More birthday party angst this month. I was all ready to bundle the Tween Child off to Ryze for a couple of hours with a pre-ordered cake, but it seems the birthday girl has other ideas.
“What I’d really like,” she muses over breakfast. “Is one of those parties at home where the mum makes all the food and we play those party games like when I was little.”
Her wish-list includes pass-the-parcel, musical chairs, musical bumps and a homemade tea and birthday cake. Which on the face of it sounds lovely, but in reality is a LOT of mum-hours. Not to mention fifteen-or-so tweens screaming their way around the house on a Saturday afternoon.
“Really?” I ask. “Are you sure you wouldn’t like an afternoon at the super-park? Or Laser Quest at the club?”
“Are you mad?” interjects my husband. “She’s saving us a fortune! Sure, let’s have it at home, what a marvellous idea!”
The Tween Child beams. I groan inwardly. Children’s parties, I’ve learnt from years of experience, always cost a fortune whatever you do – so you’re better off just chucking some cash at a nice play-place or a lovely entertainer from the get-go and outsourcing the whole shebang.
“We’ll all be on board to help,” reassures my husband.
The next day, just as I’m writing a humongous party ‘to-do’ list, he calls me from work. “You know that contract I’ve been working on?” I actually have no idea what he’s talking about, but I manage to murmur something supportive yet non-committal. “It’s come through! Anyway, it means I’m going to have to pop down to Vietnam to tee it all up with the client.”
Which 99% of the time would be marvellous – there’s nothing nicer than a husband-free house for a few nights so that once the kids are in bed I can laze around watching Love Island in my pyjamas eating packets of crisps.
But not this time. The dates, of course, fall right over the party day.
“Oh my god!” I whimper. “I can’t do this alone!”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” comes the impatient response. “Just chuck them in the pool and throw some Cheezels in a bowl. What could be simpler?” And he rings off.
Of course the day is nowhere near as straightforward as that. Several supermarket trips later and I have assembled enough food and drink to sustain a small army and all the games are ready and in place. I’ve also spent my entire Friday evening creating a ‘hedgehog’ birthday cake, which I’m actually quite proud of. I’m just Instagramming the life out of it when the doorbell rings. And within minutes an entire class of Tweens has stampeded through my house and out to the pool. My helper is left cowering in their wake, so I assign her to Operation Party Tea from the safety of the kitchen.
Meanwhile, I plunge outside to find twenty-odd kids noisily hurling themselves around in our really quite-small-pool. My cautious warnings not to hang off the precarious back fence or try to dive in from the top of next-door’s seven-foot partition wall go unheard and unheeded.
“Mum! Mum!” cries the Tween Child. “Mimi’s bought me a killer whale inflatable! Please blow it up!”
“Yes, please blow it up!” wheedles the rest of the class.
Oh good god, they have to be kidding, this thing is practically life-size. But gamely I start blowing, until I think I’m going to pass out or require a lung-transplant. Finally it’s done and I turn to hand it to the Tween Child – just as the entire pool empties and they all charge back into the lounge room.
“Food!” somebody screams, and then all hell breaks loose as pizza, chicken nuggets, mini sausages, iced cupcakes and copious amounts of crisps are crammed into mouths. There’s ketchup on the couch, ice-cream on the rug but most disconcertingly of all, they seem to think my lovingly-created hedgehog cake is a porcupine. “It’s not a porcupine!” I mumble.
“Oh yeah, sorry, it’s an echidna!” yells killer-whale-Mimi.
Inside, my soul dies just a little bit. My house is a wreck, my helper has locked herself in the bathroom and we have yet to play the party games.
Several exhausting hours later and I finally collapse into bed, wondering if great my reward really will be in heaven.
But it transpires that my reward is actually on social media. The next morning several parents have uploaded photos of their sticky children clutching gooey party bags and labelled them ‘amazing party’ and ‘wow, what a fantastic mum going to all this trouble!’ Anyway, there are enough ‘hero mum’ type comments to convince my husband I am worth surprising with a night at the Island Shangri-La on his return to say well done.
But despite this rather unexpected yet lovely outcome, common sense prevails.
“About my party,” begins the Boy Child over breakfast on Monday morning.
“Oh!” I rejoinder brightly. “Don’t waste a second thought on it, darling! Ryze is already booked and paid for!”