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S’bin a while, I know. The matchsticks I’m propping my eyelids open with keep snapping.

Harry, Caesar, Praefectus, Princeps, Imperator, etc, turned three on Monday and was carted by his adoring mother and grandmother to a theme park that was quite ridiculously old for him, but featured Thomas (the Tank Engine) Land. The crowds were monstrous oppressive and Harry did badly in the resulting ride queues – no surprise. We went on one ride, plus a trip on the Actual Real Proper Thomas Himself (shssshh!) that was oddly queueless.

We toured the zoo and the climbing frames twice, and, taken all in all I think he enjoyed himself.

Mother & I, however, walked out of there several decades older. We lost him. Twice.

The first time, we were in a closed soft-play area

with a member of staff on the door, which slightly mitigated my unease when he vanished off the play frame. After a couple of minutes I asked the resident staff member to search the frame for a little boy with a black t-shirt and brown trousers (I have a deliberate policy of putting Harry in primary colours on trips to public places. Planning FAIL.) as parents were verboten. Which wouldn’t have stopped me going on to look for him, as such, but the majority of the frame was fairly visible from the ground. I searched the toilets. Mum searched the toilets. I asked the door guard. I began to fight down the panic and the visions of a small crumpled body at the bottom of a drop… or his neck caught up in a rope net and hanging…

You don’t want an imagination like mine, I assure you. It is not altogether a blessing.

Suddenly, he appeared like the genie of the bloody lamp, waving a cushion from the tiny toddlers area, under which he had evidently happily concealed himself.

Little bugger. Sigh.

The second time was… worse. Oh, so very much worse. He disappeared around a wooden climbing frame to re-climb the steps… and didn’t appear at the top. After a few seconds – 10? 15? – I wheeled the pushchair around the frame, surveyed the surrounding 30 to 40ft and – nothing. Vanished. Total Lord Lucan. 

Of course, black and brown really stand out against a double row of 100-yds of wooden climbing frames,

especially when there are hundreds of galloping, climbing, bouncing kids, skittering about in frenetic Brownian motion in front of you. (This photo was taken much earlier, when the place was virtually deserted.) I started off puzzled, moved swiftly through sinking unease and alarm, and rapidly reached heart-in-mouth stage.

I abandoned the pushchair, stationed Mum at the nominal exit area – horribly aware that if someone had taken him, they could be out and a fair way off, by now – and ran round like a demented hamster looking high and low, but it was chockablock with kids and I could see nothing. I started to scream his name, aware that A) there were probably a dozen or more Harrys looking up at me, B) he wouldn’t hear me if he was concentrating on clambering and C) he wouldn’t respond usefully even if he did.

Eventually – and I couldn’t tell you how long it was after he disappeared, only that I had time to die several times – I caught sight of him crawling into a tunnel. I dived after him like a chubby kingfisher and hauled him unceremoniously off the playframe (how I didn’t actually puke on him in sheer relief, I don’t quite know) before proceeding to give him what was not only the loudest shouty-bollocking of his entire life, but also, the most thoroughly undeserved.

Because I’ve never told him to stay close to me, or to make sure he can see me. He doesn’t know what ‘lost’ means; I’ve never explained the word to him. He doesn’t look behind him, he doesn’t seek reassurance, and he’s overwhelmingly self-assured because he knows I’m always there. Watching. The one place I let him roam out of sight is our local softplay barn because I know he can manage all the equipment – and I’m always between him and the gated exit. He’s growing up confident in his own abilities and secure in the knowledge that he’s never, ever come looking for me and not found me straightaway. Great!

Consequently, I imagine his bollocking came as an incomprehensible and puzzling surprise to him. Poor lad. He’d crumpled sadly into chastened tears by the time I’d returned to Mum and she’d retrieved the pushchair – not quite where I’d left it, I noted, absently; a fact which made sense later when I realised that his lovely, favourite dinosaur sunhat had been stolen off it.

*short pause, while we all wish haemorrhoids with infection complications on the perpetrator*

I had lost the will to slog on after that, and Harry was clearly tired – and upset! – so we left, and it will be some years before anyone gets me back there again. 

Harry’s party, on the other hand was lots of fun, and unmarred by aggravation, although there was a tricky time when New Toys were shown to Harry but he was prevented from actually touching them Immediately, Straight Away, This Minute, SERIOUSLY, LEMME AT ‘EM RIGHT NOW!

All the very best 2 year olds and 0 year olds attended, as well as a very honoured (more in the breach than the observance, as it turned out!) guest who had celebrated a very special birthday a leetle larger than 3 a couple of days previously, and had come all the way from Australia to do so – and had then driven the ball-breaker from Chester and back simply to come to Harry’s party. I’m not quite sure how we would have managed without her, but she tackled Miles Behind Party Prep like a bona fide hero. Harry was, sadly, insensible of the nature of the honour of all these far-flung guests, both toddler and adult – all of whom I managed to converse with not nearly enough, which was rather a pisser – but his mother was supremely touched and happy they were there, nevertheless.

(I had, in fact, done rather better with my bloggy visitors the day before, being able to devote several hours to a door-passing May and H, who are not only always an immense pleasure to see, but whom I now know so well that I no longer feel I have to render myself stressed by cleaning up before they arrive…)

So. I know you want cake photos, yes?

I had a demanding client brief, involving much signing of ‘tractor’, ‘digger’ and audible ‘choo-choo!’s. I couldn’t quite see how to incorporate all of these, initially, until inspiration struck. I was pleased with the end result, although leaving the elaborately-constructed chocolate collars

(designed to conceal the box forming the tunnel) in the fridge at home (along with 2 large cheese & pineapple ‘hedgehogs’, 80 cocktail sausages and 2 pots of houmous)

narked me off, rather.

The crane, tractor, digger and battery-driven train were all new, hence his sudden and desperate eagerness to pounce on them.

Waiting until the end of Happy Birthday nearly finished the poor lad off.

And my baby is now 3.

3!

Christ. Stop now, please.

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