"No, Kevin, you're what the French call les incompetents"

or how I manage to make my Mother's birthday party all about me...

We didn't plan to keep my coming to New Zealand for my mother's birthday a secret from her - it just ended up that way. No one mentioned to her that I'd be flying over from Melbourne, Australia for her birthday afternoon tea last Sunday. She was pretty surprisedas it was when she walked into the garden at The Farm and saw Greg (my first husband) and Tandia (my grand daughter) and realised the young man who directed her where to park her car was her grandson, David(my youngest son). She was pretty chuffed they'd all come down from Auckland to attend her birthday party.

I was inside - not really meaning to hide; just biding my time, really. I wrapped a few of the presents that still needed doing, and gathered up the gift I had brought. I watched her greeting and talking with her guests as they arrived through the rose-covered gate.

mums birthday garden party

A series of unfortunate events - or really, just one

After flying in on an annoying, uncomfortable, grump-making flight from Melbourne with Air New Zealand on the Friday before, I spent some time colouring-in with Tandia and Chloe on Saturday morning. We're big fans of the simple things: colouring-in, singing-along, tickling. After we'd made sure all four princesses in the colouring-in book were the correct colours, we got ready for the long drive down to Taranaki and The Farm, where my Aunt and sister had organised for my mother's birthday afternoon tea.

With the kids on board, the trip takes 5 or 6 hours - there is a lot of peeing-on-the-side-of-the-road (Tandia) and stopping-for-drinks-and-snacks (Greg) to do - so we packed up the two cars with car seats, bedding, clothes and presents.

Amy (the girls' mother and my daughter) was to drive her car down and the girls would travel in the truck with me and Greg. If you've ever been a parent you'll understand how tantalising the idea of 5 or 6 hours of driving with no children where you can listen to your own music (no Wiggles) as loud as you like. Amy was really looking forward to her day of driving solitude. I was pleased too, to be able to spend time with the girls even if they were in the back seat - kids in cars say the darnedest things! and Tandia is heavily into singing these days - she wants to be a rock chick, you see.

We had decided not to take Bailey (family Jack Russell) to The Farm this time - she would spend the weekend with Greg's parents (evil stalking the Earth). As I do not get along with Bailey's babysitters (ever) I stayed at home while Greg and the girls dropped the dog off and would come back for me. Amy, meantime, was ready to roll so she drove off to the petrol station to top up her tank and get on the road. I waited at home, watching the Food Channel and thanking goodness I was managing to have another trip to New Zealand without having any contact with Greg's parents (be thankful for small mercies).

His parents only live about a kilometre up the road - so after about 10 minutes when Greg and the girls didn't come back, I decided his mother had decided to make them lunch. This, I knew, would be typical of her - she does this kind of thing all the time. Come in, have a cup of tea, she'd say. Shortbread, mince pie? Let me make you a sandwich, I know Michelle wouldn't have fed *any* of you before a long trip. What she didn't bake provisions? whatever will you eat on the long, long journey - here let me make you a jam tart (okay I'm exaggerating but it's still a very deep and raw wound).


Time ticked on and I had completely decided she was feeding them lunch, throwing off our whole trip. After about 30 minutes I decided to phone him and tell him to get a move on. His phone rang out to answerphone. I waited for another ten minutes watching Delia Smith smother a pound of butter and half a pig on a turkey (it looked terrible) and phoned again. The answerphone voice greeted me once more after a number of rings. I decided to call Amy - an inkling of a feeling rising in my gut - and she answered.

She had just got on the motorway and was barrelling out of town - she asked me where I was and I told her I was at home waiting for her father. That's when she told me he'd just called to say he and the girls had stopped for strawberries at Drury but was back on the road now.

It dawned on me. "You guys have left me behind."

She was incredulous. She thought I was with Greg because that was our plan. He, it turned out, assumed I was with Amy because, well, I wasn't with him (stunning logic). He was now further out of town as Amy had been dawdling (shopping) so she turned her car around and came back for me.

Of course Greg claims black and blue that he didn't forget me - that I was always going with Amy - but considering neither Amy nor I knew this, and that he didn't even lock his house (front door wide open), I am thinking that he just forgot about me when he dropped the dog off at his parents' place and just got on with the job of getting to The Farm.

mums birthday garden party

Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking

So now I was here - after my false start, I had made it to Mum's birthday party.

Watching mum through the French doors I saw her peel away from the guests, and make her way to the bar. I walked down the stairs and miraculously she stayed with her back to me until I reached her and wished her a happy birthday.

I'd also given my extended family another jolly thing to laugh at me about (and oh did they laugh). So we were all winners in the end.

mums birthday garden party