Tuesday, 28 June 2011


My first born decided he wanted to celebrate his twelfth birthday last Saturday with just me and his dad. I understood, last year he ended up feeling cheesed off as 10 friends took over the show at his dad's. Several litres of Coke; a pile of junk food, a hot tub, water bombs, trampoline - you can imagine the consequences.
"I want to go quad biking in the morning with dad, and out for a meal with you and dad in the afternoon".  I agreed to it straight away, though didn't relish the idea of making small-talk, eating a gluten-laden meal and waltzing around Cardiff Bay with a man I have nothing to say to. I did, however, perfectly understand the request and found it quite sweet that something so simple was all my son wanted.
On the Friday, there were  reports of dad's man-flu threatening to jeopardize the whole celebration, I felt sorry and hoped he'd 'get over it'.
The quad biking took place, but lunch was cancelled last-minute; "too ill, I'm dying, need to sleep".
We went for a meal, just the two of us, to 'Frankie and Benny's'. It's very dark, loud, busy, over-priced, soul-crushingly mediocre there. I whine about prices straight away and then remind myself that this is a birthday, a rare chance for just me and my eldest to spend time together. The heavy, yet fine rain didn't stop, in the weeks before I'd envisioned bright blue skies, sunglasses and al fresco dining. We huddled around a very small table, constantly kicking each others' feet.
My bag housed a very small birthday cake, I foolishly handed it to the waitress. I scanned for the cheapest meal, but it was hardly worth trying to save money now, I ordered a burger with blue cheese, he wanted scampi and chips. The family on the next table, a young couple with two girls, seemed to be celebrating something. An elderly man was with them, his collapsible zimmer frame was propped up by his side - he was there in body but not spirit. Another family comprising 3 couples of various ages and one spare part in the form of a bored and uncomfortable looking young man, were celebrating something too.
I'm not very good at sitting and waiting, I started behaving like a child, grabbed a balloon and sucked the helium from it to (irresponsibly) entertain myself, and managed to get the first belly-laugh from my 12 year old I'd heard in ages. A glamorous couple entered, both over-tanned, his over-trained muscles and her over-dieted frame were a good match. They 'stormed' out after hearing there would a 15 minute wait for a table.
Our meals arrived and my first thought was how pointless the mint green-coloured limp teaspoon of rocket was. Surely rocket is meant to be dark green, robust and fill about a third of the plate if it's to have any effect? The scampi was the colour of rusty iron, obviously either deep-fried in filthy oil, or for too long. I was about to complain, but my 'starving son objected, said it looked just how he wanted it. The scampi was too spicy -  the batter was full of cracked peppercorns and took your breath away. I forgot about the blue cheese until I gulped down a sizeable wedge of it, leaving me feeling as though I'd eaten a lump of congealed vomit.
After the meal, we sat feeling rather disappointed and said we wouldn't come here again. The waitress took the plates and didn't look surprised that we didn't want dessert or drinks. The music went off, out came the small cake, twelve candles flickering, all eyes on us. I felt sick from the cheese and sick at the spectacle about to take place. "Happy Birthday" song kicks in, too loud, too cheesy and completely ridiculous. The bemused waitress mouths the words sheepishly, wondering where the hell the rest of the family and my son's friends are, no doubt. Cliff Richards' 'Congratulations' next, more embarrassment, "make it stop!" I scream silently. My cheeks burn with the glare of puzzled diners before me, "poor kid" they must have been thinking. Mortified, my son blows out the candles before hanging his head and waiting for the cake to disappear, A knife is presented to me, along with two napkins, we decide to eat a slice each and run.
Walking towards the door,  a sense of relief washes over us, laughter erupts, we can't stop laughing. I tell my son that 12 years ago it was a boiling hot day. I tell him about lying on the bed with him in my arms, and stuffing my face. I ate 2 baguettes, a whole box of Roses chocolates and 3 packets of crisps (I blame the shock). "Where was daddy" he asks, I tell him; "at the pub".
Just me and my boy, we walk to the car, it always was just the two of us and I always knew everything would be OK in the end, (even 12 years ago when everything wasn't OK). We smiled and decided in another 12 years, on his 24th birthday we will sit together, eat like pigs and share a cake again. In the car, he said "I've had a lovely day". I had a lovely day too, just as I had 12 years ago, sitting up in bed holding my newborn son and feeling exceptionally proud. Everything, yet nothing has changed.


