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Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Party Pressure

It was the perfect venue.  Huge floor to ceiling windows ran along both sides of the room, the late afternoon sunlight refracting from the huge crystal chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.  At one end of the room, a small discreet corner bar; ornately carved in dark wood to match the polished wooden floor.  Pre-prepared pimms; summer in a glass, it’s sweetness tempered with slices of cucumber, lemon and mint, tempted party goers as if whispering; embrace me and you embrace the party spirit.  Small white plates displaying pyramids of pistachios and bright green olives, as yet untouched, lay neatly on  the front of the bar.  Along one length of the room, a long table, with chairs to seat thirty, decorated exquisitely - in a polka dot theme and laden with delightful pom pom party hats. Helium balloons waved cheerfully from the seat backs of each chair.  Bunting hung from the ceiling fluttering in the soft breeze from the open window. It was a picture perfect scene.

The tasteful banner read: 4 today.

This was my induction to children’s parties, London style.

Slick. Professional.

GULP

An entertainment duo (the creme de la creme of entertainment duos in these parts) were on hand (with bagfuls of haribo sweets) to occupy the children in the room whilst parents supped drinks from the bar, chatted and ate canapes.  It was all rather lovely, and very civilised.  Rather like something from someone’s pin interest board.  Damn you, pin interest, for making everything seem so...

Perfect.

Parties weren’t like this in my day.  We had them at home. The whole class sat around the kitchen table and the picnic table brought in from the garden. The birthday tea featured plentiful quantities of chocolate animals, chocolate fingers and iced gems. There were no worries about a 'theme' or it being overly tasteful. Just as there were no worries about children eating their quota of sandwiches or carrot sticks and hummus. The only concession to fruit was tinned pineapple (with cubes of cheese), skewered onto sticks. It was a party; sugar overload was expected. We gorged ourselves on sugar niceties until we felt sick, we played hide and seek, parcel the parcel, musical bumps, sleeping lions, and then everyone went home, with a piece of birthday cake wrapped in a napkin and a bag of sweets.  I don’t remember anyone’s parents staying, or my mum having to cater for parents.  I don’t remember any of the parties I went to having ‘entertainers’. How times have changed.

3 weeks to go until Pip’s party.

GULP

Pip didn’t have a birthday party last year.  He didn’t seem particularly bothered, and caught up in first trimester morning sickness and the ongoing saga of our house renovation project, we agreed with him that he would have a day out at Legoland and the next year, when he was four, he’d have a BIG party. He was happy with that.

One year on.  Time to stand and deliver on my promise.

I’m feeling rather stressed.

It’s a minefield this party business.  Where should I have the party? What sort of entertainer should I get?  Do I have to invite the whole class? (As far as I can tell, that seems to be the trend).  Has the venue got room for them and their parents? Do I need to offer the parents something to eat and drink? What about a theme? To goody bag or not goody bag?  High stake decision making indeed.

I confess, I hadn't spent a lot of time thinking about it.  But after the amaze balls party of the weekend, I have been shell shocked into a party planning frenzy.

GULP

In my defence, I had done something. I booked the venue ages ago. An unremarkable hall in a building owned by a local charitable trust. I decided that if I had to fork out for a hall, I’d rather that the money went to a local cause rather than to a commercial enterprise. But back then, I’d only really thought about the kids attending, not the fact I might have to provide a soiree for parents too. It’s functional, but it certainly doesn’t have the razzle dazzle factor of the last chandeliered place Pip partied.

On Sunday night, I woke in a sweat. I'd booked the entertainer on recommendation, but I’ve never actually witnessed one of his parties.  What if Captain Fantastic is less than fantastic? What if, heaven forbid, he gets stuck in traffic or is late or doesn’t turn up at all? What if I’m left with 30 children to entertain? Being a kids party entertainer is pretty high up on my list of worst jobs ever. It’s enough to make me want to lace my morning coffee with brandy just thinking about it.

Next on the stress list, to theme or not to theme? Pip has been going through a particularly fickle stage, so I decided it might be best to avoid a theme. One minute he wants a pirate party, the next it’s a superhero one, and then a day later, a knight themed party.  I took an executive decision; plates, cups and balloons in primary colours, easy to execute. 

Food. Ha! Easy. At 4 years old, they don’t care about the grub. A few sandwiches, some token crudities to appease healthy parents, some sugar laden delicacies (if only for me).  I felt relaxed about the food.  Until Husband (a shaped sandwich lover if ever there was one) announced he was going to make these: 



for 30 kids.

"We’re not having a Pirate party anymore". I wailed; despairing at the thought of sandwich induced stress as Husband fiddled about with ham sails and bread stick masts on the day of the party. 

"That was last week. There’s no theme anymore."

"Well, if there's no theme, we can have these sandwiches." Husband was wearing his determined face. 

