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