My birthday, then, was fine.
The jumper from the CFO was exactly the sludge coloured jumper with a bow I had requested.
It's getting to know all the other sludge coloured clothing with bows in the cupboard. They are probably trying to establish some kind of a pecking order, maybe based on bow size. I tried to self-censor my second-guessing, 'it's all an elaborate double-bluff in a minute he'll come out with a PUPPY' thoughts, with moderate success. The CFO apologised for not surprising me, with a hangdog face, about fifty thousand times. And got the spawn clothed and to school.
Lashes made me a jellyfish mask and a circle of plastic cut from an Actimel bottle with a face on, and regifted me a Halloween plastic bat. Lovely stepmother sent a teeny tiny tortoise on behalf of the Bearded One.
Jellyfish mask, teeny tiny tortoise, and jumper.
Fingers refused to make me anything at all, but drew me one of his characteristic long fingered 'bonhommes'.
The MRI was short, and the spawn haircuts painless.
My birthday cake, albeit chosen and bought by me, was delicious.
Violet and the Space Cadette got me lovely things. Thank you Violet, thank you Space Cadette.
There was lunch with a Kir Royale and about five desserts.
At spawn bedtime, as the CFO poured himself a much needed "steeff dreenk" as he calls it, Lashes kept calling pathetically for me to come up and look at stegosauruses. On my third trip up, I slid down the last ten stairs onto the tiled floor, causing terrible injury to my pride and a very sore arse. I burst into tears like a histrionic infant. The CFO looked nonplussed and patted my arm. He was having a less than excellent day, juggling tending to my every whim and sulk, feeding and coralling the spawn and preparing a complex presentation. With no phone battery. Or help. Tears were not part of his plan for a pleasant evening.
A matching wailing noise was heard from the second floor. The CFO started getting his cross face ready and preparing his menacing shouty voice.
"What's he saying?" I whimpered pathetically from my foetal position on the sofa of evil.
The CFO went into the corridor and listened briefly, frowning.
"Je ne veux pas mourir ... He says he doesn't want to die"
I uncurled, clutching my sore arse, and went up. Lashes was drooping on the top stair, weeping inconsolable real tears.
"I don't want to diiiieee"
"Oh, but you aren't going to die, sweetheart! Come here". I squeezed his limp pyjamaed body.
"Yes, I am. Everything dies"
"Well, yes, but not for such a long long long time"
"But I don't want to ever! WHY do we have to diiieeee. I don't want to be in the dark FOR EVER"
I manhandled him back into his bed and held on with both arms around his fuzzy fleece-covered belly, resting my head on his shoulder.
"It's horrible when those thoughts come, isn't it angel. I get this ALL the time. You poor poor thing. Have you tried thinking about something nice?"
"I can't. I have so many questions! My head is full. Why can't I be one of those fish from l'epoque des dinosaures*? The ones that NEVER DIE? Why do things have to die?"
"I know sweetheart. It's awful and scary for you isn't it? But someone told me**, and it sort of helped me, to think that when you're old and you're body is all worn out and tired and broken, you'll be ready to die, and it won't be awful and scary then at all. It wil just be ok"
This set off a new round of wailing.
My voice was cracking by this point. I remember so well how terrifying and alien yet compelling I found the "Old Age and Dying" chapter of The Body Book at his age. It was even more irresistible than the pages about how to make a baby. That feeling of being TRAPPED simply by being alive. The 'no escape' feeling. The panic. I still get it at least two or three times a month. It's no fun being six and having an existential crisis. It's no fun being thirty four either, but at least you have the odd coping strategy.
"I don't want to be without my maman. I don't want to be alone in the dark without my maman".
Here, I collapsed into a soggy heap on his shoulder. I am not sure this is the recommended approach in the parenting manuals, but it is traditional on birthdays.
"I knooooooow! It's so hard darling! You poor poor thing. Life is soooo haaard to understand! Oh god, let's go and see Papa and see if he can help. "
Gulping and snivelling, a two headed ball of misery, we headed downstairs for bright lights and rationalism. The CFO looked at us with a sort of disbelieving outrage and tiny squinty eyes. I just wept louder and clutched Lashes' hot, snotty hand.
"We need you to cheer us uuuupp. Lashes is scared of dying"
Lashes wept harder. I gulped.
CFO gave a stare full of recrimination and future trouble at my snotty form.
"You're not going to die, Lashes"
Lashes stopped crying instantly and adopted his sensible arguing voice. "Yes I am. Everything dies; you know that"
The CFO rolled his eyes. "But only when you're body is old and tired and worn out.."
"We've done that one. No good." I interjected, hoarsely, gesticulating a throat cutting motion.
The CFO sighed deeply.
"Lashes. Are you going to die tonight?"
"And are you going to die before this weekend?"
"Well then. We can talk about it this weekend. Now come on, off to bed."
Lashes looked aghast, but stopped crying. I pulled myself marginally together. "The best thing, Lashes, is to think about something REALLY nice to take your mind of it."
"Yes" said the CFO briskly, with the determination of one whose whisky is singing a silent, but compelling song to him. "Père Noel is coming! Think of that!"
"Yes, and St Nicolas" (more about the TWO red suited bearded present-bringing men in Belgium soon).
"They don't exist" said Lashes, smartly, tears still smudging his cheeks, but voice much recovered.
"No, but the presents do. Think about presents! And think about lizards, and riding dolphins and Pokémon and Nintendo".
We bundled him upstairs in a litany of Pikachu and Ben 10 and science experiments and giant friendly lizards and metal detectors, his mood lifting fractionally with each. By the time he had reached his bed he was serenely asking for pet kimodo dragons and nuclear fission kits.
We went back downstairs and I burst into tears again.
"He said he didn't want to be without his maman! In the dark!"
The CFO supressed his urge to get an axe and kill us all, but sighed meaningfully. He sat down cautiously next to me on the sofa of evil and patted my hand like it might contain live ammunition, while turning on the tv with the other. Then he fixed himself another large whisky and we watched an episode of Mad Men. I cried throughout, and for about another hour after it finished, big silent tears plopping down onto my new birthday jumper. The CFO sat and held my hand silently, wishing he had never met me, probably.
Eventually he turned to me and held my face in his hands, wiping snot from around my chin.
"If you're very good I'll make you a hot water bottle"
It seemed like the best offer I was getting, so I took it. In the nineteenth century he'd have probably sent Lashes to boarding school and had me committed as hysterical. Poor CFO. Born in the wrong century.
*I think this is what he meant. But I think he thinks there's only one of them and it's been alive since the Cretaceous era.
** Grief counsellor actually. Very nice, if not tremendously helpful.