When did the simple birthday party turn into such an over-hyped event? The kids become utter divas and the parents need sedation, Jessie Collins wonders if it’s time we all lowered the expectations?
It’s my first time at the school party thing, and from the get-go, I’ve felt like I'm on the back foot. The rules seem to keep changing. When my niece was beginning her primary party adventure, word was you had to invite the entire class. Things have moved on apparently, and you only have to invite the chosen few, though this, in itself, is fraught. Ideally, it would be your five-year-olds nearest and dearest compadres, but oh no, it is in fact the few kids she arbitrarily holds in favour that week, who haven’t looked at her the wrong way, robbed her rubber or been smelly.
Trying to discuss and agree on the celebration, I quickly learn contains about as much rationality, and clarity, as a Putin-led summit on the Ukraine. Quick refresher note to self: Never let the kids decide. After discouraging a trip to the hell holes (also known as activity centres) with the lure of a piñata from Lidl, I realise that the joke was on me, and that perhaps being in a padded room with multiple tunnels where other people clean up after you is actually a genius move. Fail number two.
The email invite is sent out – conveniently at this juncture my other half seems to develop some kind of mysterious muscle spasm that hits at any mention of party planning – and the odd reply starts to trickle back. Cue having to send out RSVP reminders, or the virtual equivalent to desperate hand-waving and pleading. Having not left enough time, there were some who could not make it. ‘Yes!’ I think, at least one less goodie bag to fill. Then the five-year-old realises she left one or two important, recently non-smelly types out. Cue last minute invites with apologies, and more goodie bags.
Then the real graft kicks in. Multiple trips to Tiger, which seems like a genius party facility, except that suddenly you’ve spent a €100 on some novelty excavation kits, a mini disco ball and party bunting and you still don’t have enough loot to fill eight goodie bags. You do two shops in your local supermarket, somehow spending twice what you usually do, and only seeming to have procured cocktail sausages, crisps and popcorn.
In your attempt to be all Goop-like (and actually cut down on the already spiralling party budget), after the two marathon shops you spend the day before the party making a cake with some organic flour and eggs and a wonky piping bag that only seems to write in hieroglyphics, covered expertly by an explosion of sprinkles. It took two hours, two hours you actually really needed to spend cleaning the myriad of handprints off the doors, in preparation for, well, more handprints on the doors.
Slowly it dawns on you that somewhere between a block of HB with some smarties shoved on top and printed Frozen scenes on edible paper cake toppers, we’ve really lost our way. But it’s also like we’ve collectively come so far that we can’t go back – the genie is out of the goodie bag, and we can’t put it back in. That night, after the kids are in bed, as you puncture a lung trying to blow up the last balloon, wrap eight equally balanced, gender neutral prizes in layer after layer of paper, you also wonder when did it become unacceptable to lose, at anything?
The day of the actual party becomes a blur, as you issue orders, frantically clean, burn sausages and erect bunting, while lining up goodie bags at the door. Is it too early to start drinking yet? It’s 11.30, best not. As the first of the chosen few are deposited at the door, parents who’ve already been there give you that knowing look, and a cheery “good luck!” which is code for: “I feel your pain, but rather you than me right now.”
When I initially put the time on the invite, (two hours), I thought maybe I was being a bit mean. Turns out this was the only smart move I made. Within about 30 minutes, we’d done pass the parcel, musical statues and exhausted what I thought were an endless amount of spot prizes. I frantically dig around for extra bits, hoping my own children won’t notice they were previously theirs. I even have to do major damage control when a unicorn stop prize backfires spectacularly.
Girls who don’t like unicorns? You just can’t plan for that sh*t.
And despite there being a table groaning with enough sugar to make Henry VIII cry with joy, we are still only 45 minutes in. Seriously? Suddenly we’d entered some kind of party matrix where time has actually started going backwards. In about another 15 minutes we’d done the piñata which pretty much left the cake. Armed with bags of Haribo, finally the five-year-old collective disappear off into various corners of the house, or perhaps just wander in some kind of sugar delirium. Who cared? As long as no one was crying or shouting, or both.
At last the doorbell begins to go. There is a terrifying stampede for goodie bags. As the last force of nature is shooed out the door, you finally pour yourself a medicinal measure of gin (read: barely a drop of tonic), survey the destruction around you and vow never again.
At least, not until next year.