The big day has arrived. I knock off at about 2pm and swing by the crèche. The staff have made a card with an enormous number one on the front. (That’s the numeral “1″. They haven’t just pissed on a piece of cardboard and handed it to me.) They really are wonderful here. All of the carers dote on Lola and she adores them right back.
Some day, I’m sure, I’ll arrive to collect her and she won’t want to come. She’ll tell me she’s staying put. But for now, at least, she greets with an affectionate poke in the eye.
The carer fills me in on what I’ve missed today. Lola is not my daughter, she’s my niece. And this is one of those times when that distinction is most pronounced. Only a parent could possibly give a shit how many times a day their child has crapped itself or eaten turnips. But I listen politely and after that we’re on our way. Today is Lola’s birthday. It’s also the day she graduates from the Baby Room. When she returns next week she’ll be in with the Wobblers. So we sneak a peek at them in the window on our way past. Christ, some of the bigger lads are built like prop forwards. Lola is nippy, but if one of those boys fell on her she’d definitely know about it.
On our way home, we take a detour by the Irish Museum of Modern Art. On a gorgeous afternoon like this, I don’t think there are too many nicer places in Dublin city to sit down and soak up the sun. And the leading lights of Dublin’s alfresco cider-drinking community all appear to agree. We’re almost on first name terms with them at this stage. (“What’s cracking, Anto?” “Lookin’ good there, Micko!” “Boris, Sergei… You old dogs!”)
We sit down on the grass. I’ve brought along a newspaper, but Lola has other ideas. A year ago, she was just a tiny pile of skin and winkles. Now she’s a tiny little person with a personality of her own. And she’s laying down the law. Her favourite game is to offer me a blade of grass, but then snatch it away before I can take it from her. Okay, so she’s not exactly Stephen Fry. But she’s getting there.
Eventually, we make our way back to my sister’s house. There’s an enormous commotion when we arrive. The place is festooned with ballons. Lola’s mother scoops her up in her arms and gives her an enormous slobbery kiss, while aunts and grandmother hover in close attendance. I’m outranked here many times over, so I slip into the kitchen to see what’s on the menu.
There’s birthday cake, chocolate Rice Krispie buns, Kit Kats and Coke. Lola is too young to actually enjoy any of this crap – apart from the cake which she will smear on her face, in her hair and on her clothes. (“Like a young Jackie O,” I tell her.) In fact, she’ll be a passive participant for almost everything that transpires here this evening. My sister will open each of our presents and offer thanks. But I have a sneaking suspicion that, this time next year, someone else will be calling the shots.
Happy birthday, kid!
[P.S. I suppose I should admit that the two parts of this story happened on consecutive days. Me and Lola hung out with the winos, got her birthday card etc. on the Thursday afternoon. The party happened the following evening. My sister actually took off work and spent the Friday with Lola. But I boxed the two parts together for reasons of space. Also it was me who blew up all the balloons for the party.]