Happy Birthday to you!

Mia’s first birthday party, part 1…

I’m expecting mayhem but when I arrive it’s all relatively calm. Frances, still in her pyjamas, is pulling mini sausage rolls out of the oven while her older sister Joanne is blowing up balloons.  Zane, Joanne’s youngest, is playing with a pink radio-controlled car, one of Mia’s birthday presents.

“Where’s Hassan and Mia?” I ask.

“I’ve told him to take her for a walk… get out of the way for a while.”

Today’s the day. Mia’s first birthday party. It seems Frances has been working up to this ever since I photographed them all in the hospital ward twelve months ago. It means a lot to her.

It’s 1.30 and I’ve come early to help out. I’ve offered to drive Frances to Moss Side so we can collect her mum. Hassan arrives back with Mia and starts to prepare a bottle. “She needs a sleep before the party,” he says, to no one in particular. Frances gives him a big hug in the kitchenette. She’s happy today.

“We’re just nipping to the Forum Centre,” she says, “I need to get some shoes.” Hassan has hired a car for all the running around, collecting relatives… and last-minute shoe shopping. “It’s a Nissan Juke,” Frances explains, “our dream family car.”

While they are out I try to read Mia and Zade a storybook but the attraction of a room full of balloons and new toys defeats me. Joanne steadily continues the preparations: deep pan pizzas are now in the oven; eggs boiling on the hob and popcorn in the microwave. She puts a plate of tuna sandwiches on the floor and Zane helps himself.

By the time Frances and Hassan return, a couple of her old school friends have arrived and help by taking balloons, party bags and silver foil trays of food downstairs to the communal lounge.

Originally the party was planned for a community centre in Moss Side, close to friends and family. But the room’s capacity was limited and so, only last weekend, Frances decided to change the venue to Dunbar Street where she could accommodate more people.

It’s 3.30, the advertised start time of the party, and Frances is now changed into her party dress and sitting on her bedroom floor as her friend Clare does her hair. “Can you give Mia a bath?” Frances shouts to her sister.

“Are you studying hair and beauty as well?” I ask Clare.

“No, painting and decorating.”

“Try and keep my fringe out of my face,” Frances says. “She’s been doing my hair and make-up for years.”

“So where did you get your dress from?” I ask.

“From Kelly,” says Frances, although I’m not sure whether Kelly is a shop or a friend. “And the shoes are from Asda.

“This is like from Daybreak,” she laughs, and then, as if she were a  TV announcer: “Shoes: Asda. Dress: borrowed.”

“Day: priceless,” chips in Clare.

With the make-up session coming to an end Mia toddles into her mum’s bedroom after Auntie Joanne has struggled her into a new dress. There’s an intake of breath. “She looks gorgeous,” says Clare. Mia immediately heads for the make-up bag and helps herself.

“What time is it now?” Frances asks Joanne.

“Quarter to four.”

We all go downstairs where Frances’ neighbours and their children are waiting. There are gasps as Mia makes her entrance. “She’s beautiful,” someone says. “Gorgeous.”

Ruth and some of her team from Reclaim arrive. “You look amazing,” Ruth says as she greets Frances. As director of the youth-mentoring programme that Frances attended more than five years ago, today is another milestone on a long journey for them both.

Party-organiser Melissa is carrying one of three cake boxes. “I had to have this on my lap in the car,” she says.

“I bet you were well scared,” says Frances. The two of them tentatively assemble the three tiered birthday cake on what turns out to be a wobbly table.

“That’s the bummest cake ever,” exclaims Frances.

It’s now 4.15 and Hassan left some time ago to collect more guests. “Come on, we better go and get my mum.”

To be continued…

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