Empty-Nesting: How awesomely liberating is it doing exactly what YOU want now?

It’s my birthday next week, and as has been our agreement for a number of years, the old man and I have a process in place for the event when it comes to presents. It goes something like this: I negotiate a budget (that usually works in my favour because he pretends to feel some semblance of guilt for shirking his responsibilities) and then I buy my own present, whereupon he wraps itafter asking me if I’ll do it first.

Beautiful woman holding up a bunch of balloons on a yacht.
Happy Birthday to me! I’m sure that this is exactly what I’ll be doing next week. Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

I know that many of you will think that our arrangement is kind of sad, but I can assure you it’s not. If you’d seen any of the presents – the towels, the chunky ID bracelets and the over-sized lingerie – that he has picked out for me in the past, you’d understand that for my husband this is a vital safety precaution, and for me it’s about self-care.

I admit that I am fussy. I’m not proud of it but I have very firm ideas about what I like. And even if I sent the old man to the store with an image and code for what I want, he would somehow get it wrong. So in much the same way that people frown at us over about our choice of separate bedrooms, I’m gonna ignore your predictions that our arrangement is a recipe for disaster. It works for us.

But I digress. The reason I mention this birthday is that I have already been out on the town for some retail therapy and purchased a rather cute little Boho top from Sportsgirl that in my head I had earmarked to wear to the girls lunch I’ve organised for the occasion.

However, as I pulled it out of the bag in excitement to check that I still liked it – because I am a serial returner, who is no doubt blacklisted by many of my local stores – the thought crossed my mind that I had been an idiot. Of course, I couldn’t wear it to my lunch on Saturday, I thought, because it’s two days before my birthday.

Seriously, for a few seconds there, menopause-related dementia made me feel seriously fucked off about not having anything nice to wear to my own birthday party.

Until I realised how absurd I was being. Of course I could wear the top, I reminded myself. I’m a free-as-a-bird, ass-kicking empty nester now, with no little people to point the finger or be influenced by my poor example. I am no longer that parental role model who has to pretend to be something I’m not just so that my kids don’t grow up to be assholes. No one is here to judge me if I open my present a few days early, drink wine during the day, or even smoke Cannabis againnot that my abstemiousness prevented Kurt from doing any of those things… and others.

I can make my own decisions again.

This is the wonderfully empowering bit about middle age. It is liberating. I am back in charge of whatever is left of my destiny and I can do things the way I bloody well want to. And if I want to wear my new top before my official birthday, I bloody well can.

Kids’ Birthday Cakes: Or As I Like To Call It, The Public Shaming Of Mothers That Can’t Bake

Yep, there it is – new evidence of my failure at motherhood in one of its major disciplines – Kurt’s twenty-first birthday cake.

Kids’ birthday cakes have always felt to me like one of the ultimate tests of motherhood; rather like keeping your kids alive when as toddlers they seem hellbent on killing themselves.

In my experience, there is a scale of acceptability when it comes to kids’ birthday cakes if you are a mum that can’t bake. You can either spend a month’s rent on an all-singing, all-dancing, Zumbo-styled, perfectly-themed cake with gold-plating and a chocolate fountain at its epicenter – leaving you feeling like a cheat (and broke), or you can create the type of annual home-made disaster I specialize in and retain some sense of pride. The second option also solidifies your status as worst cook/mother ever.

Lately, my cakes have fallen somewhere in the middle of that scale, and my signature birthday cake has evolved into what I like to think of as a hybrid – as in, half-bought and half-ruined by me.

This year marks my twenty-fourth year of this onerous responsibility, and I have no idea why I continue to feel the need to prove something or to torture myself in this stubbornly idiotic fashion. In general, I am not a stoic, yet for some reason, when it comes to the kids’ birthday cakes I turn into Joan of Arc in the kitchen. 

Needless to say, the only cake Kurt truly remembers from his childhood is the super-expensive, perfectly-iced, fire engine cake that cost me half of my salary for his sixth birthday. Obviously, he has chosen to blank from his memory the amazing skateboard cake with its licorice wheels, and the guitar cake with its licorice strings – (he recently admitted to me that he hates licorice) – or the multitude of sunken sponge cakes, with sinkholes at their center.

