Think P-o-s-i-t-i-v-ePosted: July 11, 2012
P is getting ready to leave on his holiday. He is going to be cycling around the ‘tour de France’ mountains (dangerous for a boy from the flatlands whose only training consists of eating biscuits) But hey ho, it’s still a kid-free holiday in my book. It is also the evening before the great event in the school diary. The teacher’s retirement party. And of course I have volunteered to be the principle cake-bearer for the occasion. I have stocked up on fondant icing, sugar flowers and a professional palate knife in advance so I have set the bar high and I’m starting to panic. I’m just closing the oven door and P comes in with his rucksack. He pulls a sleeping bag out from behind the sofa,
“When was the last time this one was washed?”
“I don’t know” I answer “How do I make a tree out of fondant icing? It’s too sticky.”
“Can I take this deodorant?”
“No. I use that one. Take your own one.”
“But it’s got no lid!”
“Look” I say “I don’t think we’re much help to each other right now”
In the end I force him to make the tree for me. He owes me that much. P and his rucksack are out the door and I’m alone with my cake. I make a few little toadstools and butterflies out of icing. The idea is taking shape. It will have a kind of ‘happy nature’ design. I head to bed. It’s 10.30 so I’m on schedule. The first of 4 days on my own with the kids, I need an early night.
I close my eyes and see messy scraps of fondant. The cakes haven’t risen very well. I should have used more mixture. It’s getting late. I don’t want to look at the clock. Maybe I’ll ring P and see if he’s still awake. Ok I can’t sleep, how am I going to finish off this cake and take A to school and cycle to the dunes tomorrow without sleep? I don’t even know where this lake is that I’m supposed to get to. The cake is not big enough! It needs another layer. Ok, I’m just going to get up right now and make a third cake. What’s that noise?! I’ll have to go and look. No it’s nothing, just try and relax every part of my body. Yes start with the feet. Don’t think about the cake. It’s so late! What would happen if I would suddenly die in the night? Does A know how to use my phone? The front door is locked, how would she get help? Who would know that the kids were in the house alone! You are not going to die in the night. YOU HAVE TO SLEEP. The kids need you in the morning.
The last time I look at the clock it’s 3am. I finally sleep. S wakes up at 5.15.
Breakfast is on the go and I start whipping up an icing. A is excited about the cake and keeps asking if she can help. We’ve done the trimmings, I’m showered and we’re all dressed before 7 waiting for the rest of the world to wake up. At school some of the parents have rewritten several school songs with new words in honour of the teachers. All very jolly but I’m only miming. 2 hours sleep is not enough to carry a tune.
Back at home I take a deep breath and attempt to finish the cake. I add the cream and strawberries but it’s falling apart. S grabs and squishes each strawberry as I slice it. I’m panicking. I plonk him back on the floor, so he screams and tries to climb my trousers covering me in red sticky juice. I try to place the tin back around the cake to stop it from collapsing and then I write, “We will miss you” in edible ink. It’s not in the middle! AHHH! The rain is pelting down, so I wrap S and myself in raincoats and head over to the chief organiser’s house to hand over the cake.
Her house smells of coffee. She has painted antique cabinets, an open kitchen and various healthy-looking crusty loaves of bread. Her husband takes the cake out to the fire-engine they have parked outside. They’ve got a fridge in there so it will be chilled until the last minute he tells me! These people are too cool. She shows me a lampshade that she’s been weaving with fabric to hang over the teacher’s chair. She’s compiled a photo book and home-made gifts from the kids. Wow this woman has been working on this plan.
“It’s going to be a great day” she tells me “And the weather is going to be nice too”
I look through the back windows at the dark clouds.
The rain keeps falling in heavy bursts like a monsoon. The party is scheduled to start at one, but I have to follow-on later with S. I keep checking my phone hoping for the message that it’s been relocated. I’m not looking forward to the half hour trudge through the rain on our bakfiets (big container bike). I text one of the other mums to check.
“It’s going ahead” she replies.
‘They’re crazy.’ I think and I’m grumpily looking in the front garden for the bike’s plastic rain cover. It’s ripped down one side and covered in snails. I abandon the rain cover, shove S into his mac and fasten him in. We have to keep stopping to check the map. This is the middle of nowhere. Up and down the dunes is about as hilly as you’ll get in Holland, but we arrive finally to find a clearing in the trees. There’s bunting, people playing music and the parents are already in full verse. My cake sits in the middle of a table in front of the teacher. I find A, “mama!” she chirps and throws her arms around me. Everyone looks so cheerful, and they’re complimenting me on the great job I did with the cake but I haven’t recovered from my weird nightly visions and the sense of urgency I’ve had all day.
“Come down to the lake, it’s lovely down there” someone tells me.
It’s only a few strides from where we all stand under the trees but it’s like a summer day down there and there’s a small beach. The children all start splashing in the water and running up and down the sandy dunes.
“This is amazing” I say to the chief organiser. “I absolutely didn’t believe you, when you said it would be nice weather.”
“I knew” she says
OK, I’m going to have to give it to her; she’s got this positive thinking down to a magic art. I have to give it a go. The kids are all thrilled with their outing, and I start to relax and try a bit of chit-chat. At the end of the day, I towel off the kids, kissing them as I lift them up into the bike. I am cycling with a smile on my face. My delirious tiredness is taking on a new dreamy madness. It’s quite intoxicating. I even lead the way back with a couple of the parents who can’t remember the route. I’m flying here, I could almost break into song. Maybe there could be a happy ending after all.
At home I cook the kids their favorite pasta, get them in the bath and we’re on a roll.
“BUT NOOOO! WHAT’S THAT ON A’S BUM?”
After a thorough examination I find that all three of us are covered in ticks. They are so tiny that I can barely find them all, but they’re trying to suck our blood. The little bastards. I have to remove them one by one with tweezers. I press them firmly to be sure they are dead and burn their remnants out of our skin with pure alcohol.