We are now two thirds of the way through the school year, with just one term left until the summer holidays. Some parents might be dreading the long summer break and the prospect of finding entertainment for the little darlings for six weeks. On the other hand, some of us are relishing the idea of a long break. Homework pressures will be removed, the morning routine becomes a little easier, and finally, the relentless drip, drip, drip, of kids’ birthday party invites ends.
When we were kids, a birthday party involved having to choose five of your friends to invite over for tea, your Mum would put some pineapple and cheese on sticks, and you would be allowed fizzy pop. Then if you were really lucky, there was a game of pass the parcel, a cake your gran made that was covered in buttercream, and some of those party poppers that leave string everywhere. These days, however, children’s birthday parties have evolved to become lavish events, with research from American Express suggesting that parents spend an average of £545 on a child’s birthday party and gifts.
If you have a child in primary school, then you have probably averaged an invite every couple of weeks or so since September. It’s possible that at this point you now dread seeing your child appear at the end of the school day excitedly waving yet another envelope, for good reasons, as we note below.
1. You Have to Find a Suitable Birthday Present
Your child arrives home with a birthday party invite for Lola. You have no idea who Lola is. The only information that you can glean from your child is that Lola is the one who “is friends with Eva but not Maisie.” You then have to decide if you risk choosing a theme based present, such as something from Shopkins, with the small possibility that Lola has developed a weird phobia to all things Shopkins related, or go for the boring, yet safe option of a puzzle, knowing that it will probably end up being re-gifted at the next birthday party.
2. The Timings are Usually Inconvenient
For primary school children, parties usually take place at the weekend, and require the presence of a parent throughout. Receiving a party invite for a party that runs between 10.30am and 12pm is like winning the lottery. It gives you the rest of the day to do family stuff. Unfortunately, however, it is more common to receive a party invite either for the middle of the day, meaning that you can’t have a family day out somewhere, or early evening, meaning that your little darling is experiencing a mad sugar rush just before bedtime.
3. You Have to Make Awkward Conversation with Other Parents
If your interactions with the other parents at your child’s school are limited to a quick smile and “hello”, and possibly the occasional “Do you know when they are doing the Easter parade?” then birthday parties can be excruciatingly awkward. Even more so if conversation with strangers isn’t really your forte. Furthermore, it can be hard to maintain a conversation about “this strange weather we’re having” with the parent of a child who is currently trying to smack your child around the head with a giant foam brick.
4. They Start to Get a Bit Repetitive
The first time you saw “Dream Parties LTD” in action you were quite impressed. The second time was mildly entertaining. After the fifth time you start to dread the words “Princess Party” and question why none of the children seem to have twigged that Princess Belle, Elsa, Sleeping Beauty and Cinderella are all in fact played by Jenny, a RADA reject with a terrible American accent.
5. The Catering Isn’t Great
The food is largely sugar based and filled with E Numbers. It’s normally served at the end of the party, thereby leaving you with a hyperactive child to take home. And even though the party is held over lunchtime, there is absolutely nothing for the parents, not even a cup of tea, leaving you feeling ravenous. Once the kids have finished stuffing their faces in a manner that would shock our early cave-dwelling ancestors, there is the awkward moment when you wonder if it’s okay to steal a biscuit, and the etiquette here is never really clear.
By the time the summer term arrives, you start making plans with your fellow kids party-averse Mum friend to smuggle some Prosecco in a water bottle to help you get through yet another performance by RADA-reject, Jenny.
6. They Raise Your Own Child’s Expectations
In September, the bar was set pretty low by Tyler’s parents, who held his party at the local soft play centre. This was followed by Ella who had her party at a farm park. There were three parties in the community hall with Jenny, our favourite RADA reject, and then things started to get a bit silly. Emily’s Mum took all the girls in the class to the local spa for a pamper session. A huge marquee was hired with a circus act for Arthur’s party, whilst at Ben’s Star Wars themed party each child was sent home with a limited edition Lego set from the Rogue One movie. Now your child’s party is coming up and they are expecting something truly spectacular, and neither Jungle Jim’s soft play nor Jenny the RADA reject will be good enough.
And, even if you do manage to arrange something that beats a circus or limited edition Lego, then the chances are that a few days before your child’s own birthday extravaganza he or she will get a virus and spend most of the event throwing a tantrum over the slightest upset. It might be better to stick with cheese and pineapple on sticks and a game of pass the parcel after all.