Mention of the cake in the lead up to their birthdays provokes an eye-roll from both of my kids, which I have interpreted as a defense mechanism for coping with this annual disappointment. But since they haven’t told me not to bother, and they’re now in their twenties, I can only assume that they must derive an inordinate amount of pleasure from my suffering.

I was certain that Kurt would accept my offer of a shop-bought cake for his birthday this year – an offer made in part to demonstrate the importance of the milestone, and in part to get me off the hook. But, unfortunately, giving Kurt choices is never a good thing. It gave him something else to worry about ahead of what is always an overwhelming day. When I presented him with my Donna Hay Chocolate book and I saw him flick miserably through the pages with a – ‘You choose, Mum – just make it creative’ – I knew I had to take back control.

Anyway, if there’s one thing my kids can guarantee, it’s that their cakes will be creative – although there was that one year when the cake slipped my mind completely…

So I ummed and I ahhed about which cake to make. A large chocolate brownie cake? A red velvet cake? The chocolate candy bar cake I made the previous year – which pre-empted the old man’s brief hospitalization? I knew the cake needed some wow factor, but I wasn’t prepared to risk another lava cake *should have been a sponge cake*. So, eventually, I decided to play safe and create another hybrid – something simple, yet fancy enough to sate mine and Kurt’s creative whims.

The vertically-challenged, Croquembouche materialized – minus the spun sugar, or indeed anything that involved technique or cooking. Coles ready-made profiteroles stuck together with icing; some stick on chocolate stars and gold dust for the wow factor – et voila, a new birthday masterpiece!

Zero shame. Almost.

The Curious Incident Of The Dog With The Pooey Ass

The Princess Spoodle’s birthday didn’t start well today. While the old man was out playing tennis, she had one of those unfortunate incidents of a sticky dingleberry stuck to her nether regions – a mortifying turn of events to a dog of her breeding with associated sensitivities. It’s one of those situations that any parent of a longhaired breed will understand, and in retrospect, completely my fault for procrastinating about booking her in at the salon for a groom. Dingleberry removal is one of those chores that no one wants to deal with.

 

dog-1912874_1920
Not The Princess, obvs, because I couldn’t possibly publicly shame her in such a way.

Over-excited about her big day, the three of us remained blissfully unaware of her condition this morning until she dragged her bottom across my bed and left a massive skid mark across my clean sheets – evidence of what an irresponsible parent I am. And I have never seen Kurt or NC disappear as quickly.

 

The problem with pets is that you can’t blackmail them or make them understand that they’re supposed to know what to do in the toileting department. And although they are your child, their poo doesn’t hold the same magic power as that of your newborn’s, for instance, when you exult in the magnificence of every part of what you’ve created, even when they squirt one in your face.

 

Somewhat inevitably, the first thought that crossed my mind as I retched the first time was why the fuck the old man is never here in those few minutes of the week when we actually need him. These  include:

 

Emptying the bin and recycling

Putting out the bins for collection day

Removal of any living thing that belongs to the animal kingdom yet is not human

Mowing the lawn

Washing up

 

In other words, for all the really fought-after tasks that involve muck in the house – so getting shit off the dog’s ass definitely falls into his camp of responsibilities.

 

Which left me with two options: To wait for his return and in the meantime lock the Princess in a cupboard where she could do minimal damage – a suggestion that my vegetarian daughter decided was animal cruelty – or clean the offending ass myself.

 

So I gagged, checked the time and realized that the old man wouldn’t be back for a couple of hours, and then I gagged again as I carried Shitty Ass at arm’s length to the bathroom, questioning why I ever thought having a pet was a good idea.

 

‘Bet you thought you were done with cleaning dirty bottoms,’ Kurt said on our way to the bathroom – an attempt to inject some humor into the heinous task.

 

‘Ha ha!’ I agreed, not cruel enough to remind him of the last time he was drunk with gastro.

 

It was only as I dropped placed the Princess gently into the bath that we saw the cockroach in its last throes of death waiting for us near the plughole, and Kurt, (who had been pretending to be my assistant up until this time, without actually venturing anywhere close to the dog’s asshole), leapt into the air with a squeal, backed himself into a corner of the bathroom, and rocked there for the next ten minutes.

 

It’s going to be an interesting negotiation when he and his future wife divide up the domestic chores.

