Kids birthday parties and why I still hate them

Photo by Caleb Woods on Unsplash

There is much that has changed in the World since my 1980 s childhood but  one thing  hasn’t  and that’s the kid’s birthday party and my anxiety fueled fear and loathing of them. I` m being serious, when I empty my daughters school bag out and one of those hand written brightly coloured slivers of papers flutters to the floor my heart sinks down with it.

Like most hang ups it has its origins in childhood; I have a memory of trailing behind my Mum as we approached a balloon decked church hall somewhere when I was about six feeling awkward in my best shiny shoes, sticky out  dress and hair clips digging into my scalp.As we reached the doorway where the noise and ham sandwich smell was spilling out  I began to feel a little queasy, froze and flatly refused to go in.

My Mum, who looking back was probably delighted to have an excuse to duck out of it, handed over the present and murmured something about me not feeling well before we high tailed it back to the Voltsvagon Polo.

The last party we went to….

But far from inheriting my party hating gene,Ruby my own six year old daughter can`t get enough of them: At  the last one we went too she bounded off happily to bat balloons around with her friends whilst I hovered near the entrance clutching the present, my heart pounding as the music, noise and people overwhelmed me.

We were a bit late in arriving and the celebrations were in full swing so I carefully balanced our gift on a side table draped in a sequined  cloth, groaning under the weight of expensively wrapped tat.

Scanning the room I saw little huddles of parents seated around the edge in clusters of threes or fours, cradling coffee mugs and deep in conversation. They didn`t look up but I felt like a huge spotlight was trained on me and as I tried to calm my racing heart I wished I could wrap myself in Harry Potter`s cloak of invisibility.

At the far end of the hall Dave the Incredible, a nefarious looking character in a clown suit not large enough to disguise his sizable paunch, was warming up the crowd with some balloon wrangling. He was doing a magnificent job entertaining the kids despite the blurry eyes and three-day old stubble hinting at a recently concluded pub bender. As he pulled and twisted his sleeves rode up and I tried and failed to read the poorly inked letters snaking up his forearms, perhaps the handiwork of a bored cell mate on his last ten stretch?

Even the Birthday kid hates her party…

Then I spotted birthday Kid hovering on the side lines keeping a wary distance from the balloon themed hullabaloo. A diamante tiara was perched on her head, her dress a melange of peach netting  and she appeared to be teetering on the brink of tears as she sucked the end of her plait. I felt like we were kindred spirits and my heart went out to her.

Please just give me a job?

I turned to the serving hatch behind me behind which birthday kids parents and relatives were in the kitchen slicing and dicing food into little cubes and triangles for the buffet. What I took for an aunt was on tea duty doling out hot drinks and biscuits for the adult guests, a small compensation, I suppose, for ruining their Saturday afternoon.

I asked for a coffee  whilst staring enviously into the kitchen Oh, how I would have loved to hang out through there, nose to the chopping board I has thought; I can cope so much better at social events when I have a job to do.  Birthday kids` Mum clattered past me in heals and a fug of perfume bussing  platters of carrot sticks and cheesy puffs over to the buffet table.

 “Need any help?” I offered,” No thank you it’s all under control, you just sit down and relax” she trilled a smile frozen on her painted lips.

Relax, fat chance of that, I thought turning to face the room.

Let the games commence!

Dave the incredible had set up a limbo pole and cranked up the music, he was demanding one of the nice mummies do a demonstration to kick things off so I quickly bolted, eyes down to the nearest available chair. I needn`t of worried because Dave knew EXACTLY which nice Mummy he wanted, the 6ft blonde in the leather trousers who was pulling a face of mock reluctance and flicking her hair as she strolled towards the limbo pole.

I glanced to my left to strike up a conversation but the two Mums were talking about an acqaintance of theirs in hushed urgent tones  and to my right a shouty Dad was bellowing  about house prices. Feeling like a giant gooseberry I rooted around in my bag for the adult comforter of the modern age, my mobile phone and started to scroll through face book whilst pretending to read important work emails.

Out on the floor the limbo was finished and  a game of pass the parcel was in the offing, one of those supposedly fun games that end up in a lot of pushing shoving and snatching.  I half smiled to myself as I watched each child grip the parcel for as long as possible before it was impatiently wrestled away by the next kid, some things never change I thought.

