‘You are invited to my party!’ screams the invite as my heart sinks through my rib cage and comes to rest somewhere around my bladder. I don’t quite know what to be more irritated by first: the retina-straining invite design, the thought that I will now have to spend at least two hours of my life at a kid’s party trying to stop my teeth involuntarily grinding together, or the proliferation of extraneous exclamation marks (because it is not enough just to have fun! Oh no. At this party, it’s going to be fun!!! I can barely hold onto the contents of my bowel I am that excited).
We seemed to have endured a rash of kids’ parties lately. And rash is probably the most accurate collective noun there is for kids’ parties: highly irritating, often unsightly and leaves you with a pressing need for strong medication. Pizza-making parties, soft play parties, the local sports centre, at home… there is seemingly no end to the number of places in which you can ruin a parent’s weekend.
Of all the recent celebrations, pizza making at a local restaurant is my least unfavourite. For a start, the kids have to all sit down at a table, so you are unburdened from having your child hang off you pleading for snacks / a tissue / a party of their own. And they have to wear a paper chef’s hat, which makes them all look ridiculous. Good work, pizza party. Admittedly, you have to watch them delve their dirty fingernails deep into their pizza dough and sneeze over the grated cheese, but you meanwhile have been offered a slice of non-contaminated, bogey-free pizza straight from the oven, so what do you care? And it is quite amusing to see a child pile fistful of olives onto their culinary creation, given that in fifteen minutes time, that is their lunch. Not quite so amusing to hear her mother say in a loud voice: “Oh, Alexandra loves olives, she has quite a sophisticated palette for her age,” at which point I quietly spit the olives that I have accidentally eaten into her handbag. And the other redeeming feature of a pizza party is watching the face of the poor sods who have had the misfortune to choose that precise time to come and have a quiet, adult lunch at the local pizza restaurant and end up sitting six foot from fifteen shouty kids. Welcome to my world, suckers.
Then there is the play barn party. A vaguely unpleasant affair with sweaty undertones slightly redeemed by the fact that the kids are now all old enough to run off and nearly break a bone in a freak limb-trapped-in-netting incident without needing you in close proximity. It becomes less palatable when you child appears from the depths of the primary-coloured vinyl jungle, his face a beetroot red and with his hair plastered to his forehead and decides to use you as a towel, but at least you can pour some lukewarm cordial down his throat and propel him back into the writhing mass of bodies. And then the birthday tea is served. Platters of sandwiches go untouched as paper plates buckle under the weight of a pyramid of cheesy balls and sausage rolls. And before anyone has had a chance to get any of them to take more than a passing interest in anything not covered in salt or pastry, out come the plates of biscuits, leaving the adults to tuck into the sandwiches and the kids to fight over the last chocolate finger (because hoovering up three pink wafers, two jammy rings and a chocolate bourbon is simply not enough biscuit-based sustenance). Noise levels rise as the E numbers start to kick in, and there is a hasty singing of happy birthday as the novelty birthday cake is proudly carried out whilst grandma wrestles with the birthday girl to put down that bloody cup cake and blow out the candles. Five half-hearted attempts to extinguish the flames later, with a cake now splattered with half-masticated cup cake crumbs and spittle, and dad steps in to put everyone out of their bloody misery.
And no party would be complete without a party bag. I have read about parties where parents try to out-do each other, giving away iPods in each bag. So where is my son’s invite to those parties, then? Because the contents of the party bags that we get rarely make it beyond the floor of the car after my son has torn into it like a rabid dog, squealed with delight at the pirate shaped rubber / the tiny plastic dinosaur / the ball maze puzzle, been distracted by something shiny out of the window and dropped it with utter boredom where it will lay, nestled amongst squashed raisins and flapjack wrappers, for the next six months. Inevitably, I get handed the slice of cake, seeping jam into the crumpled serviette that is dangling off it. But this actually turns out to be a slab of lurid-coloured icing with a slither of cake attached, and that too, is jettisoned on the journey home.
And sometimes, the horror of the party lives on long after the ringing in your ears has stopped. We end up kicking the party balloon around the bloody kitchen floor for a good week or so before it either pops, making one or both of my sons cry, or turns into a limp, slightly damp rubber rag that no matter how many times I put in the bin, reappears on the floor. And the other day, I discovered a piece of party cake tucked behind my son’s car seat. It was from a party several weeks before, had ossified into a small brick and has come in rather handy as a door stop.
This year, to the relief of my sanity and bank balance, we did not have a party for my son (well, it wasn’t as if it was a significant birthday, he just turned five). I figure that he has plenty of opportunity to get together with his friends, eat inappropriate food, make too much noise, drink stuff he is not allowed to at home and throw up without warning. When he’s sixteen.