 

And I recognized my situation for what it was. This was a test, to prove that I am indeed what I pertain to be – equal to man – to see if I really can cope with over-sized insects that scuttle noisily and threateningly to disempower women, as well as shitty, matted bottoms with the potential of a weapon of mass destruction.

 

I think the Princess quite enjoyed her time in the cupboard. Hide and seek is her new favorite game. The groomer is booked for Friday.

Celebrating Your Millennial’s Birthday In Style

In spite of Kim Jong-un’s very obvious intention to spoil all our fun, Saturday marked the end of the last birthday “event” in our house for this year, as well as the end of winter and its excuse for visible leg hair. girl-438133_1920

 

It was NC’s 23rd birthday “event” and she chose to mark its Grand Finale with an intimate gathering of close friends at our place. You see, we don’t celebrate a birth “day” in our house, we have full-on festivals that usually last a minimum of two weeks or until the old man puts the birthday cards in the bin. It is a tradition passed down by my mum, who, even when the Bailiffs were knocking at the door, celebrated birthdays and Christmas in style. Once I got my head beyond the other tradition in our family – which is dying under forty – I decided it made sense to fully embrace her wisdom of making every year count.

 

With so little blood family here with whom to celebrate, the onus is on our little band of warriors to make our birthday “events” really special – difficult when you’re married to Scrooge – and those that have stood out in the past include NC’s seventeenth when she was too hungover to turn up to her own birthday lunch, and her twenty-first – which had a Marvel theme rather than the Cinderella theme I had anticipated, much to my private disappointment. It was relatively easy to return the pink ball gown back to Myer, but the cancellation of her dowry of two-for-one Simmonds to her Prince Charming – something Kurt seemed up for – was awkward.

 

Warm-up celebrations began two weeks ago and kicked off with a Bachie marathon, for which we fully intended to dress up in our cocktail dresses and sup on Champagne until we remembered that we don’t own cocktail dresses. Anyway, PJs are so much more comfortable than dresses especially as it was still winter here and as my brainiac daughter pointed out – Matty J couldn’t actually see us! Wine replaced Champagne because I suspect Kurt drank the only bottle of Champagne to last longer than a few hours in our house, that I thought was in the cupboard – a bottle the old man must have bought in a rare moment of madness prior to The Great Depression of 2015.

 

Then came the family celebration on the day itself – a meal out together where all our best intentions to be civil to one another for one night of the year ended in tears before the arrival of the chicken wings, negating one of NC’s best opportunities to moan about animal cruelty while we pretended to care. Kurt is usually the surprise guest at these meals because not even the promise of free nosh can tempt our son away from his bedroom and Breaking Bad these days.

 

Which led us to Saturday’s Millennial gathering – an intimate soiree of close friends, all twenty-something and gorgeous, for which the old man knocked up his now infamous Sangria and spent the remainder of the evening averting his eyes to breast spillage and feigning deafness during talk of penis size. Even Kurt was on form, breaking the family record for Sangria consumption without projectile vomiting.

 

Obviously, we have to conceal the full list of birthday events from the old man when all our birthdays coincide with the end of the financial year and it is a time of family mourning in our house. But between you and us, they included:

 

  • FULL access to the tv for once, for our marathon session of Bachie. This package included the predictability of hourly snipes from the old man about how we are supposed to be feminists – yawn! – while he pretended not to watch it. His refusal to get out ‘his guns’ so that we could pretend he was Matty J and objectify him was a disappointment – and frankly very un-British
  • A girls’ lunch of oysters and Sparkly prior to the birthday dinner
  • A shopping trip to buy an impulsive party outfit that neither of us will ever wear again
  • Pres, before the party pres
  • A full body makeover for each of us to include our leaving the house/end-of-winter leg shave. All hair will be donated to either the costume department of GOT for John Snow’s cape for Season 8, or my preference, a charity that turns it into hair extensions for those menstruating women or ones that have recently come out of a relationship, chopped all their hair off on impulse and look nothing like Charlene Theron in Mad Max: Fury Road
  • Cake-testing session
  • A visit to the hairdressers to become Daenerys Targaryen, because blondes definitely seem to have more fun
  • Hourly readings of the temperature of the Sangria for NC to record the impact of climate change on Spanish alcoholic beverages