I parked that battle for another day and moved on to the serious matter of the loot expected by four year old party guests. Goody bags.  What on earth should I put in the goody bags?  The last party had separate goody bags for boys and girls; another level of added complexity. A quick google on the internet and some (poor) mental arithmetic revealed that delivering party bags for 30 children adds quite significantly to one's party budget.

GULP

Yesterday

Pip: "Mummy, can I have an Octopod cake for my Octonauts party?

CUE * SERIOUS ADRENALIN RUSH*

OCTOPOD CAKE? (Couldn’t he have chosen something more regular in shape? A square perhaps?)

OCTONAUTS PARTY?

Me: (Breathing deeply): "So, you want an Octonauts party darling?" 

Pip: " Yes. Definitely. Octonauts party. Octonauts are my favourite."

Husband: "So we are having a theme... Shall I make Gup B sandwiches instead?"


What’s wrong with bog standard triangles? 


SOMEONE. HELP. ME.

I’m in party hell. And it isn’t even here yet. Who knew that throwing a party for a four year old could be so stressful?

All sage advice from those well practiced in delivering children’s parties greatly received.

27 comments:

  1. Phew, I feel the panic for you. Sorry I can't give ideas but look forward to reading the advice you receive. Thankfully, my toddler is still blissfully unaware of this aspect of life. For him birthday is gifts and cake and that is all he cares about, for now.

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    1. Enjoy the pressure free years whilst you can :0) Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Oh my goodness that party sounds more like a wedding reception! I'd say go more 'old school' I used to love the party games, and yes maybe even laughed at the entertainers. GOOD LUCK! *goes off to start planning Alex's 4th Birthday for Nov...!

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    1. Thanks...I think I'm going to need it!

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  3. Keep it simple - at 4 the kids won't care (or notice) if there is a theme. Believe me down in deepest darkest Hampshire kids parties are still pretty much old school - drafty village halls, the odd ballon, some dodgy music, sandwiches, crisps, pizza, party gems with maybe a bowl of cherry tomatoes as a concession to modernity! As for the parents - I have been offered cake once or twice but usually it stops at a cup of tea or coffee. I have done 2 'hall parties'. The first one we did (well OH did) the entertainment - which consisted of a few simple party games, loud music, lots of kids running around screaming and a lot of mini chupa chops. The second one we conceded to a bouncy castle as the entertainment and on the whole it was very similar (just minus the chupa chops!) Party essentials are lots of balloons (that they can reach and pop), music - to drown out the kids screaming, pass the parcel, cake and party bags. Don't make too much food, most of them don't eat it, don't bother with healthy food (they def won't eat it) Do have name labels for the kids and a list of kids attending where parents who don't stay can write down their contact details in case of accidents and tears. Party bags - try the book people or banana books as sometimes you can get books as low as a £1 each - add a balloon and a sweet or two and you have a decent party bag that isn't filled with awful plastic crap that gets thrown in the bin as soon as they get home. An alternative is colouring books and pencils/crayons. Lastly line up a stiff gin for when it's all over! Good luck! (I think I should write a blog post about this after all I've just written!)

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    1. Thank you so much for your very helpful comment. (You should definitely write a blog post on this!) Suggestions about music very helpful and I am off to look up book people books now for the party bag. x

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  4. Am I allowed to laugh?! This is really funny....although a little tragic at the same time! The 'party hell' that you talk of is just ridiculous. Please DO NOT bow to party pressure from 'perfect parents'! The only person you should listen to is your little man and what he wants....albeit a changing list of wants every week! He will have fun whatever you do and as for 'loot' just make it sweets, sweets and more sweets. As mine have grown, we've moved on to one wrapped up present (often a book) for each child, with a bag of sweets attached. Might be worth considering? Maybe hire a helium balloon thing and give them one of those to take home? Good luck! I am sure it will be tasteful and Pip will adore it :)

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    1. I know...it is all slightly ridiculous. Best to keep my sense of humour over it all I think!

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  5. What is it with husbands and their wonderful time-consuming ideas? Mine is exactly the same. May I suggest the local McDonalds? Sorry, not helpful ;-)

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    1. I'm not alone then? Hurrah for that!

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  6. Oh my goodness - I'm with Suzanne, I laughed through out the whole of this post, it is just so well written and so funny. Oh, and I feel for you so much - I had to go through this whole ruddy palaver back in January for Little A's party (booked a hall in Chiswick). It is certainly not a cheap undertaking and the price of some of those party bags gave me more silver hairs. It's like organising a wedding. And you are so right - parties back in the day were much simpler affairs - jelly and ice cream and a few games. And finally, Younger Dad always comes out with suggestions like that as well, and it just adds so much extra complication, nay headache, to the proceedings. Men eh? XXX

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    1. Thanks OM. I had so looked forward to planning all this and now it's upon me it actually feels more like a challenge from The Apprentice :0)

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  7. I relate to this BIG time. Every year I try to make the party just as good as the last one {or even that little bit better}. The amount of stress I put myself in I swear I've lost a good half a dozen months off my life span!! Good luck for the party! My daughters is in 3wks! eeeepp!! x

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    1. Thank you for your words of support and good luck with your party too!

