Friday, 9 September 2011

Children's Party Hell

Most parents dread kids parties, whether planning one: what if it’s not good enough? What if child hates it? What if child says he wants a pirate party but then 24 hours before the party decides he wants a fireman party instead? Or attending: what if my child won’t play? What if they are rude about the food or entertainment? What if they won’t even go through the door – I’ve have spent many hours in village hall car parks coaxing son number 1 into a party he refuses to take part in because there are balloons, an unfortunate phobia for a 3 year old, thankfully we’re over that one.

Children’s parties are far more stressful than you would think pre-parenthood, on son number 1’s first birthday party we had 12 kids all with their parents (we served beer and wine to the parents to help them get through it – that was a controversial choice, possibly the rookie mistake of a first time mum) squished into our tiny flat, and I was so relieved that it was finally happening and going well that I drunk half a bottle of wine in an hour and was intoxicated and asleep before everyone left.

But I realise I have created my own party monster. Son number 2 was due a month before son number 1’s birthday. Heavily pregnant and needing a project, I threw myself into planning the ultimate pirate party for son number 1’s third birthday. The man, as the appointed MC, spent a week making a pirate costume to wear and I made a little pirate pack for every guest including sash, eye patch and bandana, with the pirate captains hat for son 1. Even son number 2, only a month old, wore a stripy sleepsuit and a little eye patch. It took a huge amount of planning, and was meant to be a one off. Make son number one feel loved and special while dealing with the transition from only child to big brother. But of course the following year he wanted a Buzz Lightyear party. I’d made the mistake of setting the bar too high. The man got his costume making hat on again and we arrived at the party as family Buzz, the kids in supermarket Buzz costumes, the man and me in slightly too tight white jogging bottoms and home made wings. I was terrified the man would take some poor kids eye out with his wings, fashioned out of motorcross body armour and a car undertray (mine were far more child friendly, made out of carpet tiles).

And then there’s the cake. For at least 24hours before every party I am stuck in my kitchen, sweating and stressed, coughing under plumes of icing sugar. For son number 2 I recently did Lightning McQueen. But I’ll let you in on a secret, neither of my kids even like cake. I do it because I love the artistic side of it, and the pleasure I get when people say, wow what an amazing cake! It’s all self indulgence.

Sometimes I wish I had just started with a nice simple soft play centre party and a supermarket cake. Minimal planning, no ridiculous costumes, no panicking because Lightning McQueen looks slightly boss eyed. Just show up, pick up the presents and go home. The kids don’t even mind. They always have a brilliant time at soft play parties. But when our parties are over and we can all relax at last and son number 1 says “Mummy, that was the best party ever in the world” I know I’ll be doing it all again next year.

The man says he doesn’t enjoy the big parties so much, it’s all too stressful. You could have fooled me when he’s up til 2am the night before making pirate boots out of an old PVC skirt he’s bought from the charity shop. He says he would rather just play on the soft play with the kids and he really doesn’t care whether the cake is homemade or not (which is a shame because he’s kind of the only person who actually eats the cake).

I said that this year I would do a MacDonalds or soft play party for son 1. Easy and simple. But before I got the chance to suggest it to him he said “Mummy, I want a Lego City party this year.” Yep, I’ve definitely set the bar too high. 

Monday, 5 September 2011

Fresh Start

The household was a flurry of activity yesterday as son number one is starting infant school next week and his term started with a visit from his new teachers this morning. I get nervous anytime I’m supposed to be making a grown up responsible, impression because I don’t actually feel very grown up or responsible (is it just me that finds it really hard to remember the appropriate term for bogey, fart and poo when talking to teachers and doctors?) While being nervous about my choice of vocabulary I also want to ensure that the house is spotless so son doesn’t have “dirty house” indelibly written on his school record.

I spent the entire day with a really clean and welcoming home in mind, 2 quiet and ironed little boys playing sweetly with a jigsaw puzzle when they arrive. And not screaming kids still in Coco Pops stained pyjamas simultaneously playing Xbox, watching cartoons and hitting each other with a door stop amid a pile of primary coloured plastic toys, as is the general norm in our house.

I had a head start on my cleaning mission because BFF and her boy came down this weekend to help us celebrate son number 2’s second birthday (at least I was able to offer homemade birthday cake to teachers, hopefully a nice big tick on sons report). BFF is a cleaning whirlwind so my house always looks like a How Clean is your House after photo when she leaves. I clean for 4 hours before she arrives, thinking it’s spotless, but no sooner has she put her handbag down, she is whizzing round the house merrily swishing and swiping at the sticky jam handprints on the cupboard doors while keeping a sideways eye on her little boy picking raisins up off the floor (by 10am everyday my floor resembles a buffet table). I don’t think she even notices that she’s doing it, it’s just as much part of her nature as leaving a trail of mess and destruction is part of mine. And I’m very grateful to her for it too, as she sees things I don’t, always good to have another pair of eyes and hands.

It’s not just the thought of the teacher visit that had me on a cleaning mission, but the beginning of the new term feels like New Years Eve. I can’t bear starting the year with lots of washing in the washing basket and always do a thorough clean on New Years Eve. I’m not sure where I’ve got it from (my mum says not from her) because the rest of the year I’m messy.

I remember the excitement as a child of the new term, getting in supplies and having everything laid out the night before. Being organised would only last a day, after that I would be running out the door with books falling out of my bag and always having to use the school lost and found PE kit because I’d forgotten mine (not much fun playing netball in the freezing cold wearing trainers of 2 different sizes and obscenely too small PE knickers flossing your bum crack).

I read somewhere that the new school year holds the same opportunity for change and resolution as January 1st, but without the guilt of having to give things up, it’s all about new starts and new shoes. I like that. Any opportunity to make a fresh start is one I will reach out for with both hands. Son’s new uniform is ready and waiting to receive name labels (uncharacteristically organised of me to have ordered them in June, characteristically disorganised to have left it till the last minute to attach them).

So I went to bed last night happy in the knowledge that my house was clean and son will not have to live with “manky house” on his record forever more.

But typically they showed up ten minutes early while I was still washing up the breakfast things, the telly was blaring Cbeebies and a sea of Peppa Pig toys had to be negotiated before being able to sit down. And I actually used the word bum in conversation. So that report probably won’t be squeaky clean after all.