It is my birthday soon. It’s not a Big One (not yet, not quite), and it won’t be a particularly big one either, since life has shown scant respect for my advancing years and filled the weekend with other people and events instead (no bad thing). I’ll spend the day being happily engaged in non-birthday activities, though, purely for my children’s sake, you understand, I’ll make sure cake features at some point.
Because I have a lovely family, I always get asked before birthdays and Christmas: “what do you want?”. And every time, the answer is always the same: “oh, nothing, thank you”.
It’s true, almost. Just not quite.
I have everything I need, and more besides. I have everything I want, too, unless you’re counting the Georgian rectory with acres and orchard, which I don’t think is available yet to include on an Amazon wish list.
So when I say “nothing”, I am telling the truth. It’s not stuff as such that I want, it’s a surprise. I don’t know whether this is a sign of motherhood, womanhood or simple encroaching middle-age, but I’m conscious of Decision Fatigue.
I control my little domain. I hold the reins, I spin the threads of my family’s lives: a domestic Ariadne weaving a pretty pattern of school runs and football classes and playdates. Even at the weekend, even when we have time off from organised activities, I’ll decide what we’re going to do: researching venues, checking weather forecasts, clipping vouchers and packing picnics. I compile lists of presents for Christmas and birthdays. I organise holidays. I compare the market for home and car insurance. I know with a large degree of certainty what I will eat for my next meal. I could go off piste, certainly, live dangerously, not roast the chicken earmarked for tonight (do chickens have ears?), but then there’d be no leftovers for dinner tomorrow, and you can forget about Tuesday’s soup.
I don’t hanker after diamonds and clothes; nice as they are, I have a Georgian rectory to
save for dream of. I don’t yearn for a Tiffany’s box in trademark baby blue wrapping, or a bag from a shop far, far removed in all senses from the retail park down the road. I’d just like something unexpected to disturb the contented certainty of my day-to-day; something pleasant, that is, not something involving a midnight sickness bug or morning wet bed. You don’t have to get me anything, really. But if you do, can it please be something I didn’t have to think about in advance?
Do I sound like a spoilt brat? Probably. I don’t mean to. I know how lucky I am, really, I do. I know too that I have insufficient backbone to manage without a convenient exoskeleton of expectations and routine. What’s more, I secretly love being the hub of my little home, love that the managing and arranging and spinning and juggling, while sometimes sending me cross-eyed with tiredness and tedium, pull everything together in a more or less coherent facsimile of grownupness. It’s just that I’m bored of always being in charge.
I probably fit right in the target demographic for 50 Shades, but, dubious attitudes to relationships aside, I never quite got the attraction. Perhaps it’s because my children still wake so early that the honest answer to “what do you want in bed” remains almost without fail that old chestnut “ten hours’ sleep.” Bedroom shenanigans notwithstanding, I think I could do with a little bit of Christian Grey in my life. Not for the private jets, or the Red Room of Pain (I have one of those already, my own, lit by the rosy glow of dawn as the three year old bursts into each new day at an hour best called profane) but simply for the blessed relief from having to think.
To eat out (on the rare occasion we do) and simply find the food arriving on my plate, not being paralysed by choice like a mouse hypnotised by a cobra. To eat in, come to that, and not know what will appear till it’s served. To wake on a Saturday and find the hours till bedtime laid out by a hand unseen; a well-oiled (possibly by wine) machine carrying us all from fun to fun with no mental input required from me.
In lieu of the nothing I need, I get lovely cards, messages that make me smile, perhaps a cheque which I’ll bank and never spend because choosing something for myself feels extravagent and…well, too much like hard work, usually.
It’s too late for this year, but the next time someone asks me what I want, I won’t reply “nothing”. What would I like? Something silly, small, unnecessary. A book, a scarf, a postcard; something to warm me or beguile my eye or make me smile. Something I wouldn’t spend money on if it was up to me. I’d be thrilled, to be honest, to be given a lumpy, mysterious parcel and peel away the wrapping paper and find a satsuma, if it weren’t one I’d chosen and paid for in Morrisons myself.
“What do I want? I don’t know. Surprise me.”