There are very few genuine miracles in life. The invention of Sky Plus is arguably the most incredible, followed by the instant boiling water tap I recently installed in my kitchen. Not far behind these is the wonder of conception. What an incredible process that is. Millions of happy go lucky sperm make what is essentially a kamikaze mission into the promised land (as in the uterus, not Israel) in the hope that a single fortunate man worm might be invited in to fertilise the elusive lady omelette. Should that all happen, and the chance is only 15 to 25 percent each month, an embryo will be formed. Over 9 months, what starts as a group of cells, develops limbs, organs and in a cruel twist of nature, your nose and your partner’s hairline. Then finally, the day arrives where the visible incarnation of this miracle occurs. Out of one human being’s body another human being emerges. Whether you believe this to be a scientific marvel or a divine blessing it will be enough to cause tears all round. The baby cries as it adapts to a new world outside the warm, cosy cocoon of the mother’s womb. The mother cries from the joy of holding her own flesh and blood in her arms for the very first time. And most emotional of all, the father cries as he mourns what has happened to her poor, poor vagina.
I’d still argue that while definitely impressive, procreation is by no means as clever as being able to set a series of The X Factor at the touch of a button or making a cup of tea without the need to boil a kettle. But as a parent, I can understand the yearly desire to celebrate the birth of your little income consuming, relationship straining, miracle of life. No, really I can. I also get that the family will be overwhelmingly excited by these landmark occasions. So by all means celebrate with the grandparents, aunts, uncles and what the heck, even the cousins. All I ask is that you don’t invite me along. It’s not that I have anything against you, nor against your child who I’m certain is an angel. It’s just that, and I hate to break it to you like this, but children’s birthday parties are fucking awful.
For several years before we had Lyla, I had to suffer in silence; cantankerously deriding any parents who, in their well meaning wisdom, decided that the best way for me to spend my commitment free Sunday afternoon was in a church hall surrounded by hyper lunatics off their tits on squash and cake. Having recently curated my first kids party I now feel I have the knowledge and experience to talk openly about this prevalent issue. And it’s a relief to be able to do so. I’m certain I’m not the only one who lives in a paralysing daily fear of seeing a Hello Kitty or Thomas The Tank Engine envelope parachute though the letterbox. Each one upholding this ridiculous fictitious charade that it’s a sweet invitation sent from one toddler to another. If your toddler is anything like mine she barely has control of her bowel movements and thinks her shadow is her friend. So to comprehend a scenario where she somehow was able to draw up a guest list and then individually compose thirty invitations is, let’s be honest, incredibly far fetched. I think everyone would be far more receptive to the idea of attending a child’s party if there was a bit of openness from the start. So for Lyla’s party I proposed a far more honest invitation:
'Dear toddler who can not yet read,
Georgina, and in truth Georgina alone, would love to invite you to celebrate Lyla’s 2nd birthday. This party has consumed Georgina’s every waking thought for months now and there’s no telling what Adam will do if they have to have another conversation about the contents of the going home bags. Speaking of Adam, he ‘will’ be attending, he ‘will’ enjoy himself and if he writes a bloody blog post about this, Georgina ‘will’ bloody kill him. As for Lyla, she is yet to comprehend what a birthday is negating any real need on her part to celebrate it. Her long-term memory is still in its infancy so there’s a fair chance she won’t even remember the day at all. Being two she’s yet to develop the social skills to formulate any meaningful relationships with other kids, but for the sake of cuteness let’s call your child her friend. However, she does love plastic crap, so we’ll be grateful for any gift you feel obliged to purchase off the back of this invite.
Please let Georgina know if you can attend. If you can’t, Georgina will be quite hurt. If you need to create an excuse not to come, Adam will more than understand. And Lyla, quite frankly, couldn’t give a shit either way.
Lots of love
Lyla, Georgina and Adam’
Unfortunately this idea was dismissed by Georgina and following a brief calligraphy course we set Lyla to work on hand written invitations to her soft play party. The concept of a soft play party never fails to amuse me. Today these places are big business and the ethos is to provide an environment for curious little bees to explore safely and uninhibited. Whereas, in Victorian times, if you locked incoherent babbling loonies in a self contained room encased in padded walls these were called asylums. What does fail to amuse me about these types of party is the need for parental participation. I turn up knowing that inevitably, at the behest of my daughter, I’ll find myself crawling on all fours attempting to squeeze my lumbering frame through a yellow plastic tube clearly designed for someone formed of far smaller proportions than I. My real issue is the precedent this sets. What if Lyla, after seeing me get involved at her shindig, thinks it will be perfectly acceptable if the same occurred at one of our dinner parties? I have nightmarish visions of her waltzing down the stairs in Peppa Pig pyjamas, entering the dining room, pouring herself a gin and tonic and joining in as we regale sordid tales from teenage holidays to Aya Napa.
Soft play parties aren’t all bad. In fact, there is an extremely beneficial side to them. You will not find, and believe me I’ve looked, a more effective means to knacker your little one out. But before you can get them home to the utopia of naptime, there’s one more challenge to overcome. By the end of soft play they are on a euphoric high, completely wired from a good hour’s worth of pain free running head first into walls. Having used up their vast reserves of energy they are hungry and, like the parents around them, on the verge of getting emotional. This is the phase I like to refer to as the ‘Meltdown Synchrony’ where one by one, each toddler will find a different reason to have a complete meltdown. Rachel had hers because she wanted to carry on playing on the slide; Benjamin was set off when Emily looked at his fish finger in the wrong way; Joshua erupted after someone moved his cup an inch to the left; Zach cried because there was another kid called Zach; Sophie didn’t like the candles being lit; Jake didn’t like the candles being blown out; and Lyla kicked off because she has no idea who any of the people at the party were. By the time they receive their going home bags they have pretty much all had one.
My ‘Meltdown Synchrony’ theory for toddlers actually has a lot of similarities to the concept of ‘Menstrual Synchrony’. That’s the one where women who spend time in close proximity will all have a period together. There is definitely the same amount of crying involved, an almost identical amount of irrational behaviour and the only tried and tested way to shut them both up is chocolate.
In addition to Sky Plus, boiling hot water taps and procreation, I definitely now class organising and surviving a toddler’s birthday party as another of life’s genuine miracles. And after a statement like the one I made in the previous paragraph, if I avoid a black eye that will be another.