Alex Payne on parenting: birthdays


    His little girl is growing up quickly, but Alex Payne admits, he isn’t handling it all that well

    One of the things my wife finds most irritating about me (but I know she secretly loves) is my ability to get one line of a song stuck in my head and whistle it non-stop for several days. The latest couplet to get jammed on repeat is Hot Chocolate’s “It started with a kiss. Never thought it would come to this.” If you don’t know it, have a google. It’s catchy, no?

    “No!” cried Mrs P. “Please stop. Why on earth do you keep singing that?” Which was a fair question actually, one I hadn’t really stopped to consider.

    And I pondered. Why was I humming this 1982 classic?  On peeling back the layers, I realised the answer lay with a conversation we’d had over supper last week.

    My daughter is about to turn seven, and I’m not sure I’m handling it very well. In my eyes, she is still our rather scrappy little first-born bundle of joy. The one that we got to kiss once, just after she was born, before she was whisked off into an incubator and up to the emergency ward. And yet now she is about to have seven candles on her birthday cake. How on earth did it come to this, you might well ask.

    I have several problems with this milestone. The wife reminded me that I’d always said my daughter’s seventh birthday was the line in the sand when I’d start to feel really middle aged. It seemed so far away, and yet it is here already.

    I struggle too with the fact that I have joined-up and vivid memories of being that age. There are earlier flashes I can recall, but I can clearly remember skiing holidays, school days, friends and events from 1987. How on earth can my little person be racing through these slalom gates already?

    Eighteen months ago she was just finishing reception, falling asleep on every car journey, asking for help with her shoe buckles and unable to finish a whole piece of toast. Now she’s running her own bath, solving maths problems that leave her parents stumped and learning to play the piano. Throw in the riding lessons, gym club, sleepovers and Harry Potter, and she’s completing the levels of this game faster than we can see them coming.

    But the worst? Without a doubt, the prospect of big gaps in her smile. Can anything so dramatically and traumatically highlight the speed of change quite like the removal of little milk teeth? Her friends who have been visited by the tooth fairy already are now displaying great paving stones of enamel in their place. Like wearing oversized wellington boots. And like any over protective dad, I don’t want that for my little girl.

    But the wobbling is getting worse, like a slow motion car crash that unfolds in your nightmares – the one where you simply can’t find the brakes. Which is ironic, because for the last few years we’ve been foot on the accelerator. We’ve been eager to get through the tunnel of darkness; the lack of sleep, the battles over what to eat, what to wear, the potty training, the never-ending bedtime routine. Every parent knows that the moment the lights go out at 7pm immediately heralds the start of Heaven o’clock; let the wine flow! Now we say goodnight and she reads until she’s tired and turns off her lamp. That first sip doesn’t hit the spot in quite the same way.

    So all we want to do is put the cork back in. How do you stop them growing up so quickly? Hot Chocolate certainly didn’t sing about it. Instead, their back catalogue includes other smash hits like So You Win Again, Tears on the Telephone, I’ll Put You Together Again, You Sexy Thing, What Kinda Boy You Lookin’ For and Heaven is the Backseat of my Cadillac. None of which I’ve found hugely helpful or reassuring in easing the struggles I have around my daughter growing up.

    Instead, new in at number one this week, I’ll be whistling Alphaville’s 1984 ballad, Forever Young. In fact, you may well find me wailing it at the top of my voice. The wife is welcome to join me in a duet.