On Saturday, I had a rare day with Pink. Just her and me, and an important mission.
No, not macaroni cheese. We'll get to that.
A rite of passage.
The piercing of the ears.
She's only 9 - and to be honest, I'd have rather waited for a couple more years (after all, I had to wait...) but in the end, there are probably bigger battles to fight, more traumatic ground to stand firm on, and I'd managed to defer the deed for over a year in a fairly amicable way and without actually lying about anything...
It was her birthday present back in May, and although we had agreed to wait until the beginning of the summer holidays to avoid plasters over ears during PE lessons etc, in the end, the opportunity presented itself this weekend, so we did it.
Now if you have daughters (or sons) of ear-piercing age (whatever that might be in your house) there is then a decision to be made - where do you go? There is a certain chain of high street accessory retailers who shall remain nameless, which appears to have cornered the market in ear piercing, but don't have much of a reputation to go by. Pink was fairly set on this option, but when I called up the branch in Aberystwyth, I was distinctly underwhelmed and decided to think again.
Thinking again offered me an alternative - but one, I have to say, that I baulked at. When the choice is Claire's Accessories (whoops) or a tattoo parlour, what would you do? I thought to myself, "What shall I do?", and called the establishment concerned. Tattoo Man sounded very knowledgeable on the phone and told me all about how he pierced ears (and anything else - I had to be very clear that I was bringing my 9 year old for her ears to be pierced). Pink was remarkably sanguine when I told her where we were going, too - she's into conforming at the moment, and I was prepared for an onslaught of the "But Mummy, everyone else went to Claire's Accessories"s but it didn't come, so that settled the matter.
Having never visited a tattoo parlour before IN MY LIFE (I have had a very sheltered life, despite what I like to think), I had no real idea what to expect. Suffice to say that it pretty much lived up to most of the wild imaginings of my brain. The Tattoo Man was tall with wild grey hair, a few teeth missing, tattoos down to his wrists (but not on his face) and sporting eau de stale fags. He also sported dubious taste in interior decor, limited patience with neurotic mothers, and a consent form which included a statement regarding genital warts (if relevant to the piercing required).
"Mummy, what are genital warts?"
It's one of those defining moments as a parent, isn't it - how you react to something like this. I digress for a moment, but all things sex are very much on our agenda as Blue's year 6 class are due to have THE TALK (as he keeps referring to it) in a couple of weeks.
Early on as a parent, I took the decision to be as honest as possible with the kids and to talk without embarrassment or judgement about sex and all things related. To try and give them the facts but in a context. It's not always been easy - but when Pink, at the age of about 3 asked "But Mummy how does the baby get in to your tummy? Is it down your throat?" I knew that I couldn't just fob it off. The result is that, despite having to repeat the mechanics of sex on a number of occasions, and my perhaps over engineered attempts to put it all in the context of loving relationships (be they hetero or homosexual), about being safe and respecting your bodies, and all that stuff that I wish someone had talked to me about earlier, they both understand what happens. And I'm glad - because when Pink asked the genital wart question, and Tattoo Man raised his eyebrows at me, I could just say quite matter of factly (I like to think) that they were nasty things a bit like verrucas that people sometimes get on their 'bits' (to be honest, I'm slightly hazy as to what genital warts actually are), and all she said was "But do people want to get their bits pierced? Urgh, that's DISGUSTING".
I think Tattoo Man was impressed (although obviously not with the likelihood that he'd lost a future genital piercing customer). Not only that, but he popped his specs on and was super careful to mark Pink's ears so the earrings would be in the right place, meticulous with the cleaning of everything, and lavish with his praise of how brave she was (I mean she was, but it's always nice to be told). It was also, I have to say, significantly cheaper than the high street chain. Make of that what you will.
As we walked out, rather than mourning the mutilation of Pink's beautiful ears, I felt elated, like I'd stepped out of my comfort zone and won - questions about genital wart answered, and hopefully a seed sewn that will prevent any more dubious piercings in the future. My work here is done etc etc. And to be honest, her ears do look very pretty.
We returned from the sprawling metropolis that is Aberystwyth (well, they do have 3G) back to our haven, and to less sophisticated matters. Pink wanted to camp out, and we'd decided that we'd have macaroni and cauliflower cheese for tea - with extra crispy bits (not the kind of bits that get genital warts, I hasten to add).
And as much as the ear piercing was a bit of a mother-daughter bonding experience so was sharing this dish. It's pretty much everything that Blue hates, food-wise, and the Husband prefers it with bacon, but for the girl and me, just as it comes is just fine. Not too much sauce, and crispy on top.
Macaroni & Cauliflower Cheese
150g macaroni pasta
1 small caulflower, cut into florets
25g or so unsalted butter
1 heaped tbsp plain flour
75g cheddar cheese (or to taste), grated
freshly ground salt & pepper
1/2 slice bread
25g parmesan or grano pardana cheese, finely grated
Pre-heat your oven to 180C.
Bring a large pan (preferably one with a steamer attachment) of salted water to the boil.
Add the macaroni and cook according to the packet instructions, steaming the cauli over the top till just cooked. If you don't have a steamer attachment, chuck the cauli in with the macaroni about 5 minutes before the end of the cooking time.
While the macaroni is cooking, melt the butter in a small pan, then stir in the flour to make a smooth paste, and cook for a few seconds. add a little milk and stir, the gradually add a little more and a little more until you have quite a thick, smooth sauce - you want have a huge amount of sauce, no more than necessary to just coat the cooked pasta and cauli.
Add the grated cheddar and a grind of salt and pepper and cook out for a couple of minutes, stirring all the time.
Grease a shallow oven proof dish, add the drained macaroni, and the steamed cauli, then pour over the cooked sauce and stir it through the pasta and veg, making sure everything is coated.
Whizz your bread into crumbs and combine with the parmesan, then sprinkle this over the top of the cheese pasta, then pop in the oven and bake till the pasta and cauli are hot again and the topping is crunchy and golden.
We ate it outside in the midsummer evening, then lit a fire, drank hot chocolate and spent a night in the tent.