My son turned 6 years old on the 22nd of September. I turned 41 a few days later. Birthdays are always a time of reflection, particularly when you are in the throws of a world class mid life crisis. You spend endless hours reflecting on how to trade your MPV in for a sports car, how to sew in a pony tail or whether those leather trousers look as good now as they did in the shop.
This year my son had a party with a friend and it was on a different day to his birthday, for ease of organisation.
On his actual birthday we had a fantastic day. There was much excitement in the Hapless household as presents were opened and Happy birthday sung to the rafters. We had a lovely lunch out, somewhere that really makes a fuss of kids and we went bowling with another family and their two children. It was a fantastic day. Kids and parents enjoyed themselves.
Then came the party!
I must stress this is not a rant about the nightmare that is kids parties. Everyone knows they are horrendous. If you are in any doubt ask some of your childless friends to come along and watch the excuses role in.
A kids party, particularly if hosted in a soft play venue is basically 'Lord of the Flies' but with extra sugar. What seems like hundreds of children are let loose on the set of Total Wipeout without any real supervision. Yes you are there but lets be honest the whole point of soft play is that your kids can be entertained without you having to do any work.
However there were a couple of things that really struck me this year which I hadn't noticed before.
Firstly 'the party season' involves you spending every weekend in exactly the same place with exactly the same children, exactly the same parents, exactly the same party food and exactly the same cake hastily bought at the local ASDA whilst en route.
The party will be a shared event between up to a thousand children who's birthdays are anything up to three weeks before or after the date of the party. All the parents will complain about having to spend another weekend in this madness.
Which begs the question, why don't we just have one party for everyone on the first of September? Nobody has the party on their actual birthday so what difference does it make? Until the kids are old enough to choose who they want to spend their birthday with you end up inviting the entire class, including all the arseholes. So why not just get it all out of the way in one go? Apart from freeing up every single weekend between now and July parents will save an absolute fortune as the costs will be shared. You can then spend the actual birthday doing your own thing which is what you would have done anyway, party or not!
The second thing that really struck me this year was the ludicrous party bag/present giving situation.
Lets start with party bags. What a shit idea that is!! Yes, by all means give each child a bit of cake to leave with but giving them a small bag full of complete tat as well is absolutely pointless on every level.
My house is literally bursting at the seems with the contents of party bags. Kids have enough toys and create enough mess as it is without providing them with their 400th bouncy ball and mini slinky spring. If they are in a party bag you can guarantee they are utter shite which means they will last about a minute. That's if they make it into the house at all and are not casually thrown on the floor of your car whilst driving back from the party.
What exactly is the purpose of a party bag? It is essentially a reward given to a party guest for attending!! When else in life does that happen?
Worst of all is party bag competition. This is particularly true in the more affluent areas where party bags have to contain keys to a Ferrari or the parents risk being totally ostracised in the school car park.
The only way party bags would increase in my estimation is if you could give decent presents to the children you really like and give a dose of smallpox to the ones you can't stand.
Then there were the presents. Now I must stress the presents were really good and we are extremely grateful. But that's kind of my point. My son now has a massive bin bag full of good quality presents. After the party, as we tried to peel him off the ceiling, he did open a load of them. Has he played with them since? No, of course he hasn't!! That's because he already has a house full of toys he never plays with. It would have been more useful to stick a fiver in a card. That way we could buy him a new telly so he could watch Johnny Test whilst playing the wii at the same time.
I guess the biggest problem for me on observing the ludicrous pile of presents was the inevitable thoughts about Christmas.
I love Christmas, apart from one little thing. The fact that it turns even the loveliest of children into an ungrateful little sod!! A child can cope with the first batch of gifts. After that, every new visitor baring presents is subjected to said child ripping open any offerings and then wandering off without a) looking at the present or b) saying thank you.
My children are young enough to believe in Father Christmas. The real magic happens when they wake up and find the stocking at the end of their bed covered in Fairy dust. As they go down stairs they find the half eaten carrot and empty sherry glass enjoyed by Santa and his Reindeer. It is pure magic. From then on it is a present ripping free for all where the sheer volume of gifts prevents interest or excitement in any one of them.
Every year in the Hapless household we talk about limiting the number of gifts but we never do. Every household is the same.
Watching my son's party has stiffened my resolve to make sure it happens this year.
Remember, less is most definitely more!!