|My nephew at his very excellent birthday party, just going
to show there’s an exception to every rule.
I have a theory that children don’t actually like parties very much.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s no great cruelty in dressing them up as cartoon characters and taking them to your local soft play to celebrate some other child’s big day. It’s just that I don’t think anyone actually gets any benefit. Apart from costume makers and disposable toy manufacturers, of course.
If your child goes to nursery, then there’s quite possibly nothing special about parties. Noisy free play, sitting down to eat, then musical bumps or statues. A typical day at the kindergarten.
The only difference is there are the presents and e-numbered icing. Oh and party bags.
Party bags! What pointless corner of hell were they devised in? Bags full of small brittle things that, in our case certainly, don’t even make it out of the car at the end of the journey home. Has anyone ever tried to stop the madness and say: “No, this time, there will be no bag of junk that I don’t want to pay for and you don’t want to play with.”
Perhaps kids are trained to a Pavlovian response – they’ll only leave the village hall or soft-play when they are clutching the tiny tat packet. Without them are they destined to wander they halls sobbing softly and asking when will it be home time?
Maybe it’s the kind of bribery that keeps the thing going. Just like the Happy Meal. Who’d really be interested in three shapes of re-formed mechanically recovered poultry and some spikes of deep-fried carbohydrate without a toy as compensation?
And on the subject of food. Party food in particular. Tiny children who normally have to eat wholesome balanced brown things are suddenly encouraged, because it’s a party, to pig out on multi-coloured saturated fats and refined sugar. How are they supposed to cope with that?
Most things stem from childhood, and perhaps my party aversion started there. I was certainly a beat apart from my peers – preferring the meat paste sandwiches to the garishly iced sponges. I will concede that parties did improve over the years – when lemonade gave way to gin and tonic, but I’m not suggesting we try that with our kids.
No, for those still in the sober years? From what I can see, most of them don’t really enjoy the noise and confusion. They either hypnotise themselves by running in circles until they collapse glazed and sweaty or they sit in the corner until it’s cake time. I’m sure they just do party stuff because they’re so used to it, it has become a drill. A drill for which they earn party bags and cake.
Then why bother? Good question. Here’s my theory. We love our children very much. Of course we do and that love is demonstrated by the ends to which we will go to make our little darlings happy. We gave birth to them and still kissed their little tootsies even when they vomited on us in the middle of the night. OK, once the barf was cleaned up.
Therefore children’s parties must be stressful. It isn’t easy to make sure your party is as good as the other ones on this year’s circuit, that the food is as fiddly and the cake as expensive, that the party bags are inventive and the games imaginative. You must magic up a theme that will challenge and delight, you must play the execrable music that children will dance to and you must be pleasant and polite to all the guests – no matter how rude and revolting. This is simply another way that you demonstrate your maternal or paternal love.
One day, you hope, your little darling will realise that the night you stayed up til midnight making a treasure chest out of yellow cake and icing was because you loved them very much. They will know that the party where you endured the heart-stopping few minutes of having lost someone else’s child was all for them. They must realise that the sledging party where you broke your Achilles tendon, yet limped on til the end was an act of selflessness. Or the one where your own overwrought child sobbed into your shoulder for the whole two hours while you entertained their guests was all for them.
The thing is they’ll probably never ever even notice. I’d say it’s time we called a halt to this party, give everyone their party bags in exchange for the magic words “thank you for having me” and got on with some much more entertaining stuff.