My Whatsapp has been a-buzz with notifications from the school mums, as the birthday party merry-go-round revs up into action. My kids only resumed school last Wednesday and already we’re one party down and have four, possibly five, in the too-near future. Nothing says misery to me like a soft-play area, and the idea of spending two hours at one every other Sunday for the foreseeable is giving me the dry heaves.
Last year, we had a small gathering in the house on The Small Child’s ACTUAL birthday, then had a joint party with a little boy from her class at Funtastic, along with the rest of South Belfast. It was hot, it was noisy, and the only thing that helped me through was the good humour of other parents from the school. I’m not usually given to blasphemy, , but it was all too much and I just stood, clutching my head throughout saying, ‘Oh Jesus.’ One couple had come together for moral support, but ended up consoling me, as though I was having a root canal procedure. ‘It’s almost over Helen,’ they said in comforting tones, ‘and no one’s been hurt.’
It’s not just me feeling the overwhelm. I met a friend in M&S last week with a face like thunder. ‘I’m off to Smyths AGAIN,’ she said, ‘for another BLOODY birthday present.’ I felt her pain, as since I try to be eco-conscious, it perplexes me no end, when you go to a party and see a huge, teetering pile of presents, AND all the wrapping paper, AND the gift bags. I immediately think of Augustus Gloop or Veruka Salt from ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’, ripping each one open with barely a glance before moving on to the next.
However, this time I felt a bit smug, and here’s why. Last year in my eldest child’s class, a like-minded mum suggested that instead of gifts we gave a fiver in a handmade card. As you can imagine, I was all over that like a wasp on your marmalade. I even mooted the idea in The Small Child’s class and it was pounced upon with alacrity. One of the things for which I’m most grateful, is the lack of pretension in our local school (unless I’m unaware of it, living in my own SWB Bubble.)
The odd parent may bring a present instead and that’s grand, because there’s a bit of variety then for the birthday child, and they have something to open. The plus side though, is that if most folk takes this lack of present policy on board, then the child doesn’t expect the mountain of gifts because they don’t see it at every party they attend.
After some discussion then, you can trot off to Smyths and buy their gift of choice, hopefully something substantial and not a pile of nonsense to add to the clutter in your home. Or, Draconian mother that I am, I realised my child had no concept of the money and so I thought I’d keep it for her bank account. (Did it ever make it to Danske bank? No it didn’t, but then I did spend a small fortune on excursions and nice things for her and her big sis).
Here is my birthday party survival guide for minimal strain on both wallet and emotional health:
1) Suggest as many joint parties as you can. Heck, why stop at joint? Maybe you could coerce another friend or two on board and that’s three or four down in one go. What a coup.
2) Why not think of an alternative party idea that’s easier on the ear? Many yoga studios now offer yoga for kids and could put on a fun session that won’t have you reaching for the paracetamol three minutes in.
3) A friend of mine has a good idea where she says ‘present or party?’ Kids have no idea how costly parties can be, so this will help them appreciate the expense if they think of it in terms of a new bicycle or a tablet or such likes.
4) Don’t feel you have to go to all parties. Life is busy; we have families, day trips, lives. But if you must, at least offer to take another child or two with you and give some poor bastard the afternoon off. I aim to take a bullet early and then sit a few out.
I would like to emphatically make the point that I am very fond of the parents in our school and indeed consider many of them to be friends. If anyone suggests a soirée on the Ormeau Road, I’m the first to say ‘Yes please! I’ll even organise it!’ (In fact I did in June and Graffiti was superb.) But this doesn’t mean I want to shout over a load of shouting six years olds of an afternoon. No sirree.
Do check out my Instagram account @Sourweeblog to see the wee boxes I’ve been making and chucking a fiver and cute things within. (I’m not a complete auld shite. Just some of the time.)