I knew having a daughter would be fun. I’d spent years looking forward to precious moments of female bonding. Misty-eyed vignettes of brushing hair, painting nails and side-by-side crafting.
Four years into mothering my girl, I’m filing those images in the folder marked ‘delusional’. For now, at least.
There is nail painting. Plenty of it. Almost every weekend. Unfortunately I’m not usually invited. Unless the pot is really hard to open. Apparently it’s much easier to varnish the floor / Joel’s entire arms / our crockery if I’m not in the same room.
Crafting is much the same. An endless barrage of requests. More glue. Different colour paper. The right size pompoms. Admittedly, we often craft side-by-side. Living the dream. But that’s only so she can steal my supplies when I’m not looking.
Nail varnish and crafts are basically just threats to our fragile peace treaty. Disguised as opportunities for quality time.
Hair brushing, on the other hand, is a live grenade. There’s no pretence there. None.
I have friends whose daughters wear their hair in elaborate plaited arrangements. With more hairbands than a branch of Claire’s accessories. I have literally no idea how they do it.
Just the sight of a hairbrush is enough to make Elvie run for the hills. So much so that her own brush has mysteriously disappeared, leaving us with sole option of the soft, entirely useless baby brushes. Which have no impact on the knots whatsoever. Just as she planned.
There are whole Youtube channels dedicated to cute hairstyles for little girls. Numerous pages on Pinterest. Full of french plaits, angel braids and other words that pass for curses in our kitchen on a school morning.
Nowhere is there a guide on what to do when your four year old styles her own hair, using what’s left of yesterday’s unbrushed, slept-in plait and refuses to let you touch it until it’s so late that the school gate’s about to close and you just give in.
The basic rule appears to be ‘the more clips, the merrier. No matter where they are.’ I’ve not seen that on Instagram.
If I had a pound for every keep-your-head-still-for-goodness-sake-how-hard-can-it-be-to-just-stare-at-the-plug-socket-for-two-minutes I’ve shouted, our mortgage would have been paid off long ago. It’s exhausting.
Seriously. How hard can it be? Keep. your. head. still.
Or not. Turns out it’s not just Elvie whose head is incapable of a pause, however brief. Turns out it’s tricky for me too.
This time of year is always hard for worriers. All the planning and the organising and the multitude of opportunities to fail. Throw in a few last-minute requests from school, a broken television and a building site in the lounge and getting through the day can feel impossible.
My brain just cannot let things go. No matter how many lists I write. Or how much planning I do. Yesterday I went to town to buy cranberries for bookgroup Thanksgiving. Having promised myself that I wouldn’t think about christmas again until we come out the other side of my birthday party.
And yet, there I was. In the pound store. Where they definitely don’t sell cranberries. Looking at festive table cloths and serviettes and crackers. And dishwasher tablets. Of course.
It’s unstoppable. My relentless, reckless, ridiculous brain.
Getting myself tangled up to the point of shutdown. Because there is too much to do and too much to make and too much to organise. And, most importantly, because so much of it is new.
I’ve never made a miniature top hat before. Or bread from scratch. Or grown up party food for an indeterminate number of people. Or, for that matter, anything involving fresh cranberries. It’s definitely a good week for adventure.
Problem is, I want to do it. All of it. This is what makes my soul come alive. Trying new things. Achieving something. Feeding people. Creating an atmosphere. Making pointless, beautiful things. Beauty for beauty’s sake. It’s so much fun.
Unless I’m racing through it. Thinking about everything else that needs doing before Saturday. And how I’ll probably mess it up anyway. Cursing the American measurement system. And dying on the inside when my daughter throws up in the night, requiring two days off school according to their sickness policy, despite it being entirely down to her stinking cold. Because now I won’t get anything done at all. And it’s not fair. And I probably should never have said I’d have a birthday party in the first place. And…
Keep. Your. Head. Still.
It’s actually impossible to be in more than one place at once. Believe me, I’ve tried.
It is, however, just about possible to do one thing at a time. To make a slightly-shabby miniature top hat out of a recycled space ship costume and some fabric scraps. To enjoy whole moments of the process. Despite the constant audience of small children. To only cut your finger once.
It’s possible to scale down your plans and rein yourself in. And to try not to be too disappointed. It’s possible to believe your party will be worth having even if it doesn’t look like an exact replica of a vintage big top.
It’s possible to cross things off your lists without having done them. And not miss them too much.
It’s possible to decide that sleep is more valuable than hand-painted circus signs. It really, truly is.
It’s possible that your friends will love you anyway.
It’s possible that there’s no point doing any of your wonderful plans if you’re too stressed to enjoy them.
It’s possible to keep your head still. If only for a minute. A minute, it turns out, is better than nothing.
Now, who’s going to tell Elvie?