Ok so they say that the most stressful life events are moving house, getting married and having a baby1. Getting married was indeed pretty stressful2, and yes, having a baby (or babies in my case: Just two. At the same time. Like, twins in fact) wasn’t exactly trouble free either3. But I think we really need to give due credit to the stress involved in arranging a children’s birthday party. And particularly doing so while in the process of trying to move house.
It all starts off so simply: About a month before their birthday I say to my hoosboond,4 “I know it’s potentially more stressful but I think it might be better if we hire a little room for the party this year so that we’re not so crowded in our flat. And then I can invite a few of their little friendies along and it’ll be cute and festive and we can sing songs, eat a party tea, bla-di-bla (ha-di-ha), etc”… I find myself getting all smiley and excited at the thought of the little kiddlies all sitting around singing and hopping to ‘sleeping bunnies’, having their party tea, blowing out the candles on the cake, cheering and then sending their little friendies off home with a little party bag containing a piece of cake and maybe one toy because we’re not bloody made of money you know!Then a week or two pass and I find myself deciding that the party is going to have a monkey/ape theme (I have to put ‘/ape’ as I know that there will be at least one smart arse tutting at a rogue gorilla or King Louie5 reference) and start busily searching for both toddler and adult monkey outfits on eBay along with all manner of matching accessories. One thing leads to another and a few days before the party I find myself purchasing monkey shaped cookie cutters to make monkey shaped biscuits for the party bags (I don’t in general agree with the word cookie, but ‘biscuit cutters’ sounds wrong) and then searching around Sainsbury’s for monkey nuts so that I can leave a trail of them from the reception of the building down the very long (3-4 metre) corridor to the room that we have hired. I imagine the kiddlies and their parents spotting the nuts and laughing, looking for the next one while gaily skipping towards the room.
Then before you know it I’ve gone around every local supermarket and found that they don’t bloody stock monkey nuts at this time of year: it being the end of November they’re only stocking ‘festive’ nuts and apparently monkey nuts aren’t considered festive enough. (They may have a point.) So instead of giving up on the monkey nut trail idea like a sane person (or as sane as a person can be who thinks a monkey nut trail is necessary in the first place), I find myself saying ‘That’s ok, I shall simply replace real monkey nuts with cut out pictures of them instead, and while I’m at it I’ll print out a load of monkey colouring-in pictures for them to have on a table in a ‘craft section’ of the room. I find approximately 50 different monkey/ape themed colouring-in pictures (which should just be enough for the 8 attendees), and even use Photoshop on one of them for a couple of hours to remove the copyright watermark. I then find myself thinking, “ooh then maybe I can make little mini colouring-in books to put in their party bags along with their – what now seems like a rather measly – slice of cake and a small bottle of party bubbles”. Fortunately, in an uncharacteristic moment of clarity, I decide that that is going too far.Despite getting all sensible on the mini colouring-in books front, on the eve of the party I nevertheless find myself frantically cutting out (unfestive) monkey nuts one minute while making and decorating monkey shaped ginger biscuits the next. Oh and of course I have the brilliant idea that the kiddlies can help me make the biscuits. Which naturally translates immediately into a fabulous game of running joyfully around the flat covering everything in flour, (Hoosboond absolutely loves this and walks around menacingly muttering about house viewings while sweeping and vacuuming as flour flies all over the kitchen and (horror!) lounge carpet as if it is like beetroot juice or something else really stainy…) followed by fights over the dustpan and brush when I try to make tidying-up a game and inevitably ends up with them both collapsing in a tantrum of howls.
By the time the actual party starts I have developed a somewhat noticeable twitch in my cheek and soon find myself shouting at my hoosboond that ‘it would really help if you could get the booze out of the car now???!’. While a nagging thought at the back of my mind tells me that I might have lost touch with the whole point of the party, I still can’t stop myself from blu-tacking all those blessed (but not festive) monkey nuts along the corridor, even though most of the guests have now arrived and are enjoying themselves in the room WITHOUT HAVING FOLLOWED THE MONKEY NUT TRAIL TO GET THERE!!I decide that a sip of fake bubbles will help. But I am unable to keep track of my drink while continuing to attach pictures of monkeys and their nuts everywhere, so my hope for it calming me down doesn’t quite come to fruition. And now little girlie one is crying non-stop. Hoosboond tells me that the best use of my time is to comfort little girlie one rather than decorate an empty corridor with nuts. I don’t even laugh at the ludicrousness of this sentence. Instead I smoothly (ish. I mean, considering that I was pointlessly decorating an empty corridor with nuts) flip into calm, quiet mother mode and together me and little girlie one wander around happily looking at all my wonderful pictures of monkeys and nuts (ah-ha! there was a point to them after all). She has just calmed down and is quietly murmuring a tentative ‘oo-oo-oo’ when someone rushes out of the party room bearing the news that ‘there has been a disaster with your biscuits!’. I smoothly flip out of calm, quiet mother mode and rush into the kitchen, sending little girlie one into floods again. The biscuits have been left too close to the sink and the box is now full of water with a dozen now double-sized, handmade, hand-decorated, house-destroying monkey biscuits in it, all doing the back stroke. I realise that it is pointless. Chaos is in charge, not me. So I decide to sit down, snuggle my little girlie and drink my drink. The party happens. I barely remember it. Little girlie one cries fairly constantly throughout and at the end we fill about 18 bags and boxes full of all the uneaten nibbles I had carefully prepared for the adults and head home. Crying girlie is cuddled to sleep. Frantic boy (who did actually enjoy the party and spent the last hour of it filling himself with sugary things he was only supposed to have a small amount of) bounces off the walls and eventually catches one at just the right angle to project him neatly into his bed. It’s time to relax. I swap my monkey paper cup for a real glass one and say to myself “Thank God that’s over. Next year it’s 2 pizzas and a DVD”.
1 A google search tells me that Kalms once asked 2000 people which big life events – moving, having a baby, getting married, changing jobs, etc. – caused the most stress. They obviously deemed it unnecessary to include other somewhat key stressors like chronic illness, death, etc, but maybe they didn’t want to get people down.
2 Largely in our case because I insisted on making it an all singing, all dancing festival, event of the year kind of do, decided to hand make various key elements of it and then ran out of time to actually make them.
3 Three days of pointless agony before someone sliced me up, dragged them out, chucked them in intensive care while muttering words like ‘having trouble breathing’ and then insisted we all stay in hospital for weeks while they tested the bejesus out of the little blighters.
4 Hoosboond = husband. I’m just not that big a fan of the word husband. It sounds too grown up and dull. I’m not entirely sold on hoosboond either, to be honest, but I’ve yet to come up with something better.
5 The cool Orangutan from The Jungle Book who “wants to be like you-oo-oo”