Sunday, 30 October 2011


You know what children's birthday parties are like. Unless you are hosting one, you make your best excuse to not have to be there. The noise, the Teletubbies music, the chance to have an hour or two of peace and quiet mean that you'd be mad to stay.
I admit that today I was bordering on insanity as I stayed at a fifth birthday party because my daughter didn't know anyone there except the birthday girl and I agreed to lend her some moral support. Little did I know that I would be the one needing that support, and that my traitor of a daughter would withhold it. It's OK. I have years to plot my revenge.

Anyway, back to the party... Feeling redundant, I offered to help face paint as I'd never attempted this before in my life and an impatient queue of girls had been forming in front of another crazy mum who'd volunteered. However, when I sat down with an eager smile and a 'who's next?' I was met by stony silence. Seriously, it was like walking into one of those unfriendly western bars in films where the cowboys look at strangers through narrow eyes, like they're going to eat you for breakfast. I nervously suggested my daughter be my first victim client but she sniffed 'No, mummy. I want the other lady to do it.' Her reluctance sealed the doubts on the other children. No - they didn't want me to touch them. It was the other lady or no way lady. 

The humilation... I always get this. I admit that I am not an artistically talented person. Back at school my art teacher used to hold my work up as excellent examples of exactly what NOT to do ('Your pebbles look like potatoes planted on the beach', 'No, the sun does not have a happy, smiley face') and my daughter is always telling people that daddy sews and knits because mummy can't. Who is more embarrassed I wonder - my husband for being girly or me for not being feminine enough?

So I sat there feeling humiliated as the kids stubbornly sat in their queue and glared at me. I shrugged and accepted the host's offer of a glass of sparkling rose. Why the hell not? Deadens the embarrassment and complements my reputation as an Unskilled Mother. As I knocked back the plonk, I wondered - when did kids have such exacting standards? I remember being impressed when my grandfather burnt the end of a cork at a restaurant and, with the resulting charcoal, rubbed a Charlie Chaplin moustache under my nose. And it didn't take five hours to wash off afterwards.

This technique is probably a health and safety hazard these days. Danger of smoke inhalation from corks, possible risk of fire... Or maybe an allergic reaction to corks or charcoal. This seems most likely - at any party these days you'll be lucky if you can find a child who isn't lethally allergic to something. Shame that something isn't the party itself...

As I mulled this over, a wonderful child dressed as Snow White decided that I wasn't as freaky as everyone thought I was. OK, she hadn't been in the room when my own daughter had rejected me but I promise I didn't pay her to sit down and brave my artistic attempts. She came of her own free will. 

If anyone has ever tried face painting can attest, it's not as easy as one might expect. You have this brochure of children all with Oscar-winning designs on their faces. The little ones stab at a picture and your heart sinks as you realise that you need a Rembrandt-like ability for the result to look anything like they are hoping. There is even an official Face Painting Association whose job it is to improve standards of practitioners. Gulp. 

My first design was to be an angel, with the nose being the focal point (the angel's dress) and the head with a halo just between the eyebrows. The dress had to flow gracefully out along the cheeks in romantic wisps and silver glitter was to catch the light. 

The great thing about kids aged 5 or so is that they don't have huge and exacting aesthetic standards. My angels had eyes the size of buttons and fat, botox-like lips and the girls were rushing around squealing and saying 'That's so cooooool! Another advantage was that there were no mirrors to show the models the results. So as far as they knew I could have painted them like Rambo and they would have been delighted.

My daughter's jaw dropped visibly as she saw that mummy could paint something and she proudly started telling people that her mummy had done that. Still, she chose the other face painter and said condescendingly 'It's OK, mummy, we can buy a kit and you can paint my face at home another time.' Really? I think not. Because I am sometimes what you might call a vindictive and grudge-bearing mother. And, yes, we do exist. We're not all saints and forgivers.

My last client was a little girl, as scared as a rabbit, who wanted to be ... a rabbit. Marginally easier than an angel, the test of my skills lay in the ability to add buck teeth. Her mother seemed very pleased with the result, saying that this was the best face painting she'd ever had. She must have been to a few parties with half-trolleyed mums, unsteady hands and a propensity to scare children. At least I wasn't the worst (or best... whichever way you want to put it). It was fun but I don't think I will be made an honourary member of the Face Painting Association any time soon.

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