E has turned four, and to mark the occasion we rashly decided that we should arrange a party for him. I think we may have been drunk at the time. The utter horror of having twenty marauding children in our home means that we fork out for a party in a soft play area to spare our aging sofa. It might be cheap to have a party in the house, but I really do not fancy spending the next four months wiping half-masticated chocolate fingers from the book shelf or catching a whiff of pee where a little girl got a tad too excited about playing musical chairs and pissed on the carpet.
The one redeeming feature of this particular soft play centre is that the party area is upstairs, and the play area is not. So all the kids sod off to roll around on over-sized vinyl cubes, leave trails of snot across the slide and terrorise the babies in the under-three area, whilst the adults stay upstairs and chat, coffee in hand. Now that’s my kind of party (which is a sad indictment of my social life, but hey, I have been a parent for four years, and it kind of goes with the territory).
Every so often a child will clamber up the stairs, sweat springing from strands of hair plastered to their red little face, and we will pour a glass of juice down their neck and send them on their way. But the calm is short-lived. Initially due to the staff – two girls who look at you with utter contempt because you had the temerity to ask them a question whilst they were sending a text, or checking Facebook. Actually, I doubt they were checking Facebook. I am on Facebook, which means they probably wouldn’t seen dead on it. It’s probably now the equivalent of an evening at the local village hall: just for oldies who smell a bit.
After much requesting that they get off their arses and do what they are paid for (or slightly politer words to that effect), texter-dum and texter-dee manage to scrape their faces from their mobiles and bring the food. I have had the misfortune to witness a number of party teas now, and the sight of twenty three and four years old eating does not get any less unpleasant. Harassed parents bend over their offspring, optimistically loading up the plate with carrot sticks and sandwiches, whilst the kid just points insistently at the bowl of crisps, making unintelligible grunting noises. There is an undercurrent of parental pressure to demonstrate that little Freddy will eat the vegetables, sandwiches and cucumber and not just stuff his face with a medley of sausage roll, jammy dodger and a Pom Bear crisp. I, and several other parents, were within ear shot of a dad who made the fundamental error of issuing an ultimatum to his child to eat what was on her plate, otherwise there would be no cake. Holy shit, this man was either very brave or very, very, stupid. Never make threats to your child in front of other parents. It is the best entertainment going at a four year old’s party. We all watch him, whilst pretending not to watch. Who is going to back down? What magical tactics will he deploy to get his recalcitrant daughter to comply, thus demonstrating his superior parenting powers? Will she really eat what is on her plate? Of course she fucking doesn’t. She ending up eating the cake anyway, and he eats a large slice of parenting humiliation. We are all a little bit pleased that he has not got some parenting super power that we have not, and then we sigh, because there by the grace of a slice of cucumber and a ham sandwich go the sorry lot of us.
The noise level is rising as the sugar rushes kick in and I decide to bring out the cake and get this whole sitting-at-the-table thing done with. I ask the girls to bring up the cupcakes that will accompany the birthday cake, and they surprisingly comply before nightfall. But with two few cakes to go round. Brilliant. So now I am cutting each cake in half whilst everyone looks on thinking I am the tightest tight arse in tight arse land. I light the candles and plonk the Toy Story themed cake in front of E. This particular creation took me two bloody hours the previous night. I was reluctantly introduced to Royal Icing (why is it called that? Because only the Queen can fucking roll it out without it sticking to everything it comes within three inches of. It’s her icy cold hands, you see) and butter cream. I have lived without knowledge of these two items for many decades, and quite frankly, it was not a pleasant first date getting to know them. The surface of my iced cake looked less like the smooth, perfect cake on the packet and more like the surface of the moon, but a liberal use of Smarties, god bless ’em, and a two inch Buzz and Woody, distracted the eye sufficiently. Or so I thought. After E had blown the candles out, he looked up at me and said: “Can I have a cupcake?”
I was tempted to find out if Buzz would fit up his nostril, but I smiled as I was in public and whisked the cake away for cutting. Which is where I spent the next fifteen minutes, with the help of mother and sister, laboriously cutting, wrapping and bagging up cake, All I can do is keep glancing at my watch to calculate just how long it is until I can have a glass of wine. Ten minutes left.
I feel a tug on my jeans. “Mummy, I need a poo.” I sigh and we head toward the loo. I don’t know what it is about toilets in soft play centres, but they are all utterly disgusting. Actually, I do know. It’s kids. They are the common denominator when it comes to puddles of piss, soggy toilet roll draped across the toilet seat, skid marks and a smell that makes you want to gag. But this is not helped by a general policy to clean them once a week.
We pick our way across the floor, trying to keep to the dry bits. E is only in his socks, and there is only one way his socks are going to end up: pee sodden. I ask if he wants the training seat, and he says he does, so I lift it down from the shelf and a dribble of brown liquid falls to the floor. Oh god, I really might be sick.
Toilet duty over, we return upstairs and hand out the party bags, another evening’s worth of toil surrounded by plastic tat. As the last guest leaves, I ask E if he has had a good time. “Really, really, good,” he replies.
Which is just as well. Because as I stand there, cake stains on my top, my ears ringing with the sound of screaming children, my bank balance and my will to live sorely depleted, I promise myself one thing: next year, it’s a trip to the cinema and a bucket of bloody pop corn.
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