My friends and I are in disagreement. I say stop the whole class parties at age eight. After that let them just have a few friends to do something extra special - maybe a trip up to the London Eye and a pizza afterwards. Now we just pay for my son and a couple of friends to go to Thorpe Park or something similar - and joy of joys, I don't have to go with them!
Indeed some of the best birthday celebrations we have had in our family have been the simplest. My daughter, her friend and I enjoyed a real treat in London for her 11th birthday when we went up to the West End to see Mamma Mia and then got a pizza before walking across Waterloo Bridge in the dark, woo-ing and ahhhh-ing at the lights of the London Eye and St Paul's Cathedral.
Another year my husband took our 14-year-old son and two other friends for a round of golf before they came back here for a film and a takeaway. Everyone was dropped home by 8pm and everyone was happy.
But other friends are still inviting what appears to be half the school to a marathon sleep-over, complete with compulsory stretch limo ride around the streets first and a certificate 15 film for a bunch of 12 year olds. Grrhhhh
"Oh you spoil sport!" exclaimed my dearest friend Claire when I sounded her out on what is still a rather thorny issue. "Before you know it they'll be off your hands and you'll be begging to have a house full of loud young things racing around the place and filling your hall with high jinks and laughter."
But it's not just the noise and the mess. Indeed when my brood were younger I used to confine all birthday parties to the church hall – paying £10 an hour to hire out the venue seemed a fair price to spare my carpets. It's the huge expectation that these seemingly never-ending cycle of parties brings.
Who can have the biggest, the noisiest, the flashiest, the biggest party bags, the most different food? I realized I was on a big fat hiding to nothing when my son was once invited to a live wrestling match – in Birmingham – hardly a five minute drive from our home in Surrey.
"The boys need to be at our house for 10am on Saturday. They will be driven by mini bus to the venue, before a meal and a night in the local Travel Lodge. Expect your son back, tired and stroppy, but about 4pm on Sunday! " trilled the invite. I was less than impressed. My son, of course, wanted to go. Not being part of the group – no matter how deadly the situation – is just not an option.
Call me old-fashioned, but when I was young, you had your birthday party on the day of the week your birthday fell, regardless of whether it was a school night or the holidays. A handful of friends came home after school, got changed into their party clothes, lobbed a few 'pass the parcels' about, rubbed balloons on their jumpers and made them stick to the wall, tucked into sandwiches and jelly and went home for 6pm, clutching a piece of birthday cake. End of.
Now, children are invited to away football matches, concerts, trips to the seaside and marathon sleep-overs. Said sleep-overs have to involve an activity, a meal, an unsuitable-for-their-age DVD, perhaps some alcohol, a party bag and an absolute and complete lack of any sleep whatsoever.
Even my normally sensible sister Michele has been carried away on a mammoth wave of parental guilt. This year, she told her son he wasn't having a big party, since they were paying a colossal amount of money for him to be a football mascot for his team. So how come she still had 12 boys running around her garden last Saturday afternoon, as their parents tucked into burgers and beers on the sideline and she frantically sliced up the pirate ship she had made late into the previous night?
Well I for one am not signing up for anymore enormous parties. My youngest is nine this year – yippee!
I will give her the paper and ask her to see if she fancies a theatre trip with one other friend. Hopefully she'll choose something like "Grease" – I've been dying to see that for years......
Do you think there's a cut-off age for parties? If so, when and what do you do to celebrate?