I may be nearly 8 years into parenthood but I have to admit that, up until now, I’ve been a party avoider. Sure, my kids have had birthday parties but I’ve run like hell from the the whole invite-the-whole-class-to-a-hall thing. The very idea has made my blood run cold. I know that makes me sound like a bit of a party wimp but I do have good reason. My eldest and parties simply don’t mix.
Kids in their first year at school have the world’s best social life. Pretty much every one of those 30 children has a party and everyone gets invited. When those invites started rolling in for my first it was a bit of a shock. There was hardly a weekend when there wasn’t a party.
Luckily, the invites tail off in Year 1 but I didn’t realise that at the time and was a bit scared. You see, parties were not easy with our H. He couldn’t really cope with them at all. He has always been pretty anxious and the noise of 30 odd 4-year olds running amok in a echoing hall was just too much for him.
So, just don’t go, right? Well, that was the tricky bit. H was desperate to go and I was desperate for him to fit in. So we sucked it down for a while. And boy, did it suck?
We attended quite a few parties with him clinging to me, refusing to get off my lap, not even wanting the party tea. I had to deal with screaming panics over burst balloons and once had to leave after just five minutes because of a bout of intense balloon popping. He was also very wary of the kids’ entertainers and was known to cry desperately when watching Punch and Judy or even magicians if something popped up quickly and made him jump. It was, to put it mildly, a tad challenging – although he always said what fun he’d had afterwards, which I never understood.
After a while I simply hid party invites from H when they came home in his bag and sent an RSVP to say we were busy. If he spotted the invite before I got to it, I claimed we already had plans. Anything to avoid the misery.
So, holding a party for H when his own 5th birthday rolled round was not an option. Besides, not only would I have had H’s extreme anxiety to deal with but I also had a toddler in tow and was six months pregnant. So you can see why I decided against it.
We avoided parties for a year or so and when H’s 6th birthday came round we found he’d calmed down enough to do smaller gatherings (without balloons) so we threw him a pizza-making party at the local Italian restaurant, which was a hit. By the time he was 7, he was a bit beyond the big party age. So, hall parties neatly side-stepped. Phew!
H can do parties now but he still looks like a fish out of water much of the time. It can be OK but it can also be a total disaster and is completely unpredictable, so he keeps me on the edge of my seat.
Then along came M, my confident little social butterfly. She absolutely loves parties. She has attended all of the ones thrown by her classmates so far this year and not only lets me dump her and run but she actively wants me to leave so she can get on with it without Mummy cramping her style.
M’s lovely little best mate is just two weeks younger than her and equally sociable, so holding a party for the two of them together seemed like a perfect fit. I won’t deny that I was still a bit anxious about it but sharing it between us two Mums reassured me a bit. We decided to hire a dance entertainer for our pop-crazy little girls. It would be a walk in the park, right? Besides, it is only two hours of our lives. How bad could it be?
The day before the party, I’m ashamed to admit I couldn’t sleep very well. I used to work in event management, for God’s sake. How the hell could a party for 30 small kids be keeping me awake at night?! But there were just so many things that I could see going wrong, and they were all out of my control.
My biggest worry was how my boys were going to behave. I dreaded things going bad for H and him kicking off while I was up to my eyes in yelling kids and party bags. And then there was Baby T, who is 2 so is basically a marauding mini-monster and a total loose canon.
It didn’t start brilliantly. The guy in charge of the hall forgot to let us in and our already tight half-hour set-up time was suddenly reduced to 20 minutes. As a result we were up against it and frantically blowing up balloons to hang up when the first kids arrived. Said kids commandeered the loose balloons while I was busy checking them in on my list and, inevitably, some popped while they were kicked about (OK, I bought cheap balloons so I guess I had it coming). One popped right next to H, who stood in the middle of the hall – towering above the other kids – looking a picture of misery. I clocked that he was doing the lip and I broke out in a cold sweat. Big fat tears were forming and he was on he verge of completely losing it in a loud, embarrassing and very public way.
It is always hit and miss whether you can pull it back when H gets like that and you have to decide whether to go hard or soft. I made a quick decision to skip the sympathetic good cop and go in like nails. A quick firm warning in his ear, followed by swiftly depositing him with my best mate at the edge of the room to calm him down and the disaster was averted. I have never been more relieved, or more glad to have backup.
There were a couple more hairy moments (we all totally forgot to cut the cake for the party bags until the very last moment, which led to a frantic, giggling cake chain-gang in the kitchen) but it went really well in all. My husband was basically on T duty throughout and my cheeky little youngest was pretty good, so long as the party food kept flowing in his direction. Even H pulled it back admirably in the end and I was proud of both of them.
So, it was a success and we all survived. I still don’t think I could do it alone and I’m eternally grateful to my friend for sharing the burden with me. And our beautiful bestie birthday girls had a perfect pop-tastic day and were full of smiles, which made it all so worth it.
Happy Birthday, dear little party girls. I think I can say, from the safe distance of a couple of days, that it was a genuine pleasure and worth all the boy-induced worry to see your funky dance moves and your happy little faces.