As a parent, you get called on at times in your life to be creative and artistic in a domestic setting. There’s no actual obligation, but we’ve all had those notices about bringing cakes to the school (or as my friend received this Christmas, a summons to provide a plate of “something healthy” arranged in a suitably festive shape, such as a Christmas tree or snowman). There are school plays, fancy dress parties, never mind basic arts and crafts activities.
I’m a sucker for domestic art. I don’t do it very often – and I am entirely comfortable with time saving alternatives – but I love an opportunity to do something creative for my kids, given a comfortable timeframe, a practical plan, and a little breathing space.
The most common demonstrations of my domestic art skills in this house are costuming, and the provision of birthday cakes. Nothing fancy – sure, I once produced a hand-sewn Cleopatra costume for an Asterix party which was worn for all of 3 minutes, but I’m just as likely to run out to the shop to find a lion mask at a moment’s notice (give me a month and ebay, and I can dress you as ANYTHING, my darling, but a week’s notice? Aargh!). I’ve even been known to dress my kids up for occasions other than costume parties – like, for instance, my book launches.
This year, we knew with at least six months notice that Raeli wanted a Doctor Who party, and that she wanted to go as a lady Silurian, and my Mum was totally okay with making that costume, as long as it was confirmed as wanted 2 months before the party. 2 months before the party, Raeli changed her mind, and wanted to be River Song instead. We called the party ‘aliens and earthlings’ so as not to alienate the non Doctor Who watchers who were invited, and sort of forgot about the costume.
Meanwhile, I had a plan for Jem’s costume for the same party, which would be a TARDIS dress. Having seen all the gorgeous ones out there, I plotted to remix a plain denim dress, got the makings, and got very excited when I learned about the advances that have been made in T-Shirt Transfer technology.
Somehow, with less than a fortnight to go, we had not organised Raeli’s costume. Her more recent plans to be young Melody Pond ran aground when we checked that episode, and the kid was basically wearing a dress and a cardigan, which can not be made to look like a proper costume. Alarm bells rang. She was sent off with a stack of Doctor Who magazines to figure out what she wanted to look like.
She came back with bright, starry eyes, and the request for an astronaut costume.
Well, why the hell NOT? Of course, with a month’s notice, I could have just bought her a fabulous astronaut’s costume on eBay, claimed it was a birthday present, and washed my hands of it. But with less than two weeks to go…
The family pulled together. I shopped frantically on the hottest day of the summer so far, discovering that no toyshop in Hobart had ever considered that a kid might want to dress as an astronaut. I found a cheap, white police helmet with a visor in one shop, white gloves in another, a baggy white top at Big W, and hoped for the best.
My mother, op shopping queen, vanished mysteriously one afternoon and returned with oversized white trousers, a white belt, and a white skivvy. My honey refitted the helmet with a spare, larger visor he had begging, printed out NASA stickers, and made a few designs. My mother returned two days later with a strap-on box arrangement to make Raeli’s baggy whites look like a proper space suit.
Meanwhile, that dress I had organised for Jem? Didn’t happen, and didn’t happen. I made the transfers, but faced with learning a new skill, I piked daily, until of course it was the night before the party. Technology got the better of me, I handed the iron to my honey (he’s a physicist, I’m sure it was better he do that one) and left the frock in his hands, while I… frosted a chocolate TARDIS.
Because, yes, for this party I was costuming (with my support team of wonders and miracles) AND baking Doctor Who themed cakes. Two of them.
There were no further cake disasters this morning, though I was so nervous that I revealed the cake to Raeli before sticking candles in and transporting it. She was delighted, luckily, and nothing horrible happened en route.
We dressed the girls up (I admitted at this point that I hadn’t tried Jemima’s dress on beforehand – oops! Luckily it fit) and took plenty of pics before we left for the party, because of course you never get a chance at the place itself.
We went to Kids Bizzz (yes, really 3 z’s) because it’s two minutes from our place, and we didn’t have energy for a big home-based party this year. I felt exhausted anyway by the time we arrived! It was lovely not to have to do anything, though, but pour drinks for the kids, co-ordinate the present opening, and pull out a cake at the end. Both girls had a ball – and Jem ran riot on the climbing equipment!
Over coffees, sharing costuming nightmare stories with our friends (whose son chose to be a Cyberman at 24 hours notice and oh boy did they rise to the challenge – even his sneakers were spray painted silver!), the theory was advanced that I had chosen to do the crazy costuming and elaborate cake baking because if I didn’t feel just a bit frazzled and challenged at the party, I might feel like… well, like I hadn’t done enough.
Heh, well it’s a THEORY. I certainly had no problem justifying buying Raeli a Wonder Woman costume last year when I knew we were saving money on a home-based party… but I also sure as hell would have bought her an astronaut suit if she’d given me notice. And then we wouldn’t have had the fun!
And, stressing over frosting dramas aside, it was fun. I wouldn’t do it if it wasn’t fun. Oh, Raeli would have parties and costumes and cakes, sure, but the only time I tend to go the extra mile is when I’m inspired. When she had a fairy party, I bought plastic dolls and stuck them on a cake (which looked awesome, by the way!) and last year I did plenty of internet ordering. Also a valid choice.
But once Raeli’s requests dovetail with my own geeky interests, then… well, the occasion is worth not only rising to, but surpassing! Also, and here’s the gender thing, in a world where girls Raeli’s age (now SEVEN) are expected to like princesses and fairies and pretty much nothing else, when your daughter says she wants to dress up like an astronaut… well. Awesomeness like that is to be encouraged. Princesses and fairies can be awesome too, but they’re easy. When a nearly-seven-year-old moves beyond the mainstream to gaze into space, it’s something you want to encourage!
Jemima, I might add, indicated no particular interest in dressing as the TARDIS, but she was pleased enough when I told her she was, and happily showed off her dress to everyone at the party. It was a far more practical costume than Raeli’s, which of course was on her for a total of 5 minutes before she chucked off the hard bits and went to play.
Thank you, Gallifrey cosplayers, for showing me how it can be done!
I do love playing with domestic arts and crafts. The best thing about doing something extra special for birthdays is that it’s out of the ordinary, and you don’t have to feel obliged to repeat such glorious experiments. Believe it or not, this was the relaxed birthday year, when I was deliberately keeping things simple because we’re going away on holiday next week!
No idea what we’re in for next year, but I can promise you one thing – Raeli is already planning it, in that devious little head of hers. Birthdays require a LOT of planning, after all… and it’s only 12 months to the next one!
And the good thing about Domestic Art is – well, Raeli doesn’t care that I used packet cake mixes instead of baking from scratch, and Jem doesn’t care that her TARDIS dress started out as a second hand denim frock, and the knockabout astronaut costume that me, my honey and my Mum put together is as beloved and appreciated as one bought on ebay with a month’s notice would have been. And really, to be honest, if I’d put my foot down originally and said no costumes, they would have been happy enough on the day to put on ordinary play clothes, as long as they got to jump on the bouncy castle and slide on the slides, and so on.
But when you have small children, days and weeks and summer holidays and years just slip through your fingers like water. I don’t feel the need for my kids to grow up with memories of an epic childhood, but it feels good to occasionally put some Art into their lives, to balance out the days that I let them do nothing but watch TV in their pyjamas. If nothing else, it makes great photos to add to the annual albums we give out at Christmas…
Plus, Jem has a TARDIS frock now. Perfect for any occasion!