Next up the chairs from the buffet table were being dragged over for the most gladiatorial of all the party games, musical chairs. Ruby trotted over to perch on my knee and watch from a safe distance, she is a smart but slightly built girl and knew she would get steamrolled in the first round.

If your brain has managed to blank out childhood memories of this old party classic let me remind you ;You stampede in a circular fashion around a line of chairs and when the music stops you dive, shove kick, elbow and use any other physical means possible to get your bottom on a seat; But here`s the catch, at the end of each round one chair is removed so in effect the kids compete  for ever diminishing resources which will sadly be a necessary skill in the not too distant future.

In essence it is  a Darwinian contest which, by the final round,  had been whittled down to two six year old,knuckle dragging silver backs lumbering around the last remaining chair ready to slug it out for the sake of a Haribo jumbo tub.

Time to eat(but only for the kids)

Mercifully the game was drawn to its bitter conclusion and Dave the incredible announced it was  time to eat before slipping outside, no doubt to chain smoke and stalk his ex wife on face book.  The rest of us went to hover hungrily around the buffet table laid out with all the usual party favourites from sausage rolls to party rings, monster munch to mini pizzas.

Birthday kid was perched on her very own throne at the head of the table; a chair draped in purple velvet with a gold sash on which she was taking dainty, miserable nibbles to an egg and cress sandwich .

Ruby was steadfastly working her way through a huge pile of monster munch before abandoning the rest and trotting off to play.  I stared hungrily at the uneaten food on her plate.My stomach felt like it was eating itself and even the limp cheese sandwich made me salivate, but to be seen eating the childrens` food would be social suicide.I saw Birthday kid`s Mum steaming towards me,  black bin bag in hand sweeping int it plastic cups, plates of food and a whole platter of mini quiches in a move which would make Greta Thunberg shudder.

“I can`t bare to see food go to waste!”I exclaimed loudly as overcome by hunger I snatched up a sandwich and crammed it in my mouth whilst palming a mini pizza for afters. Birthday kids` Mum was nearly upon me and she was making eye contact ,

“You re Ruby`s Mum aren’t you? I`ve been meaning to ask you where she goes to gymnastics?” .

“Mmm”I mumbled smiling and nodding my head as the dry little bread triangles had glued themselves  to the roof of my mouth and I was frantically trying to dislodge them with my tongue to swallow them whole. She waited expectantly,

um to the leisure centre” I mumbled, wincing as a bread crumb flew out of my mouth and landed on her glasses.

Yep action songs never went away!

Back on the dance floor Dave the Incredible was looking chipper after his nicotine break and had kicked things off with his rendition of action songs old and new. First up was baby shark(consult you tube if you don`t know it) and had steepled his hands above his head whilst gyrating his hips in a most disturbing manner.

This was followed by a pogo back to the 80`s with all the favourites I remember cringing in a corner to, The fast food song, Agadoo, Superman….by this point Dave was completley lost in music, a faraway look in his eyes as he remembered all yesterdays parties when he had more hair, less belly and might have stood a cat in hell`s chance with Miss leather trousers..

But birthday Kid`s Mum ruined Daves` shimmy down memory lane by frantically tapping her wrist at him and mouthing cake. Eventually the penny dropped and he killed the music.

It`s not a party without drama…

“would the birthday girl please come to the front?” he demanded over the crackling PA,clearly having forgotten her name. But where was the birthday girl ? I didn’t remember seeing her since she was prised off her Grandma` s knee to head up the conga a couple of songs back so everyone started glancing around like she might be hiding behind their legs.

Birthday Mum clattered off to check the toilets, birthday Dad went to the car park and the atmosphere was starting to get a little panicked so Dave the Incredible, ever the consummate professional, decided to reel off his best Mother in Law jokes to lighten the mood.

 “Look Mum”said Ruby tugging at my sleeve and pointing, I caught  a glimpse of peach netting sticking out from beneath the present table and two round grey eyes peaking from under the table cloth. They locked onto mine, like a hunted animal, imploring me not to give her away.

 I tussled with the dilemma for a moment but Ruby who was impatient to get on with the party had no such compunctions about turning over her friend. “there she is she” said loudly in a cold flat voice.

Time for the cake…

So Amelia was coaxed from under the table and  gently but firmly  propelled to the front by her Mother`s hand on her back to endure the  happy birthday song, plait still firmly wedged in mouth and eyes fixed on the bows of her shoes.

