Saturday, 27 July 2013

The Evening After The Morning Before

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.

I think.


  1. The important thing is that you survived it without anyone - hosts or guests - going to hospital, which makes it a success. Congratulations!

  2. Oh man, I laughed so hard - I love, love, LOVE your honesty! But are you sure you're a J? :)

    PS my kids have just got a little smack on the bum from D for brushing their teeth in the dining room and messing toothpaste all over our carpets. Yes, this is 4!

    When is their actual birthday? 27th?

  3. Ugh. I feel your pain. Every year when you post about the twin's birthday I start to remember--uh oh--Bicicleta Girl's birthday is coming up. In September, but still. When they're older you have to up the sophistication level and honey believe me, I am anything but sophisticated.
    So happy for you that another year is past and that Blue loved his cake. Just one more sign that you can do no wrong in his eyes. ;-)

  4. *huge laugh* sounds great (urm, other than the chest pain!)!! And I love J's ideas.. And are there no photos Claudia..?! C'mon Auntie M loves a good photo or two and this has definite potential for some excellent ones - you in an octonauts hat for a start.. and how about one of soggy doritos that have been licked to a squidge!?

  5. Carefully planned parties are overrated! If you're not praying the printer doesn't run out of ink as you half-heartedly print a birthday banner the night before, then it's not my kind of party. I love your kind of party. It is exactly the kind of party to have. I'll admit that I do like making and decorating the cake (all by myself, after the children are in bed, when I can lick frosting off my fingers at leisure), but other than that, I need to keep it simple. Very, VERY simple. We never plan activities, for instance - at Z's, we scattered some rabbit shaped pieces of paper on our coffee table and put some markers next to them, but that was it. I didn't even tell people they were there! I let them figure it out. Our party style is to just let the kids eat until they're as destructive as your average natural disaster (pick one: tornado, tsunami, earthquake, hurricane) and don't make them clean up any toys at the end. Party favors are the balloons that we use to decorate and whatever leftovers we can shove at them. I'm glad I'm not the only one who doesn't put together a Pinterest-worthy party and take beautifully staged photos of the whole thing.

  6. I'm anxious just reading about this. We skipped the first birthday shenanigans and headed off to Disneyland instead. My plan for future parties is to hire our neighbor (former kindergarten teacher, social worker, and current after school program volunteer). She is awesome and I have no back up plan.

    Love to hear that is was all worth it though. ;)

  7. I. hate. birthday. party. planning. and. execution.

    Mid week last week was my husband's 50th birthday (no pressure to make THAT a good celebration!)...we spent an evening and a whole day celebrating that...all arranged by me, including a fabulous dinner for eleven. The next day (the NEXT day) was my daughter's 6th birthday and I planned and executed her all-girls birthday party, followed by a family dinner for 11 the following day (though we ate out for this, thank goodness). Three days from now, one of my sons turns 8 and we will be hosting 13 children at a nearby carnival and lugging his cake, gifts, and water bottles in a wagon as we traipse after 13 insane children wanting to go on rides. The day after that will be our newly-turned-8-year-old's family birthday party. Oh, and in addition to buying gifts for the kids and hubbie, I also bought gifts for the kids from my parents and my siblings, and wrapped those ones too!

    Three days after my son's festivities end is MY birthday, but which point, quite frankly, I will want nothing to do with cake, dinners, or even gifts. The biggest gift I'll hope to get is an early night to bed. I hope my husband reads this. Every year I hate these 10 days.

    I. totally. understand. where. you're. coming. from.

    BLessings, Claudia...and thanks for shedding some humour on the situation!



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