Today E and I went to a birthday party. It was for the first birthday of someone at playgroup and was the first party E has been invited to. Two common phrases dominated conversation when I told people in advance what we were doing. The first was “Is she holding it at her house?” and the second was “Will there be alcohol there?”
I think those two questions neatly sum up most people’s attitude to children’s parties. And, to be honest, to children in general. How terribly British. And tedious.
The answers were: no, she’s hired a hall and I doubt it, it’s on at 11.30 in the morning. Plus I was driving.
To be honest it was no worse than going to playgroup. She’d borrowed lots of playmats and rugs, brought loads of toys, got some trays of food together and a few CDs for background music. The kids were absolutely fine. After lunch we all played pass the parcel and then it was time to go home! Easy.
I think at this age it’s probably easier than later on when the children are bigger and more demanding. But I also think that far too much emphasis gets put on birthday parties. The pressure to put on entertainment, to keep everyone happy, reaches extremes. You hear of parents paying enormous sums to do something each year for their children’s party. This way madness lies.
I’ve mentioned parties in passing before – that often you get the impression that people use them as a form of oneupmanship over other parents and that’s when insanity sets in. One of the reasons I wanted a boy was that I figured we could just hold a football tournament in the park for his birthday each year and then feed them. Let’s hope E and her friends like football, eh? (I’m dreading the day she comes home and says she wants to have a makeover party in a salon. Yes, those really are a party option.) But surely most kids are happy just running around a lot and playing rather than more structured stuff?
Someone I know got into a tizz over the party bags for her daughter’s first birthday and when I mentioned that the children really wouldn’t care, being just one, she actually came out and said “It’s for the other parents really.” I’d already suspected as much. Luckily the mum today had more sense – our party bag had the kind of things I remember from my own childhood in them, cheap plastic toys, birthday cake and a balloon. All you need really. It’s a token.
Still, today’s party made a few things clear to me. The first is that I suspect birthday parties are going to be my responsibility. S was invited to come with us but refused, this not being the kind of thing he sees as a family activity. Being a bank holiday, lots of people came as a family but I was just me which made it difficult when I went to get E some food. (Paper plates, a baby in one hand and serving spoons result in a mess. Who knew?) The second thing made clear was that I need to make sure I have some good friends from among the mums at E’s school who can help with a party. And I can return the favour.
E’s first birthday party will be family only. We don’t have the details of anyone from playgroup to invite (I just talked to these people each week while I was there, was I supposed to get their mobile numbers as well?) and I’m sure it will be just as nice with grandparents, aunts and uncles and so on. I’m planning the menu already – party rings, chocolate fingers, birthday cake, sausages on sticks… And it’ll be held at my house. With no party bags. So there.