  1. Beautifully written piece. What a wonderfully strong relationship the two of you have. My ‘baby’ just had his 32nd birthday two days ago and I searched the photos for that hospital one for Facebook. I love the idea of scoffing all that food, including a whole box of Roses! Here’s to the next twelve years; enjoy every moment as they disappear so quickly.

  2. It's a funny thing - I can empathise with your son completely as I rarely wanted much of a fuss on my birthday either, I preferred to have my best friend to sleep over and we'd pop to the cinema then come home and make our own pizzas with my Mum before Dad would help us set up our tent since we used to like 'camping' in the garden!

    I loved your observations about the other diners - it seems that you get every sort of person if you take the time to look around you in a restaurant. I'm not a mother but I hope if I ever become one I can enjoy my time with my children and be lucky enough to share a similar wavelength like you and your son!

    Jem xXx

  3. sounds as if you are doing things just right, and your boy, too ... hurrah for you, and hurrah for your boy !

  4. What a touching post, Lucy. You and your son sound like you have a fantastic relationship, in fact reading it brought a tear to my eye.
    I love your people watching observations, I'd love to spend a day with you. I reckon we'd be in bits. x

  5. Oh dear. Frankie and Benny's. I have not-so-good memories. We took my boys there for lunch a year or so ago, the day before we had to take them back home to France. Bad bad move. Can we say volcanic tummies for the next 24 hours? My husband still talks about it. :)

    Definitely one of the worst places I've ever had a burger in. Never again.

    I'm glad though that your son enjoyed his day anyway. 12 is a special day.

    That's a really well-written post - I enjoyed reading it.

  6. Very moving and beautifully written. What more could anyone ask for.

  7. Yes beautifully written, I cried.

  8. I keep trying to write a comment and then delete it again, not saying quite what I want to. I did read though, and hope I have the same bond - although not the same burger - when my boys reach 12.

  9. You know I am practically in tears reading this post, part laughter, part over emotion. I am rubbish at keeping up with the blogs I follow, too busy sticking elephants onto caravans and obsessing about how to paint a clown without making him look scary. Took a few minutes out to catch up on your blog and am so glad I did. Frankie and Bennys is officially OUT and quality time with special mini people a must this weekend. Your son is lucky to have such a fun mum, xxxx

  10. Your lad sounds lovely, he obviously values his time with you very much, no matter what happens. A birthday 'treat' sounds like a perfect excuse to have some one on one time with the eldest too, as they often get left to their own devices in the hurly burly of younger siblings and family life. Plus you get the chance to renew that connection, make them feel special for a few hours, and share those 'private' jokes, stories and 'looks' we all develop with our kids all over again.
    Hope the ordeal of Frankie and Bennie's wasn't too awful. I've learned not to expect too much from chain restaurants over the years, food is usually shipped in 'Brake Bros' crap, overpriced to boot and served by staff of the monkey's/peanuts variety. Or maybe I'm just hard to please, as I hate eating out at the best of times (I'm thinking that's at least half a weeks shopping I think to myself as they shovel down whatever muck has been served up). As the comedian Viv Stanshall said in the guise of 'Sir Henry of Rawlinson End', " That was inedible muck, and not enough of it!"
    Like your lad, our girls have always liked the simpler stuff like sleep-overs or cinema visits but between them they know quite a lot of better off friends/families who seem subliminally or intentionally to try and out-do each other with more and more lavish or unusual birthday spectacle. Last year it was dry slope skiing (you can imagine how THAT went) and canoeing (only slightly more successful.)
    Hope your feeling a little less blue than the last post, it can be hard and isolating being the one at home, and all to easy to slip into the blues. Though the reasons we stay at home are the very best and most honorable, it's hard not to feel stuck in a particularly deep and under valued rut sometimes. From personal experience I know it can be hard to break those mind numbing routines and chores and feel like what we're doing is worthwhile. Hang in there, it does get better (but sadly the housework don't get any more interesting).

  11. I can finally comment on this post, read it on my mobile and just had to read it again. Really touching and Im so pleased your son had a great birthday. My little man is 1 in under 3 weeks, im sure there will be no 'thanks' look from him as he is overwhelmed by the family and forced to endure photo's and filming by the olds ;o) Scarlett x


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