“Make a wish!” boomed Dave,

I bet she` s wishing this will soon be over, I thought grimly and after blowing out the candles on the three tiered iced princess castle her wish came true.

Dave put on a slow Disney ballad for the last song and birthday family started  folding down the buffet tables so I eagerly sprang up to help, seizing a brush to sweep up the burst balloons and confetti.

The best bit about a party..

 The last hurdle was getting a party bag off birthday kid and her Mum who were stationed by the door guarding them. “Say thank you”  I prompted Ruby, ”thank you” she drawled  and got rewarded with a piece of cake and some plastic crap.

As we stepped out into the car park I squinted my eyes against the bright sunshine and guided Ruby,whose cheeks were bulging with cake, back to the car.We passed Dave the Incredible who was trying to shoulder the speakers in the back of his van through a mouthful of muttered expletives,

“Mum can we get Dave for my party? ”Ruby asked. Quick as you like he was pressing a business card in my hand,

“ 10 %off if you book by the end of the month ducky “he said with a lascivious wink, I shuddered and gave him a weak smile.

As we pulled out of the car park, we saw birthday kid emerging with her entourage of relatives hauling out bin bags full of presents, half an iced princess castle and two giant helium balloons.

I caught her eye and for the first time that day her face lit up in a wide dazzling smile; I waved and she waved back before happily climbing in the car because as every kid knows, the best and sometimes the only good bit about having a party is opening the presents afterwards.

I hope you enjoyed reading my blog, how do you feel about birthday parties?Love them or hate them?Please tell me what you think below,

Until next time

Kate M

The seven point plan for peaceful play dates

“Mum can Amelia come to our house?”

my daughter Ruby asked me at school pick up the other week, my stomach churned uneasily at the thought of hosting a tea time play date.

 “Well yes OK maybe next week, “

I said buying myself a bit of time because, despite my reservations, I`d be a bad mother if I denied Ruby a social life, right?

Now let me explain my hesitation because you might be the unflappable type who regularly invites your children’s friends over with comments like,

“why don’t you just drop all four off the more the merrier! After all it’s only a few extra settings at the table.”

You see for me it’s MUCH MUCH more than a few extra place settings and as you will know from my previous post, we live in a small,cluttered house; So the thought of having extra kids bouncing around in our minimal space gives me the serious jitters.

Play date casualties

On top of that, although Ruby will be bubbling over with excitement about having a friend round,once they actually come her enthusiasm usually starts to wain rapidly; Watching her chosen pal rampage through her bedroom, turning out draws and rifling through boxes is too much to handle and when they discover her little treasure box containing her most favourite shells, pebbles and feathers that`s when the shit will really hit the proverbial fan!

So, I’ve come up with a 7 point plan based on my own experience of play date success and failure because just like tooth extraction or childbirth, you want them to be over as painlessly and quickly as possible.

Point 1 Hide all the favourite toys

Hands off bear!

This is all about   damage limitation, they are probably still going to fight over something but tell your child beforehand if there is anything, they really don’t want little Archie or Evie to play with then you will hide them in the airing cupboard.

That way they should in theory be happy to share their remaining toys and you can remind them of this later if there’s any trouble.

Point 2. Tire them out

Don t pick them up from school in the car, make them walk back or if that’s not an option take them to the playground first for a good half hour of fresh air and vigorous exercise, better still do both.

When Amelia(mentioned earlier) came to play recently I had lined up a ten minute walk from the school to the local park  and then sat on a bench shivering whilst they burned off all that pent up energy. Yes, you might get cold and rained upon but just remember you` ll get the payoff when you get them home and they have no energy left for anything but colouring in.

Point 3 Keep it plain, Keep it beige.

Plain,beige and carby!

 Fish fingers, pasta, pizza are all firm favourites, as a rule of thumb if its stodgy salty, carby and beige you’re onto a winner. You could throw  a few carrot sticks into the mix solely for the benefit of visiting child’s parents who will quiz them about what they had to eat on the way home.

Under no circumstance try and add any type of sauce or marinade because you think it will be too bland, IT CAN NEVER BE TOO BLAND!

Point 4 Go with the flow

Smile graciously!

You will rustle up a lovely little buffet with pasta twizzles, pizza triangles,little sandwich squares and carrot batons but visiting kid will find something wrong with it -GUARANTEED!

“My Mum cuts them into squares “she will say or “Has the pizza got pineapple on it?”

