Dear Dave

Tuesday 25 March 2008

Oh boy, that's a lot of candles

Dear Dave,

I'm getting old. I have to sit down to put on my socks, my eyebrows are becoming alarmingly bushy and I've started finding phones complicated. I'll be bald and have no teeth any day now. I'm forgetful and slightly mad already. It won't be long until the kids are the ones wheeling me around, rather than the other way about.

I don't fancy that. Knowing them, they'll leave me on a bus or something.

Marie: Where's Dad?
Fraser: Who?
Lewis: I thought you had him.
Marie: I wasn't pushing him.
Fraser: Neither was I.
Marie: It must have been you.
Fraser: It was Lewis.
Lewis: What was?
Fraser: It.
Lewis: No, it wasn't.
Fraser: Yes, it was.
Lewis: No, it wasn't.
Fraser: Yes, it...
Marie: Oh, never mind. He'll turn up. Let's go shopping...

I'll be stranded out at the airport without any cash, and phones will have evolved to a stage where I won't even be able to recognise them. I'll by forced to barter my dentures for a lift home.

No aspect of this scenario is pretty.

I found myself contemplating these things, however, thanks to the arrival of yet another birthday. I keep imagining that the next birthday will pass me by - that I won't be astonished at the way time has rattled along or be scared by another candle on the cake. I should be used to it by now. I ought to be, anyway, what with three birthdays a year and all.

Oh, yeah, sorry if that wasn't clear... I'm not talking about my own birthdays here. I can ignore them fairly easily and I lost track of my age in about 1998. If anyone asks, I'm twenty-five, OK? It's the kids' birthdays I mean. They're much harder to ignore. In fact, attempting to ignore them has a tendency to incite revolt within the household so I've given up. We have the full extravaganza, complete with cake and presents, parties and in-law visitations. Every time one of the children reaches another annual milestone, several days of excitement, disruption and sugar-fuelled mayhem ensue, making denial impossible. I simply can't avoid acknowledging that they've got another year older.

As I said, I should be used it. So why are they always such a shock? Surely, after so many, some of these birthdays should seem unremarkable?

I'd hoped that, last week, when Lewis' sixth birthday rolled round, the only trauma of any size would be organising the party. Why should knowing that he was older than five have been an issue? Six isn't a very significant age and, after all, he's the middle child. It's the ages of the eldest and youngest that really define life. Those ages determine where you can go, what you can do and how much it's likely to cost. Those are the scary ages.

Yeah, right.

Lewis was the youngest for a long time. Due to sleep deprivation from Fraser teething, I kind of blanked the pregnancy and Lewis' arrival felt almost unexpected. His existence was a constant surprise for months. He was a delightful baby and a happy little bundle in a difficult period of our lives. It seems like only yesterday that...

What am I saying? My little boy is six! Where has the time gone?

Argh! Note to self: Run around in a mad panic and then go and buy a motorbike!

I suspect this state of affairs will never change. As my own birthdays blend further into one, the kids' birthdays will continue to resolutely mark the passage of the years. Turning thirty-four myself was quickly forgotten. What's it going to be like, though, when Fraser turns thirty-four? Or Marie?

My little girl is thirty-four! Where has the time gone?

Argh! Hobble around in a confused daze and then go buy a motorised scooter with a shopping basket on the front!

Doesn't really bear thinking about. Ho well. I suppose that at least they won't be expecting me to lay on soft-play and sandwiches...

We're actually trying to encourage a move away from big parties for the boys already. It turns out that a soft-play full of a dozen almost-six-year-olds is an appreciably different experience from a soft-play full of ten almost-five-year-olds. It's noisier, rowdier and much more pointy. Trying something similar with even older children seems liable to create a Lord of the Flies incident. If I dare venture in to invigilate, they'll tie me to a scramble net and then bury me in squishy shapes. I will be forced to barter my hair for freedom. (And you thought baldness just happened...)

To avoid such a disaster, this year Fraser is going bowling with a smaller group. This will have its own challenges but I shouldn't come out of it needing to comb back my eyebrows in order to keep the top of my head warm.

Still, I wouldn't be too concerned if you're thinking of a big gathering for Sam when he turns four. Parties for children aren't the huge stress you might assume, as long as you don't hold them in your house. Your house is full of breakable things and will take hours to clear up; a party room at the soft-play (or a church hall if you're on a budget) can be blitzed clean in minutes.

Get them running about for a bit, throw in a game or two with prizes (Pass the Parcel and Musical Statues), feed them, do the cake and candles, play another game, send them home and then go and lie down in a darkened room for an hour or two. Easy.

They won't actually eat much food. Crisps, grapes, cocktail sausages and Chocolate Animals will mostly cover it. Add a few sandwiches and carrot sticks and you'll be sorted. (Don't forget to check for kids with special dietary requirements.) If you want to avoid major spills, hand out drinks in plastic bottles with sports-style caps (e.g. Fruit Shoots).

Do not let Sam open presents at the party. It will take ages and be dull. If he's anything like Fraser, the whole thing will also be accompanied by comments of, 'I've already got one of these', 'But I hate Power Rangers' and 'This is rubbish'. Best to make him wait until he gets home.

Keep party bags simple: a balloon, a snack-size chocolate bar, a small packet of sweets and a couple of little toys. Any child who isn't satisfied with that probably won't be satisfied whatever you put in, so don't worry about it. After an hour of soft-play, one of the kids at Lewis' party demanded to know where the bouncy castle was. Later, when his parents arrived, he threw a wobbly because there wasn't any swimming. There's not much to do in these situations except grin broadly and turn the music up louder to drown out the screaming.

Oh, that's right. Remember to take music. Pass the Parcel will be tricky without it... or a parcel.

OK, OK, you're not an idiot - you knew you'd need a parcel. Sorry. I'm old. Cut me some slack.

Now... Where did I leave those children?

Yours in a woman's world,



Anonymous said...

I hit on the perfect party solution last year when I bought a pre-wrapped pass-the-parcel to go with my pre-recorded party games CD (which features pass-the-parcel, complete with instructions and suitable pauses). Why shout yourself hoarse when you can just crank up the volume? Why waste time wrapping a parcel when you can buy one with Bob the Builder-themed tack under every layer?

Sadly when I tried to repeat the plan this year, the parcels had been discontinued. If you can find one, I highly recommend them!

Anonymous said...

It sneeks up on you at the most unexpected moments, doesn't it?

I mentioned to Mom yesterday that her baby was going to be thirty soon. She wasn't amused. It was funny to me until I realized that someday I will be in the same situation. Why can't they get older but we stay the same? It would work out much better for me.