty.

  2. I'm glad she had a fabulous day, I find pink cake work well, my little girl is always thrilled to cut through the pink icing to discover an equally pink sponge. (chocolate dinosaurs and pirate chests were my sons favoured cakes). I have just calculated that with three children (25, 23 and 5 years old) I have baked over 30 birthday cakes (+ 27 for my husband) no wonder I dream in cake!

  3. I too laughed out loud at the blob...oh but it were a blob! And as a parent, I am inclined to agree with you! That deep sea diver tiredness comes from CARING so much! Lou x

  4. On behalf of mothers the world over, I thank you for recognizing the amount of work that is done but usually goes unnoticed.

    Excellent blob, BTW.

  5. THE MUMS ARE THE BEST see capitals are contagious.
    Thank you for this validation. Today...mother of the 35 year old with, yet again a broken heart courtesy of a stupid ill-bred man....I hold...I soothe...I mother...IT'S MY JOB.
    I wish I could simply bake a cake.

  6. I always say to my daughter, "You'll be 80 and I'll be 120 (yes, I waited until almost too late to decide to "start" a family!) and I'll still be rocking you on my lap." (Cue: groan, "Oh, MOM!" and eye rolling.)
    I still remember finding all these pieces of way-too-chocolate (if THAT is possible) cake tucked around the garden, the fallout from a "pirate party" for five-year-olds whose taste buds were obviously more sensitive than mine. (Daughter had requested chocolate/ chocolate & it had a white chocolate skull & crossbones on it like a pirate flag.)

    PS I'm betting it won't be long before the nine-year-old is doing her own blog!
    PPS Blinky eyes!!!!! (I am a sucker for blinky eyes!)

  7. PPPS I use exclamation points for emphasis. Take that, Scottie! (If I could figure out how to do italics online, I'd use them instead.)

  8. One of my favourite chapters in BIHH is the one about parenthood, and understanding choices NOT to, and appreciation of the extraordinary abilities of those who can and do. You have done it again, Tania, with the fabulous phrase "Running a hedge fund or trekking the frozen wastes is a piece of piss compared with the complexities and relentless needs of bringing up small humans." My personal observations of friends and family bear that statement out. In spades.

    And the blinky eyes are, of course, balm to the soul; and the snowdrops & crocuses in milk bottles are SUPERB. (I agree with Pat in Belgium about the italics; it is possible with HTML, geeky website typing this is in italics, but if that feels like hard work, there is nothing wrong with CAPITAL LETTERS.

    [To get the italics, or underline, or bold, when commenting in plain text like this: type <> with i or u or b in between the chevrons; and to turn off, type the same thing with / in front of the second i, u or b. Sorry - geek lesson over for the day.

  9. Sweet post. How clever of you, you have absolutely put your finger on it, it is the bloody REMEMBERING. Which, speaking for our household, fathers seem to get out of as they are obviously incapable of such. I suppose it's that thing about you can only have a pilot and a co-pilot, two pilots just doesn't work. Hope you enjoy the peace...

  10. As one who does not have children, may I say, Thank heavens for those who are doing it well. That is worth shouting about.


  11. Thank you so much for this post, I have just cried my eyes out over something silly because I am just so tired! Thank you for noticing ( and putting it better than I ever could) what mums do. You're a better person than I ever was before i had children, and if it's any consolation I was always worn out after a day with kids before I had my own.

  12. Oh the Dear Readers - what an absolutely marvellous and kind and generous set of comments. I love your cake stories. Thank you.

  13. Away for four days and trying to catch up. Those eyes, the blinky ones I mean.


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