This past weekend, our daughter turned six. Because that’s a big thing, we decided to let her have a “proper” party, which meant inviting almost all kids from her class, plus some out-of-school friends. As far as birthday parties go, things went surprisingly well.
Every year, when my mum calls to wish the child a happy birthday, she will inform me that children’s parties are the worst. In fact, her memories of having small children seem to consist entirely of varying degrees of “You were so cute!” or “Man, that was hard!”, and birthday parties. So, with the help of my own childhood memories, my mother’s experiences of said memories, and birthdays I’ve been to over the last few years, I present to you, in descending order of desirability:
A Power Ranking of Children’s Parties:
- The ideal, as recalled by me: The birthday girl/boy invites their best friends over after nursery/school. Everyone brings a present, takes their shoes off and sits down at the table. Everybody has cake and hot chocolate and behaves impeccably. Afterwards, it’s time for traditional party games and free play. After dinner, consisting of sausages, cheese cubes, pasta salad and fruit, parents pick up their children. Everyone is happy and tired. The end.
- The ideal with added reality, as recalled by my mum: There are too many children to fit around the table. At least one child will cry over the presents received/not received. At least two children won’t like the cake. Nobody likes whipped cream, yet it’s all over the chairs and floor. It’s a long time between cake and dinner, and all party games require constant supervision, comforting and supplying of sweets. During free play, someone will knock over a vase or small item of furniture. By the time everyone has left, it’s way past your child’s bedtime, there will be tears, and the house will resemble a war zone until midnight, when you finally find the last sausage behind the sofa.
- The garden party. The same rules apply, but since you’re outside, party games will include outdoor versions. In Germany, all children will want to play “Mehlschneiden,” a game that involves sweets being fished out of a heap of flour with the help of only your mouth. There will be at least four pounds of flour all over your garden. If you have a pond, expect your goldfish to die. If you have neighbours, expect them to send their children over or, if they don’t have children, to not talk to you for at least a few weeks.
- The garden party, hastily transferred to your house because of an unexpected downpour. Do not bring out the bags of flour. Pretend you forgot to buy flour. Lock the cupboards. See #1 and #2, but with disgruntled children, and too many of them.
- The hired hall. It’s loud, it’s chaotic, it’s messy, but at least there’s only one door that needs to be guarded. You will still need to bring out the party games, unless you hire an entertainer. Entertainers cost money and scare a surprising number of children. You will have to tidy the hall afterwards, unless you hire someone to do it for you. Which will cost money. You will be a lot poorer afterwards, and that’s only for one child. My youngest is not allowed to have a party, ever.
- The party in the park. This will involve a lot of planning. No matter how close you live to the park, you will still need to find a way to transport cake, snacks and party game paraphernalia. Neighbours might send their children to come with you. Everyone will know there’s a party happening. Bring enough food. Enlist enough parental help to keep an eye on 20 children in a public park. (Parents develop an escape impulse pretty quickly). Don’t be afraid to call 20 parents and tell them to stay at home if it rains. Have enough sweets ready to comfort your child if the party doesn’t happen.
- The sleepover. This is a good way of avoiding large numbers of guests, but you will inevitably end up with one child throwing up and another one being homesick. Expect long late-night calls to parents who had other plans. Know that even a five-year-old who stays up giggling until 11.45 will be up and jumping on your bed at 6.30. Even if it’s not your own child.
- The trip to the cinema/zoo/fair/bowling alley. Don’t do it. If you must, insist on parental help. Ferrying eight ten-year-olds across town to the cinema is insane, according to my mum, who believes this was her worst idea ever.
- Kids’ parties at indoor play centres. Even typing this gives me palpitations. I’m struggling to find positives here. The negatives are plentiful: It’s noisy, it’s sticky, it’s smelly. The food is awful, and at least four children will cry. You have no idea who’s there and who isn’t, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s too noisy to talk to anyone, and too chaotic to see all children at once. You’ll end up with a sticky, smelly, hyper child with a bumped knee and one shoe. But at least it’ll be over in two neat hours. And all that for a tenner per child.
This year, we went for option 5, but we’re aiming for option 1 next time.
In short, avoid having parties. Or birthdays. Or children. Avoid having all that and go for a nice strong drink instead.