Is it normal to have actual chest pains at the thought of a fourth birthday party? This morning, as I was icing a cake and preparing the house for an influx of miniature people, I could actually feel something like a band squeezing my heart. It was pretty painful, but there was a silver lining - at least if I have to go to hospital, I thought, I won't have to supervise ten children in a small space who are all hopped up on way too much refined sugar.
I do know, by the way, that it is theoretically possible to do a party without a huge amount of sugar, but frankly I'm not sure what the point of that would be. They can have carrot sticks any day, and if their birthday party isn't fun and different then why would I do it? I'm not putting myself through this pain for my own edification. Also - let's be honest - things like healthy snacks require both preparation and planning, and neither of those are my special gifts. Neither is any other kind of party planning. In fact, I'd say that insofar as this birthday party had a theme, it could best be summed up as Denial. I recommend it, I think. The way it works is that you pretend your children aren't actually having a birthday, and refuse to discuss or think about any details of a party until about four days beforehand when you pick a time at random and then send frantic invitational texts to their friends' parents.
The advantages of this approach are obvious - the late notice means fewer children can come; you can honestly answer all those what are we doing for my birthday questions with a legitimate I don't know; and no paper invitations means that you make significant savings on postage. However, the downside is - well, the chest pains, as you frantically try to do about three weeks' worth of organising in a few hours.
"What are we going to actually do with these children?" I said to Jay, during the ten-minute planning session we had on Thursday.
Jay suggested that he take the children down to feed the ducks. We live about twenty metres away from the river and the Thames Path goes practically right by our house. Just in case you think that makes us fancy - our tiny house was originally built to house abbatoir workers, since the river was the most convenient site for that kind of activity (don't think about that too hard. I try not to).
"Okay, ducks," I said.
"Musical statues?" he suggested. "Or maybe What's the Time, Mister Wolf?"
"We don't have a big enough yard for that" I said (because it's true).
"I know," he said. "We can just play it on the path beside the river."
"Problem with that," I said, "is that ten kids will kind of block the path, and then half of them will get run over by cyclists."
"Well okay then," he said. "Not the actual path, in that case. Just the bit before you get to the actual path."
"You mean the street?" I asked.
"Yeah, I guess" he said. "We won't play there for very long".
"The way things are going," I said, "I think people are just going to remember this party as the one where Jay and Claudia encouraged everybody to play on the road. What else are we going to do with them?"
A long pause.
"I don't know," he said. "Maybe television?"
I really wish that at least one of us had some kind of aptitude for this sort of thing. I begged my friends at work for help, and one of them suggested - brilliantly - the idea of sitting all the children down at a table, giving them some plain biscuits (you know that means cookies, right?), a few bowls of icing and some sparkly sprinkles and standing back while they 'decorate'. I told Jay about this, and then we had an argument about party bags. He's anti. I'm not really pro, but I don't really see how they can be avoided when you have ten little faces looking at you expectantly.
"Party bags always seem to have: something sticky, something to choke on, and something that will stain. Surely we can manage that? " I said.
"It's the principle" he said. "It's just plastic junk. Children need to accept that not every party has party bags."
This didn't sit right with me, and a day or so later it hit me why: any sentence that starts with Children need to accept.... is going to end in floods of tears. I can't be doing with that. In the end, I won, and we prepared to send the children home with their dubiously iced biscuits and tiny toy cars that were absolutely exactly windpipe-sized.
The chest pains continued as I iced an octo-alert onto a bought cake, introducing the party's sub-theme: copyright violations. Half an hour before it started, I realised I'd left an important part of the snack menu in a friend's car.
Then the children came, and it was awful. The whole thing was awful. One little boy licked all of the doritos and Blue got in massive trouble from Jay for some unsanctioned sampling of the cake.
Do you know what though?
In a horrible way, it was also kind of fun. I'm sitting here, about ten hours after the party ended, still wearing my paper octonauts hat and remembering that Blue walked into the kitchen then and said OH WOW, LOOK AT MY CAKE! He wasn't judging my skilz at all. The whole thing was an MSG and sugar-fuelled disaster, but they loved it.
They loved it.
Roll on next year.