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  8. Oh blimey you poor thing!! I had to laugh as it all brought back hideous memories of when my boys were small. Parties were the bane of my life and the only way I got through them was by providing myself with large glasses of wine and a handful of valium. Thank God my boys are too old for parties now!! Don't bow to the pressure!! Anyway ... only another 7 years and you can tell them that secondary school kids don't have parties ... Does that help? Probably not, but my heart goes out to you!
    Beautifully written post by the way!!
    Sarah x

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    1. Thank you and thank you. Yes, I think wine might be a good idea :0)

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  9. Ooh, sounds very stressful! I went a bit more old school myself. I went with whatever cake he was currently fascinated with (it was Peso when he was 4) and did the usual things you mention, sandwiches, vegetables, biscuits, but they don't eat as much as you think they will. I put tea and coffee in the kitchen part with instructions to help themselves. I made scones one year, cup cakes another year, but few got eaten, so I didn't do anything this year as people tend to pick at the chocolate fingers or whatever anyway. I think it might get easier as it goes on. We had the whole class for 5th birthday, as we didn't know anyone at the school when we started, and Little Man is a November baby, but I'm done with that and we're going for a few friends bowling or cinema or whatever next year. Some parties we've been to have handed out a small book at the end, some did a gift bag of little sweets, you know the sort, but we've always just gone for little bits of tat because the children love little pencils, little notebooks, little hair ties, little bouncy balls, a balloon, a this, a that. That can be done quite cheaply. Good luck! I'm sure it will be fine and you'll all have a great time.

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    1. Very helpful suggestions Polly, thank you so much. I like the idea of a Peso cake too - I was toying with an octopus but maybe a Peso is better ...will fit in with the theme (ha ha). Since posting this I have indeed purchased bits of tat - I think that's what they really want at this age. You can't beat a party bag filled with some sweets and cheap toot!

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  10. I find planning parties very stressful. And put way too much pressure on myself with cakes. As said before the book people are fab, or a large pack of cars that can be opened up. Home bargains are great for small party bag gifts too. Tbh my boy generally just wants the sweets. Good luck x

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    1. I haven't heard of Home bargains will take a look. Thanks.

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  11. I feel your pain! Hampstead was an absolute nightmare as far as children's parties were concerned. They were like mini weddings and it was all a bit absurd. Back in my day, we were happy with a few rice krispie cakes and some party rings! I had Annabel Karmel as a guest to my son's second birthday party - talk about pressure! Shan't be doing that again. Good luck with it - my only advice is to not take it too seriously. As long as the birthday boy is happy, that's all that matters x

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    1. Mini weddings is a very accurate description! Annabel Karmel as a guest would send me into a tail spin...unless of course she was prepared to do the catering!

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  12. I HATE KIDS PARTIES. None more so than my own... and every mother I speak to feels the same yet we all put ourselves through the torture because how can you not when every other kid in class is inviting the whole of P1? We did it once - this year - 5th birthday and Primary 1 but we will not be doing it every year. My stress levels could not cope. And how unfortunate the first one you attended was so slick - rest assured, they're not all like that. Yours will be fine and at the end of the day you can collaspe on the sofa with a bottle of wine and say NEVER AGAIN xx

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    1. Yes, that's the thing...it's the whole class. I think we'll probably do it for a couple of years like you and then move onto doing a day out with a couple of friends. x

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  13. The little man is three in three weeks and we are doing a party for him (I will be 37 weeks by then!). We are hiring the local hall where they hold the pre school he is going to, we are having the lovely lady who takes our Jo Jingles class do 45 minutes of entertainment, lunch for little ones and any adults (I am buying it all in from a well known supermarket), my mum is attempting a guitar-shaped cake then everyone out by 1pm. I am not sure about goody bags as don't want the stress so thinking a balloon each and a piece of cake. We are keeping it to about 10 kids (which is proving awkward - today at one of our playgroups I had to pretend he wasn't having a party). Not stressed yet but it is playing on my mind. Glad I am not in London any more - it sounds a bit stressful, hope it goes okay. xxx

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    1. Wow. 37 weeks - time goes so quickly - Not long now! Your party approach sounds very sensible. I've roped my mum in to make the cake too. Grandma's are the best :0)

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  14. I have -until this year - ALWAYS taken my boys to places that 'do' them. The local indoor play that provide food and party bags. The kids have a great time. This party you attended will have made most parents go into freefall stress and will be the exception to the rule, I promise! Good luck with yours. Pip matters. No-one else. The simpler you keep it, the more the other parents will love you and copy you :)

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