They say that God never gives you a burden you cannot carry. This is why I have three children but only two birthday parties a year.
Yesterday we celebrated the boys’ fourth birthday with their friends. Even when we sent out the invitations, I knew there were too many. We did get some refusals but then other parents brought siblings along for the hell of it. In the end there were 19 children under 7 in our tiny house. Had the weather not been fine, we would have gone insane.
The showing from school friends was disappointing. There were only three:
-U, a lovely, gentle, quiet boy who wandered around hoping that his father would come back soon;
-Z, who wedged herself between the sofa and the bookcase and only emerged in the last half hour and
-S, whose sister is a good friend of the Princess’s so was therefore invited though both boys loath him (the feeling appears to be mutual). S’s sister J came as company for the Princess. As the day went on, J started to wilt. The poor mite had a cough, a headache and a temperature. We did not have her parents’ number. Her father arrived to collect them an hour and a half late (car broke down) by which time poor J was asleep on the sofa and even I was going off her brother S.
The other 6 children invited from school didn’t come. Possibly just as well.
Montessori school produced many more attendees:
-S2 whose father asked could he drop sister C as well (age 2) – S2 was a very well-behaved little boy and C, despite my misgivings, a confident and self-contained two-year old. I was charmed by S2 who came up and kissed my hand – he will go far. S2’s father shares a name with a friend from college and cross-examination elicited the information that he is my friend’s first cousin. Small country and all that.
-D who was great and, of all the girls, the most up for participating in the running and jumping games – at one point, I saw her holding 4 boys up with a Ben 10 laser gun – her mother turns out to be a former girlfriend of the man whose wedding we attended two weeks ago – small country again;
-E who is a big, boisterous, noisy boy;
-J whose parents didn’t bother to respond to the invitation (bitter moi?) but who turned up unexpectedly with S2’s delegation and also an arm in plaster. I distinctly heard the plaster crack on at least one occasion but to be fair to J he was a very tough, chirpy child and there were no tears. I passed the information about the cracking noise on to S2 and C’s father who collected J and considered my duty done.
M who used to be the boys’ teacher in Montessori and does parties at the weekends in exchange for a fee. She face-painted and made balloons but in retrospect we would have been better off having her do crowd control in the garden.
Then there were the neighbours:
-S3 and two-year old D from next door. I was slightly startled when their father dropped them and scooted off saying, “If there are any problems, drop D back”. I had expected that, given his tender years, a parent would stay with him but no. In fact, like our other toddler C, he was no trouble. He promptly sat on top of his tractor, which had been passed over the garden fence some time previously and not returned, and stayed there. He and his sister are vegetarians and impressed me by a) staying away from the cocktail sausages and b) asking for rice cakes and carrot sticks, which were really only on the table to impress the parents, and which the other children treated with the contempt they deserved;
– M, a shy only child, asked to go home several times but in the end, stayed the course;
O, another only child but a more forceful one. She spent the afternoon in the back garden with nothing on but a party dress accessorised by goose pimples despite repeated attempts to get her into a cardigan. When her father came to collect her, I didn’t recognise him at first. “How can you prove you’re her father?” I joked on the doorstep. “You can keep her,” he said with alacrity. That’s a convincing response, I have to say.
C who is 2 and whose mother mercifully stayed with him. C, I feel got a rough deal as he had to eat the rice cakes and carrot sticks but was clearly desperate for chocolates. He lives entirely on a diet of healthy, organic food. Can this be right?
And finally ourselves:
Cousins J and G. The waffle-in-laws had hoped to drop J and depart for a couple of hours to bond with their daughter but it was not to be as we desperately needed them to stay and help with crowd control which they dutifully, and very effectively, did. We have pledged ourselves to come and repay the favour when J turns 4 in March.
The Princess, who was very virtuous – she lured Z out of her safe place between the bookcase and the sofa, made sure that she was fed and brought her upstairs to her room to play. At one point, I noticed that 2 year old C was missing and found her safely with the Princess playing with dolls.
Michael had a great time. He was a green monster (face paint) and he and friend D (also a monster) went around roaring at the other children.
Daniel enjoyed himself too but was slightly more weepy about various injustices (I wanted to be first in the race). Much of his time was spent torturing me to open presents. I always feel that it’s rude not to open presents as children arrive but after yesterday’s excitement, I can really see the merits of putting the presents aside until everyone has gone home. Almost every item the boys received was attached to cardboard backing by an intricate series of wires which required all one’s attention to unpick. Undivided attention was in short supply. I have no real idea who gave what. Pieces of important looking plastic wrapped carefully in film littered the floor, separated from the toys to whose successful functioning they were integral. We have finally and definitively lost the battle against plastic toys. We now have to swim on a sea of plastic to get anywhere. I was astounded that they got no books at all.
This motley crew had to be entertained. By far the most successful game consisted of running past Mr. Waffle (who was a monster with a scarf tied over his eyes – the advantages of a classical education) to the end of the garden.
Three legged races were less successful due to poor co-ordination and similar problems were encountered with the egg and spoon race.
Pin the tail on the donkey and find the matching card hidden in the garden were regarded as very dull by the hard chaws from Montessori (let’s put it this way, J didn’t break his arm pinning the tail on the donkey).
At one point, in the vain hope of exhausting the punters, I promised a prize for everyone who could run up and down the garden ten times. As I distributed my spot prizes (purchased in the €2 shop only the previous day), the children of the new Ireland rose up and protested to a man: I don’t want a pencil, why has he got a car?, I want the baby’s bottle full of sweets. It was hilarious and terrifying in equal measure.
Pass the parcel, musical chairs and statues had to be rejected as they would have involved the terrifying prospect of bringing everyone indoors (for music).
M toiled away inside making balloons and painting faces.
We pitched the two-man Ben 10 tent which the boys had received as a present. The children piled inside – thoughtfully removing their shoes first (they seemed to feel it was the right thing to do – we didn’t ask them to). Of course, they never put their shoes back on. We were therefore able to hit a new low in party child care. Not only did the children not wear their coats when in the back garden but most of them weren’t wearing their shoes either.
People, that was the longest two hours of my life. When I was growing up, my mother always had wonderful parties, all afternoon parties, for all of us and my father didn’t even help – I don’t ever remember him being there (though we did have Cissie – the lady who minded us). To be fair my mother had a big house and garden but even so, I have a whole new found respect for her organisational skill and daring.
There was no dinner that night. There was certainly no bath. I did my best to remove the spiderman/green monster face paint with make-up remover. I was only partially successful and the boys went into school this morning looking, respectively, pink and jaundiced.
I crawled into bed last night at 8.45 where I slept undisturbed until Michael joined me about 9.15 and put his freezing feet all over me and then again until Daniel woke me at 2.15 asking me why I had gone off with the woman in the hat. A mystery.
And, in what can only be called spectacularly poor timing, tonight I hosted my bookclub. This would merit a post all of its own under normal circumstances. Michael came downstairs every two minutes until 9.30, one of the participants got hopelessly lost and rang regularly for directions.
The evening went like this.
Michael (popping a cautious head round the door): Mummy, it’s dark, I can’t sleep.
Carry him back to bed.
Lost attendee: I’m outside a Maxol garage.
Michael: Mummy, I fell out of bed.
Carry back to bed
Lost attendee: I’m on the Dublin ring road.
Michael: Mummy, Daniel frightened me.
Lost attendee: I’m at a Superquinn.
And so on ad infinitum. My friend C suggested it was like a Beckett play and the lost attendee would never actually make it. More like a Greek play with a chorus said another as Michael yet again stuck his head round the door.
On the plus side, it won’t be my turn to host again for months.