Aha, you’re back for more! So you’ll know that part one of this story dealt with The Preparation, which means now it’s time to move onto what happens once everyone has recovered from that trauma and you actually arrive…
The Reality. For some reason, every time The Eldest is invited to a birthday party I look forward to turning up and standing on the periphary having a chat and drinking some wine, or at least having a hot cup of tea. Lots of the parties we have been to recently have had a bouncy castle or even an actual entertainer so I always imagine that The Eldest will leap straight into the middle of the fun. But fate loves to chuff up a mother-flunker, and growing up is about as certain a fate as anyone has, bringing with it those harbingers of doom, inhibitions.
Nowadays, upon arrival somewhere new I often spend at least thirty minutes with a preschooler wrapped around my knees, behind my knees, on my knees, patting my arm, tugging on my hand and interupting any attempt that I make at conversation with other Fully-Fledged Humans. I’m relegated to sitting on the floor with her, shouting “Aha, me farties” in my best gravelly Pirate voice because this is one mispronunciation that I don’t want her to grow out of yet. And, just to add eggs to my face, my foolish optimism had me convinced that, with the “husband” manning the fort at home while The BSCB naps, somehow I’ve got the better end of the deal. Sitting on the floor. With a three year old. Not able to drink any drink for fear it will be knocked over by one of around fifteen other three year olds who are also sitting on the floor next to me. While the “husband” probably snoozes on the settee in front of the footie.
Just one more thing to add to the list of blindingly obvious things it has taken me three and a half years to figure out, then.
The Tea. So The Eldest eventually lets go of my legs and starts to enjoy herself. I start to relax and, like a toddler edging towards the cake hoping no one will notice, I manoeuvre my way in increments across the room. Finally, I get close enough to actually greet my mum-friends in the slightly too excited manner of a seven year old at a school disco and we chat for precisely 27 seconds when the entertainment finishes. It is time for tea. Well, in theory.
Somehow The Eldest has grown into a five-year-old sized three-year-old fuelled only by milk and around five foods. Basically, she’s not really one for the eating. Now some of you reading this will not have a clue about the level of hair-pulling that happens when your small person won’t eat, but I’m sure there are others out there who will completely understand my anxiety when the small people are summoned to the table to eat their very public tea.
Nobody wants to be the parent of the child who is first to leave the table after one and a half minutes. Everyone knows that even the most efficient eater cannot hoover up a ham sandwich, a box of raisons, a pot of grapes, some breadsticks and a cocktail sausage in that amount of time, so when The Eldest extricates herself from the table and swishes (the Princess dress, remember) into the centre of the room to chase a balloon, in my imagination I am drowned in the swell of thoughts that surge towards me from the direction of the other parents: “Ah, there goes the fussy eater.” I die a little inside because there is no pretending that you are a shit-hot parent when all your small person will eat is twirly pasta covered in exactly one shade of sauce.
If you’re in my position on this – my sympathies. If you’re not, then please remember my child is not fussy, she’s just excited, okay? (She’s really effing fussy. It drives me mental.)
The Departure. Entertainment tolerated, food not eaten, fresh stains accumulated, it is time to depart the party. One benefit to having a child who extracts calories from fresh air is that she does not ask repeatedly where the cake is. I have seen this happen. Loudly. I have also seen small people scrabbling through the leftovers, who have to be dragged away yelping like the mangy neighbourhood fox furiously foraging for food before bin collection day. Of course I take absolutely no pleasure in watching this scene unfold while my perfect, polite, classy child (ahem) is outside ignoring the carnage. I don’t pat myself on the back for a job well done in teaching her manners and restraint (ahem ahem) mainly because I know I’m likely to turn around to see her blowing snot bubbles out of her nose and sucking them into her mouth in a manner eerily reminiscent of Hanibal Lector.
Wielding a tissue I approach the snot-sucker and while wiping her nose tell her that it is time to go. To be fair, most children seem to accept the end of a party with remarkable levelness, perhaps because they are well versed in the tradition that when they leave, they get a Party Bag. Come to think of it, that is blatantly why these godforsaken things have become such a stalwart of children’s parties. Nothing says “Please leave now, without screaming” more than good old fashioned bribery. Anyway, “Oh good, a plastic bag full of more sugar and plastic tat. I’m so grateful,” is what no parent thought, ever. But of course we all graciously accept the gift with thanks as it usually offers a few minutes peace on the way home. Then comes the real test.
“Have you said thank you?” says the parent, only to be met with the glazed, borderline angry gaze of a three year old well on their way to a massive sugar comedown. “Say thank you.” No response. “Come on, you know it’s polite to say thank you after a party.” Still no response. At this point you know that if you push too hard for the elusive proof that you are a good parent, despite the evidence of their eating habits suggesting otherwise (feeds on fresh air vs feral fox-like forager, I’m not sure which is worst), you are likely to get the twist round with ugly-face that means “Sod off, you silly woman, I’m a three year old standing on the precipice of a sugar-comedown that could qualify for a trip to The Priory. Why the f**k would I say thank you to this b***h? She’s the one who did this to me.” Now, of course no one’s child would actually use this language, mainly because they do not have the vocabulary to express such *strong* emotions but we all know that if they were this “articulate”, but were still three-years-old in their level of self-control, this would be exactly what they would say. Right…? No? Oh.
Regardless of just how rude you think your small person would be given a more extensive vocabulary, the fact is that the small person wins again. With the quintessential-apologetic-shrug-and-slight-shake-of-the-head by now perfected by every owner of a mini-Hitler, the parent thanks the host on behalf of their not-so-benign mini dictator, and heads homeward.
At home. Entertainment tolerated, food not eaten, fresh stains accumulated, party host abused and party bag contents strewn all over the living room, the small person now kicks back on the settee, legs akimbo and finger up nose in a pose that says distinctly “Don’t fuck with me.” And don’t. Just don’t. That is all.
And that is all. May you go forth and have fun at all festivities in your child’s future (send daddy).