Just smile and offer to cut the bloody things into triangles,tell her the pineapples well hidden and if its still not right plate up what’s left because you don`t want to let good junk food go to waste right?

Point 5 Silence is not golden

If the kids are upstairs and everything goes quiet apart from the odd whisper or stifled giggle go and investigate IMMEDIATLEY!!!

You will probably find them making a magic spell in the cauldron (upstairs toilet) by emptying all your shower gel and shampoo into it(true story) or they will be in your bedroom holding aloft your most enormous pair of knickers and debating if they could make a den out of them.

Point 6 Have a plan B

Example of a Plan B

If they re just not getting on or they re getting on too well and your toiletries are in the bottom of the pan then you need to detonate plan B.

This can be making a fish out of paper plates and silver foil, a game of hide and seek or treasure hunt in the garden; to be honest it doesn’t matter what it is as long as it puts an end to the undesirable behaviour it’s been deployed against.

For more ideas on fun crafts to do with kids check out this blog https://auntiemblog.wordpress.com/category/kids-crafts/

Point 7 The power of the screen

What did we do before Netflix?

If the situation is so dire that the treasure hunt has turned into mud wrestling then stick the telly on, give them a bowl of popcorn each and peace will reign guaranteed!

No kid can resist the hypnotic effects of the screen!

And then it`s time to say Goodbye

Once you`ve stood at the door and waved them off just a little too cheerfully go in, pour yourself a large glass of something and as you slump at the kitchen table contemplating the mess take heart in this;play date etiquette states it`s their turn next!!

So I hope you enjoyed my seven point plan, I`d love to hear your own thoughts on play dates, love them or dread them?Please write to me and share your own tips,

Until next time

Kate M

Merry Christmas and a crap free new year!

I find these little buggers everywhere!

There`s a war  going on in our house and until recently it’s one I`ve been losing, the enemy has taken hold in every room, lurking behind the sofa, skulking under the bed and colonising the floor and shelves in plain sight. So far, I`ve been holding it off from a total invasion but now the gloves are off (or perhaps I should say on);

I’m determined victory will be mine in this war- against crap.

Ready to tackle the house!
Photo by Heorhii Heorhiichuk from Pexels

Now one person’s rubbish is another`s treasure but for me this four-letter Anglo-Saxon word covers a multitude of useless or semi useless objects, mostly of the brightly coloured plastic variety.  I’ve not been staying on top of it and in a two bed room new build with next to no storage space that’s not a good thing. I` ll admit a bit of self-delusion has been at play. I told myself the mess was a lifestyle choice, the price to pay for doing things which I considered more fun or important but it got to the point where it was getting me down.

Now you might be wondering if we have had to burrow our way through stacks of pie trays to get to the front door every morning, well no, my hoarding tendencies are only mild.  But I was finding Charlie`s mega blocks everywhere from my bed to the bath tub and the coats and old shoes seemed to be breeding and multiplying in the minuscule hall way. On shelves and surfaces books and paperwork lay in disorderly piles and there are boxes and baskets crammed full of miscellaneous “stuff.”

When Ruby asked if her friend could come round for an impromptu play date after school one day I put her off but felt guilty about it. We had been to this little girl’s house once, sat in the gleaming kitchen and been shown her spotless bedroom, toys carefully categorized and shut away in drawers. I would need to spend a couple of days solidly cleaning and tidying before I could imagine letting a child from such a house(or more importantly her Mother) over our own messy threshold.

At the time I started writing this Christmas was still hanging on the horizon like a big glittery cloud. I had nightmarish visions of the front room after Santa’s Christmas eve crap bombing mission;the front room knee deep in shredded wrapping paper and polystyrene chunks covering a base layer of toys which needed to be assigned space in our already overcrowded house.

Santa about to drop the crap bomb!

But then Ruby got norovirus, a nasty bug which kept her off school for 7 days which she spent shivering in bed or on the sofa binging on Christmas films. Our normal life and routine ground to a halt and I found myself confined to the house with the kids for the duration of her illness and with no way of distracting myself I was forced to grab a bin liner and square up to the enemy within.

No de cluttering mission can be carried out successfully unless the whole family is on board. Charlie at 2 was a little young to understand and Ruby was surprisingly easy to convince. I said “we need to choose some toys to give away or Santa won`t have room to leave anymore.”

