The Nicklebys: A Story for Catholic Children
by: Sue Felton

CHAPTER NINE: The Birthday

Next week it will be Celeste's birthday. More than anything she wants to be allowed to stay up later when she is one year older. She no longer wants to go to bed at the same time as Lizzie. There are other privileges she'd like too. She wants to be treated as a big girl like Kate. She wants to be promoted.

Celeste asks Mum if she can go to bed half an hour later once her birthday arrives. Mum replies that getting older not only involves more privileges but it also means more responsibilities. "If you are ready for more privileges such as a later bed time, Celeste," Mum explains, "you are also ready to take on more of the work of the family."

Celeste thinks about this. "I could have more jobs on the roster," she suggests. "There are a lot of things I am big enough to do."

"Let me think about it," says Mum.

Later that day, the children walk down to the park at the end of the road. The park is only a short distance away so Mum and Dad let the children go by themselves, all except Annie who has fallen asleep on the sofa. Mum and Dad settle down with their books. The house is very quiet and peaceful now the children have gone out.

Mum has only read a couple of pages before she hears a big noise outside the back door. Someone is howling very loudly. She sighs and puts down her book before hurrying reluctantly to the door.

Kate is holding Celeste firmly by the arm and is tugging her through the door. There are huge tears running down Celeste's face.

"What's wrong?" asks Mum with a worried expression on her face. She quickly looks to see if Celeste has hurt herself but she can't see any cuts or grazes.

Celeste is crying too much to answer Mum but Kate is quick to explain. "We were going to take turns on the swing. Lizzie was going to have the first turn and Celeste protested. She said that Lizzie always goes first and she got cross and started shouting and stamping. So Edward said I should bring Celeste home. Other people were staring at her."

Mum is very disappointed. "You are big enough to behave yourself in public, Celeste. You can't scream and misbehave when you don't get your own way. Lizzie gets the first go because she is younger than you. I thought you wanted to be treated like a big girl. Big girls know how to wait their turn. Perhaps it is too soon for you to be promoted. Perhaps we should wait another year before you get a later bed time and other privileges."

Celeste doesn't know what to do. She feels like howling even louder but that will only convince Mum that she is still very much a little girl. She has to show Mum that she is ready to be more grown up. So Celeste chokes back her tears and tries to calm down. She even manages a tiny, "Sorry, Mum. Sorry, Kate."

Then Mum says, "There are only a few days left until your birthday, Celeste. You have a few days to prove that you are ready for a promotion."

All week Celeste works hard. She remembers to do her jobs without Mum having to remind her. She tries to be helpful by looking for extra jobs to do. She looks after Lizzie and Annie. She goes to bed cheerfully when Mum announces it is bedtime. Sometimes it is very difficult but Celeste keeps thinking about her birthday and how much she wants to be promoted.

At last Celeste's birthday arrives. She wakes up feeling very excited. "I'm one year older," she thinks. "I'm a big girl." But then she starts to wonder if Mum and Dad will think she is a big girl too.

It seems like a long time before Celeste can open her birthday gifts. First morning prayers have to be said. And then all the morning jobs need to be completed. Of course, Celeste has no jobs to do. She is the birthday girl. But she has to wait for all the other children to finish their chores. Celeste thinks present time will never arrive. But eventually it does.

They all gather in the lounge room. On the coffee table are lots of different shaped parcels wrapped in hand-painted wrapping paper. Some parcels are flat. Others are lumpy. Some are soft and others are hard. All the family sings, "Happy Birthday" and then finally, it is time for the first gift.

Annie hands Celeste one of the lumpy presents and she gives her sister a noisy kiss. The lumpy gift turns out to be a model Shetland pony which delights Celeste. She collects horses. One by one all the children give their presents to the birthday girl. Soon the floor is covered with wrapping paper. Arranged on the coffee table are Celeste's gifts. There is the pony, a book with a bright cover, a pink dress with sparkly sequins, a jigsaw puzzle with lots of pieces, some sheets of fairy stickers, a set of glitter pens and a backpack complete with water bottle.

"There is one more present," announces Mum. She goes to her bedroom and returns with a printed sheet of paper. "This is the new jobs roster. Celeste, I think you are old enough to do some of the more difficult jobs all by yourself. And because you are now a big girl, I think you should have a new bedtime. You can stay up half an hour later than Lizzie."

Celeste feels all warm and happy. She hugs Mum and Dad. She feels very special.

"And now for the birthday outing," shouts Dad. "We're going to the rainforest for a walk and then a picnic. You can try out your backpack, Celeste."

It is a wonderful birthday outing. The children walk a long way under the canopy of the rainforest. But Annie doesn't walk. Her legs are too little. She rides high up on Dad's back where she can see everything. When Lizzie gets tired Mum says it is time to stop for the birthday picnic. All the children are starving. They devour peanut butter sandwiches and iced cupcakes and crunchy apples and bottles of cold, sparkling water. When all the food has been eaten and the rubbish stowed away carefully in a backpack, it is time to walk again. Dad and Annie set off in the lead with Edward, Kate, Joe, Celeste and Lizzie following. Mum comes last to make sure no-one is left behind.

Later that evening, six tired children gather around the table for the birthday cake. Dad lights the candles. Celeste smiles happily while everyone sings "Happy Birthday" very loudly. Then she blows out all the candles with one breath. Mum cuts up the cake. When there are only crumbs left on the plates, Mum says it is time for Lizzie to get ready for bed. Annie has already fallen asleep.

"I know I'm a big girl now, Mum," says Celeste. "But do you think it would be alright if I went to bed with Lizzie?" She yawns widely. "Perhaps my new bedtime can start tomorrow."

Mum smiles. She says that even big girls like to have an early night every now and then. "I think I'll go to bed early myself," she says with a yawn of her own.

Mum gives Celeste a good night kiss and then Celeste plods off to bed. She is very tired but very, very happy.

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