My son turned 11-months-old yesterday. My first thought was, "Should I have a birthday party for him?" My second thought was, "No, please, please, please, I've got to go through all that 'birthday party hell' again?! Aaaaarrrrggghhh!"
My older son is now 13 and long past the kiddy birthday party stage. For his 13th birthday I sent him out for a posh dinner with a few of my male friends who welcomed him into manhood and gave him advice on everything from shaving to girls. It was, by all accounts, a good night and my son enjoyed it a lot.
When he was little, however, birthday parties - his own and his friends' - filled me with dread. I held a birthday party for him when he turned one, attended by my friends and their little ones, which was so lovely it lulled me into a false sense of security regarding parties. It was the last good experience I've had of children's birthday parties.
It was at the first birthday party my son attended, for one of his nursery school friends, when I learned that my son hated losing. His reaction to not pinning the tail on the donkey or not getting a seat during musical chairs wasn't just to utter a disappointed "awww" and sit down grumpily and watch the rest of the game... Nope. My son threw a huge, screaming, kicking, flailing tantrum, the likes of which I had never seen before. I remember the looks, the glares, the other mums gave me "Tsk, she doesn't know how to bring up her child properly." I had to take him upstairs and "talk him down" for about 20 minutes. When we finally got back downstairs and into the party room, he kicked a chair and screamed "I hate you!" at the kid who'd won.
After that, not only did I fear the games at birthday parties, but long after all the other mums were dropping their kids off and rushing to a local cafe for a 90 minute break, I was awkwardly telling the hosts that I'd "rather like to stay, if you don't mind". After their equally awkward reply of "Oh..? Well. OK!", I would help them out with the party until the inevitable loss at pass the parcel when I'd have to quickly remove my son from the room before he knocked over any chairs.
Apart from the horror of "game time", I went through a stage where I was an underemployed (and very, very poor) single mother. Buying a present for someone else's child, when I could hardly afford food, wasn't something I enjoyed very much at all. Every invite that was brought home often meant selling something on ebay to pay for some crappy thing my son's friend probably hated anyway.
I was at my very, very poorest when my son was in Year 2 and the first birthday party he attended that year was the most extravagant and outrageous event ever. I'm sure I was living for 6 months on the amount of money those parents spent on the party. There was a gazebo, the whole house was decorated for the party, there were several entertainers, a huge chocolate fountain and the gift bags were worth more than I'd spent on my own son for his birthday. At least by that age, he'd grown out of his tantrums... instead he said he wanted a party "just like that" for his next birthday.
When he was 9, he came home from a friend's party having spent about 2 hours doing seemingly little else other than eat chocolate. When he got home, my husband and I decided to have a snack of French bread, cheese and fruit. We'd got some Epoisses which is a delicious, but pungent French cheese. My son had a sniff of the Epoisses and threw up all the chocolate onto my white rug. I needed a new rug after that.
I didn't have much more success throwing parties for my son. His birthday is in December, so I couldn't do one of those easy "Hey! Let's just all go down the park and have a play and a birthday picnic" jobs. No. His parties always involved having a party indoors.
I held one at my house and vowed "never again" after continuing to find bits of food shoved in the most unlikely places for weeks afterward. After that, throwing a party for my son required hiring a venue.
We had one at Pizza Express which went pretty well, except for one girl whose mum was elsewhere having a quiet coffee, cried for what seemed like ever because she didn't want "that cheese on her pizza!" and another boy spilled his drink over himself and cried whilst the other boys teased him because he looked like he'd weed himself.
We had a Peter Pan party at the Golden Hinde which was brilliant. Except it was one of the coldest days of the year and the kids' Peter Pan, Tinkerbell and Captain Hook costumes had to be hidden under layers of winter coats, scarves, mittens and hats, and when they finally came inside to eat they were almost frozen.
One party I threw for my son was at an ice rink. My son enjoys ice skating a lot so wanted to have a skating party. I thought it was a great idea. Apart from one little hiccup where I forgot to collect his cake, the party was going very well indeed. Until one of the rink's employees came running up to me saying that one of the kids had fallen.
I skated out onto the other end of the rink where I could see one of the boys on the ice surrounded by people. Bruised knee? I hoped. Broken wrist? I didn't hope... No. It was worse. A massive cut on his forehead, bleeding profusely, definitely requiring stitches.
That was it. I never threw a party for my older son again.
At least my youngest son's birthday is at the end of May. "Hey! Let's just all go down to the park..."