”OK “came her muffled voice from under the blanket, a surprising answer from a girl who once collected a box full of dead lady birds and refused to get rid of them even when they had turned into a fine ash of legs and wings.

With Ruby s help and blessing we got off to a flying start on the first day filling four bin liners full of old clothes and toys, the My little pony cull was particularly successful and we reduced the collection by half.

A while back I had watched the Japanese organisation expert Marie Kondo on her TV show, tidying up where she helps people who have messy and cluttered homes so I had learned a few tricks from the best.  She recommends completely emptying whatever drawer you are working on and then picking up each item in turn and asking yourself if it sparks joy in your life, the answer determining whether it should stay or go.

Marie Kondo in action

I can see where she is coming from on that one, you are essentially considering how you feel about the object in question and what function it has in your life.  My greatest stumbling block are giving up potentially useful things, I can just imagine how it would be if Marie visited our house. “No Marie my tangled knot of mobile phone charges don`t spark joy in my life but they might just come in useful one day, and as for my Nokia 3110, its virtually a collector’s item!”

I still have a long way to go but I’ve been working my way through the house room by room choosing one cupboard or draw to sort out at a time whenever I get a spare half hour. The process of de cluttering has made me feel both mentally and physically lighter as I pair down our possessions to the things that our useful or enrich our like in some way.

I’ve realised that most of the objects I really value are not things I have chosen but things I have found, or been gifted over the years and have moved with me like old familiar friends. The amethyst tree was a birthday present, the carved Madonna and child the treasured possession of my late Grandma and the pale lump of quartz was found on a windy hillside scramble in Wales.

In my drawers are the old t-shirt and nightie which I wore in when I was first presented the slippery bodies of my newly born children, little more than rags now but woven through with emotion and memories.

My house is never going to look like those slick, shiny minimalist spaces you see on Instagram and neither do I want it to because I am quite comfortable with things being a little messy;In fact the only time I have ever bleached my bathroom floor daily and alphabetized my library was whilst going through a mental break down in my late 20s but I cannot deny that getting shot of all the excess stuff that has been cluttering every room has felt liberating.

It `s never going to look like this!

I used to think that our house was too small but I realise now that we just had too much stuff, at least 75% of which we never used and de junking is a constant ongoing process. It’s not just about getting rid of crap but policing what is brought into the house and thinking do we really need and use this? To borrow from Marie Kondo, will it spark joy in our life?

No house is an island and ours is just a microcosm of a wider problem of the Western World, we are all drowning in crap, its heaped up in garages and attics up and down the land and bulging from the boots of the Sunday morning queue at your local tip.

We don`t tread lightly on the World

We amass so much plastic waste it gets ferried to developing countries to be burnt in huge stinking toxic piles and the oceans are awash with our human detritus, whales dying with their bellies full of plastic nets.

I’m not under any illusion that my resolution alone to adopt a more minimalist lifestyle is going to change the World for the better but the process of de cluttering has made me feel so much lighter already and that is definatley a feeling worth hanging on to.

So, I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a crap free new year

Until next time

Kate M

Welcome to Mum and more!

My writing teacher told me I should start a blog.”But what do I write about I haven`t got any hobbies?”I said,”Of course you have just write about what you know”she replied.

So this isn`t going to be a blog about 13th century Welsh castles or the history of locomotives through the ages(Sorry to disappoint) but it will cover ;the struggles and joys of single parenting,turning 40,having a drawer full of odd socks,trying to set up a business,books, writing,anxiety disorders,the weirdness of ordinary people and much more besides.

I suppose I should tell you a bit about myself like in one of those team building exercises where you have to stand up with a sticky name badge on and stutter “my name is…”Oh well, at least I have the safety of a screen between us so here goes…

My name is Kate and I live with my children Ruby and Charlie who are six and two respectively. We rent on one of those semi rural new estates where people put vases of flowers in their shiny windows, get competitive over Christmas lights and get outraged about dog poo. The suburban heart of middle England.

I ve been toying with the idea of starting a blog for a while but turning 40 after a brief gallop through my 30 s focused my mind to stop procrastinating and do it-Plus it`s somewhere to have a good old vent and get things off my chest so I`m going to view it as my therapy but without the sympathetic nods and “How did it make you feels?”

I want this blog to be an honest and at times funny account of family life today on the cusp of 2020.

So here I am on Christmas eve posting my first blog, I hope you enjoy it.

Merry Christmas

Kate Mackenzie