‘Balloons!’ Woohoo – party house located, next stop the gateway to mayhem.
I’ll not forget the first freedom-crazed mum bounding towards us chirping ‘You can LEAVE them!’ As she sped out the gate I wasn’t certain she understood it was just for a couple of hours.
To drop or stay was a doorstep challenge. I never really wanted to leave my kids and run – but parties were problematic. I had to represent an adult for a sustained period of time in front of other adults when I wanted to snaffle the cake and follow around their pets. Ooh look a cat… let’s stay.
I’d always offer to help (grown-up cosplay) but… I’d bust the white-on-top/wholemeal-underneath sandwiches trick with improper hooting or dish out party poppers too soon and ruin the magic show. There was that time I got stuck on a bouncy castle and couldn’t get off. (I was mostly upside down, crying. I should have charged an entertainer’s fee.) And there was that paddling pool incident… I did genuinely help one friend by nipping out to get extra party bag contents as she’d forgotten. Although, the bags seemed pretty good already when I came back – ohhhhh. I’ve just got why my kids often shoved me off the step and slammed the door themselves.
I haven’t sussed adulting despite witnessing some outstanding performances. There should be an end-of-party awards: best tragic control of the party games rules, best panto control of the food allocation, best psychological control of the food consumption, best villainous control of their kid’s party bag contents… Yeah, the kids are never the problem.
One of the funniest parties we went to was a very linen-clad affair where I’d overhear ‘Oh my child has never eaten anything from a packet’ and ‘My children just adore pickled okra’ and then the Italian hostess produced showstopper cake after cake including a gingerbread house smothered in sweets. The free-from kids went wild while their parents tried waving rice crackers and raisins around in a futile contest. I muffled my guffaws by eating my way through the fourteen different torte. (Get me speaking Italian, thanks Google.)
Having hosted a few mad parties over the years I would, however, rely on other adults to pick up my slack whilst trying to maintain a sense of cheerful chaos. I wasn’t one for tight activity schedules and sit-still munching, I just wanted happy faces (I just wanted to get through it) – but sometimes an adultier adult came in handy.
One clever sis-in-law swiftly invented a yell-list for the face painting at my daughter’s fifth birthday bash to break the garden-long queue. ‘Now bugger off and play.’ Another wise chum gave me a nudge that pick-up time was approaching and I hadn’t done the cake thing yet. (Yes, she’d been to the previous four birthdays including one where I found the cake in the larder after everyone had gone home.) Others did useful things like actual supervision while I was wiping Wotsits crumbs off my face. ‘Sorry we haven’t got any Wotsits.’
We had a few venue parties at a farm, a pizza joint, in the park, the cinema – they’re great for when your own house is not fit for view, (or when you’re moving house the next day, thanks swimming pool), but that fifth birthday in our garden is the clearest memory. Mostly due to a favourite photograph of my now 21 year-old alpha male son, then aged three in a padded dinosaur suit with his little baffled face peeking out. He thought he was a fearsome predator, but he was a shiny green squidgie. He wore it all afternoon. (It wasn’t ours.)
This is the photo we always promise to show his football mates every time we come across it. Not that he’d flinch now, he has become impervious to embarrassing parenting, he’s had a lot of practice. When James and I were talking about children’s parties for this week’s blog, we both squeaked ‘Dinosaur!’
My then one year-old missed this big party – I’d asked my mum round to help which she interpreted as wheeling the little chap off in the buggy for a pre-fest nap, and not returning for another four hours. (Thanks ma. Not what I meant. Don’t mind us surrounded by an entire school class plus the old post-natal gang plus ballet plus four sets of cousins, aunties, uncles, the sociable grandparents, plus neighbours and dealing with a potential abduction case on top.) Wot larks.
We really should get the dino photo framed, it’s a family classic. At the time James made a DVD of all the pictures from that party, set to the kids’ favourite songs. It was a much-watched favourite. My daughter’s butterfly-painted face flowing into the (second attempt) Barbie cake melting into the grisly wounds we sent a load of the boys home with (the face painters had hit on something very popular) and a few proud shots of the new patio (James had laid the last slab at about 10.30 the night before).
After the house was put back and the shakes had ebbed, it was great to look back on the party and actually enjoy it – it was a whirlwind at the time. The pictures were like my balloon and wrapped cake to take home, but longer-lasting. I now want to find all the old party pictures, the birthdays, the Halloweens, the bonfires, the egg hunts… I wish I’d had James along for all of them to capture all the moments I’d have missed making tea and apologising to the police.
Now when I see him editing the pictures from clients’ fabulous parties it takes me back to our boisterous days. I may not ever be blessed with the organisational skills of some proper party queens but we had a lot of laughs. Waterslide olympics, holes in the garden from dino egg excavations, jelly and sausages in the same bowl, nosey bulls from next door’s field (that was a fun house) – we did our crazy best and somewhere in our photo files, begging to be framed or albumed-up, we have the evidence.
Thankfully all the parents that bounded away on that fifth birthday did come back. ‘It’s just paint, honest!’ And eventually so did my mother.
‘I had a lovely time sitting in the park watching the children.’
‘Oh great. Like we had a shortage of them. Here’s a broom.’