My youngest son is now 4.
In the words of Vinnie Jones, ‘It’s been emotional’.
On reflection, this momentous occasion seemed to propel me into some sort of maniacal frenzy which almost led to my unravelling. I have no idea why. I would love to think it was born out of the overwhelming desire to make my child happy and give him the birthday of his dreams but the jury’s still out.
I decided that, being 4, he needed a party. I conveniently forgot the fact that he doesn’t like parties; blocked out that I’ve had to unpeel his fingers from the car door and coax him from my knee at every birthday party he’s ever been to.
A party he shall have.
I considered a local soft play centre but then remembered that they are hell on earth. As my nearly 7 year old headed off to Laser Quest, it occurred to me that the ‘Pass the Parcel era’ is all too fleeting. One minute they’re crushing Organix crisps into the carpet and the next they’re demanding bowling and a sleepover. No, keep the music playing as long as possible and go old school church hall.
15 children, a musical statue, a sandwich and a balloon. What more could a child ask!
It was to be a Batman party. He loves Batman, it would be great. I began to see the cracks however when he began vetoing the invitation list on the grounds that they didn’t own a Batman costume. Superman, Spiderman, Buzz Lightyear would not be tolerated. Only Batman would be allowed. This could spell trouble. I had a vision of him standing at the door, like a tiny sullen bouncer sending pint sized superheroes on their way.
Never mind, the excitement of the day will overshadow his draconian dress code and all will be well.
To the cake. I had decided to make a Gotham City cake and also some jaunty POW iced biscuits for the party bag. I’d seen them on Pinterest – how hard could they be? And so began the baking frenzy. There was something strangely satisfying about lovingly distributing blood red icing with a tooth pick whilst watching Silent Witness on iPlayer. Emilia Fox may dissect a good body but she has nothing on me with a piping bag.
The following day I proudly showed my son my triumph; his eternal awe and gratitude would be mine. ‘I hate it’ he said ‘I wanted a bat cave and I don’t like biscuits’.
This was not going well.
When party day arrived, things were not much better. He didn’t want to go, declared he would prefer to stay at home, claimed to dislike all of his friends and still would like me to conjur up a bat cave cake. I put my head down and ferociously cut Batman shaped sandwiches.
My husband grew ever more bewildered. He followed instructions well enough but they were all met with a slight shaking of the head and a ‘why are you doing this again?’
The actual party was OK. He refused to greet his guests or receive the presents but he warmed up soon enough. Everyone else seemed to have a lovely time bashing each other over the head with balloons. The only real protest was when he refused to play pass the parcel until the very last layer, at which point he joined in and objected loudly when he didn’t win.
But all in all, parcels were passed, candles were blown, party bags distributed and we all escaped unscathed, with only a few emotional bruises.
It’s only now that I realise that this is in fact the joy of being 4. The ability to tell it exactly as it is. Of course he didn’t want a party; of course he wanted a Bat Cave. My motivation probably ranged from guilt, through peer pressure to a disturbing need to store up some emotional blackmail when he announces he’s not coming home for Christmas is 20 years time “I made you a Gotham City cake you ungrateful oik!”
From here on in, we teach our children to manage disappointment with politeness and grace, to be aware of other people’s feelings and expectations, to ‘be nice’.
But, at 4 years old, just for a brief and shining moment, it really should be all about them. It’s their party and they really can cry if they want to.
*** I would like to add that I am writing this as a diversionary tactic in order to delay sorting out the thank you notes, which in due course will bring on more guilt and self-flagellation ***