Our fireplace is heaving with birthday cards. “WIFE!” screams one. “ONE YEAR OLD!” yells another. Another one just has a multicoloured rabbit on it; my older son chose that one. August, you see, is birthday month at our house. Of the four of us, three – my husband, my younger son and I – have birthdays within a week of each other.
First up is my husband, who is turning a nothing-y 30-mumble-mumble. On his actual birthday, we ditch work and go to our local cinema complex, where we feast on substandard tacos from the Mexican-style chain-style restaurant, drink Tango Ice Blasts and watch Tom Cruise running very fast on the silver screen.
The actual gift I’ve got him, however, is a gin-making workshop that runs in a couple of days. It’s perfect because my husband’s love of gin is pure and unironic. He stares at bottles of Sipsmith the way a cartoon dog stares at a string of sausages. It’s a workshop for two, which means we’ll get to spend child-free time together while hammered. And, finally, the distillery is in east London, which means my husband can indulge in one of his favourite activities – seething against bearded hipsters in plaid while being himself a bearded hipster in plaid. Save that time I got him some beard oil and a flannel shirt, this is as perfect a gift as I can muster.
But. On the morning of gin-eve, I awake feeling very wrong. My stomach is burning and my limbs feel like lead.
“I’m so sorry,” I say, throwing the children at my husband. “I know you need to get to work, but could you just watch them for a minute while I bler?”
I say this last word – “bler” – into the toilet. Then I say it again and again and again. Then I turn around, sit down on the toilet and say it again, with my bum. The morning continues much in this vein, as does the afternoon.
“Oh, no,” my husband says in dismay. “We’re not going to be able to do the gin thing, are we?”
“I bet it’s just a 24-hour thing,” I tell him through the toilet door. “Don’t come in!”
I have form when it comes to falling ill at the most inconvenient moments. In shoes, on nights out. At dinner at a celebrity cook’s house
Reader, it is not a 24-hour thing. The toilet-based unpleasantness alone lasts 48 hours; thereafter it’s just a blur of bed-based shivers, aches and fever. When I finally resurface, dehydrated and shaky as a newborn gazelle, I am aware that days have passed.
What I’m not prepared for is seeing my husband putting the finishing touches to a chocolate cake before presenting it to our infant son. Oh, fuck, it’s our baby’s first birthday. When our first son turned one, I decked out a hall in bunting, bought five million presents and tipped a hundred-weight of cocktail sausages on to a buffet table. Now it’s our baby’s turn, all I can do to clutch my mug of Dioralyte and try not to throw up into my hand.
But my husband has everything under control. Slowly, I begin to understand that he’s had to take time off work and that my brother-in-law has helped out with the childcare. But the house is immaculate. The children are clothed and fed. And, thanks alone to my husband, our younger son actually has cards and presents, none of which I have had a single hand in.
“Oh, how was the gin thing?” I croak. It was fine, he says. He took a friend, he says. He made some gin. He would have preferred it if I’d been there. I promise to make it up to him. He nods non-committally.
I cannot blame him. I have form when it comes to falling ill at the most inconvenient moments. In shoes, on nights out. At dinner at a celebrity cook’s house. I’ve spent entire weekends away in the toilet with norovirus, and to take a weekend citybreak with me is to spend at least half of it watching the hotel’s own TV channel while I deal with a weather-based migraine. It’s all part of my charm.
Finally, though, we get it right. My own birthday dawns two days later – bright, sunny and vomit-free. We make plans to go as a family to the zoo. Unbelievably, those plans hold up. We arrive at the zoo – again, there is no vomiting – and have a lovely day, spotting giraffes and lions and wildebeest, and explore a forest full of dinosaur statues. In the evening, we manage to leave the kids with a babysitter, entirely without incident, and go out for craft beers and sourdough pizza. The next day, and against all odds, we have another lovely family day out at a local country park.
“We have broken the curse of the three birthdays!” my husband exclaims, the next day. Almost as soon as he says that, I have to take to my bed with an obliterating, two-day migraine, but my point is when three of you have birthdays and one of you is unlucky, “Expect the best, plan for the worst and prepare to be surprised” are words to live by. Or, alternatively: “Two out of three ain’t bad.”