Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Party, Party, Party

It's the first birthday of this blog and I've astonished myself by still being here. A year ago today I felt compelled to write a warning to myself and others about the risks of holding your child's birthday party in your own home.

At the time I feared that my sentimental attachment to my children would lead me into repeating my foolhardy mistake. But no. My lovely wife is made of sterner stuff and this year we held Lulu's seventh birthday party at a trampoline centre.

It's an industrial party machine that most parents claimed never to have been to, but on arrival several suddenly recalled having parties there themselves 30 years ago. So these people are experts. Although the jukebox in the trampoline room was decidedly odd. I was trying to imagine the children's party at which it was appropriate to play the first Portishead album or indeed anything by Leftfield.

However, it was all fine. We under catered on purpose. Largely because I object to having tiny sandwiches for tea for most of the following week. We used paper plates so we could just clear up into bin bags and not have to wash up. We didn't plan any games, we just left them to bounce for an hour. Then we fed them and afterwards were driven out as the staff pointedly swept the floor around us. MUCH better than last year.

Lulu particularly impressed me by staying calm and not wigging out about having to wait until we got home to open her presents. She also made a point of speaking to everyone there and if anyone seemed to be getting left out of the games she went and got them and gently persuaded them to join in.

She was charming.

And when present-opening time finally did arrive it was Sorrel's turn to impress by showing interest in what had been received but not weeping at the injustice of receiving nothing herself - something she's done a lot of recently.

Helen was working on the following day and each of the girls had another party to go to. Naturally they were on opposite sides of the town and at slightly different but overlapping times.

So Lulu was collected by some friends whose daughter was going to the same party and we arranged that I would pick her up from them after the party Sorrel was attending

In the car on the way back from Lulu's friend's house the girls compare party bags. Lulu expresses disappointment that Sorrel has cake whilst she does not.

"That's OK Lulu," says her sister, "You can have it."

If that's not surprising enough then when they get home they agree to tip the contents of their respective bags onto the table and share everything out equally.

I'm stunned, but delighted by this display of mutual generosity.  Everything goes into the sweetie jar and we agree on what can be eaten now. A small packet of sweets each. They go off to play. When they leave the room I find in my pocket a further packet of sweets that Sorrel had won in pass-the-parcel. I place it on the kitchen counter.

About ten minutes later it has gone.

"Girls!" I call, "Where is the packet of sweets that was on the counter?"

They make the most hopeless display of innocence I've ever seen. Over-protesting their ignorance of the packet of Gold Bears (I hadn't named the sweets); failing to meet my eye; trying really hard not to smile; Sorrel forgetting to wipe away the one sweet that had inexplicably stuck to her face.

"I want those sweets back here by the time I count to ten", I say. "ONE...."

Lulu's shoulders slump. "We can't," she sighs, "We ate them." And then brightening, "It was Sorrel's idea!"

Sorrel bursts into tears, goes over to the bin, gets out the empty sweetie wrapper and brings it to me, her head hung in shame as her tears drip onto the floor.

I explain, in a very serious tone, how disappointed I am in them both and how unacceptable it is to take things without asking. It's also unnecessary: I almost certainly would have given them the sweets if they'd asked.

Sorrel is very contrite. But Lulu makes one last stab at deflecting the bad feelings overwhelming her.

"WELL, IT'S YOUR FAULT!" She yells in my face.

I pick her up and carry her into the sitting room and close the door - just as I remember my father doing to me if my behaviour ever crossed the line.

"You are seven," I tell her, "That's old enough to know the difference between right and wrong. And what you have done is clearly wrong. I don't care whose fault you think it is. You know you've done the wrong thing and I want you to apologise for it."

Her face crumples as she realises that I am not only right but also that I obviously still love her regardless. She flings her arms around me and buries her head in my shoulder and sobs her "Sorries" into my now soggy neck.

Parties: they're no fun until someone cries.

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