When I find myself in a roomful of toddlers on E-numbers, I like to imagine they are not young children at all but pint-sized adults. Call it my coping mechanism.
This amusing diversion saved me from the brink of insanity twice last week when Elliot and I attended not one but two under-fives' birthday parties. And the brink of insanity is never far away at a kids' party.
But while observing Elliot and his little pals, imagining them as miniature grown-ups, I realised that when it comes to parties there is very little difference between adults and toddlers. Toddlers are essentially tiny drunk people.
As I observed them, swigging Fruit Shoots, charging around, pushing, crying, giggling, falling over, trashing the furniture, flailing around on the dancefloor and talking gibberish, I saw a snapshot of all the parties I've ever been to.
Even more disturbing, when I saw one little girl burst into tears because a little boy didn't want to dance with her, I saw myself (minus the smeared mascara). I had to stop myself from taking her to one side and saying, "It never gets any easier darling. They're all bastards. Get yourself another Fruit Shoot."
But the most interesting part of my social study was seeing Elliot's very different approach to the two events.
Party one: Little boy's second birthday party
Elliot marched straight into the throng with all the swagger and confidence of Russell Brand, dropping his bunny to the floor and shaking off his parka as he made a beeline for the action (first stop: a pile of gingerbread men on the buffet table), leaving me to scurry along behind him picking up the trail of discarded objects left in his wake, like his downtrodden PA.
There's always one at a party, isn't there? The one who seems that bit more drunk than the rest, the one who accidentally insults the host, heckles during the speeches, dances like nobody's watching (when everybody is), bursts into tears, spews red wine on the sheepskin rug, that kind of thing... that 'one' used to be me. On this occasion, it was Elliot. I don't know where he gets it from.
Prising toys from the birthday boy's hands, attempting to make a start on the pile of unopened presents, sucking breadsticks then putting them back in the bowl, shoving sausage rolls through the tiny windows of the birthday boy's new toy aeroplane – and the pièce de résistance? Screaming the place down just as the music stopped and the lights went down for the birthday cake moment.
I don't think I breathed out all afternoon; I've left Glastonbury feeling less frazzled. Oh well, at least I'd be fully prepared for party two, right?
Party two: Little girl's fourth birthday party
When you walk into a party of four-year-old girls with a cute little 21-month-old boy in a bobble hat, you get a taste of what it would be like to be a male stripper arriving at a Blackpool hen party.
No sooner had I closed the front door behind me, Elliot had been dragged out of his buggy, had his coat, hat and shoes removed and was being carried into a room of flashing disco lights and E-numbered-up girls.
He looked back at me pleadingly like an innocent man being carted off by the cops.
I knew this was not going to end well so I scooped him up and ferried him into the kitchen, a sanctuary for wounded and shell-shocked parents who had sneakily left their other halves abandoned by the dancefloor on disco duty.
My body was already clenched in anticipation of Elliot's whirling dervish routine. But as I chatted to various friends and acquaintances, I wasn't interrupted once. Heck, I even managed to finish my glass of Prosecco.
The little boy clinging to my leg, burying his face into the back of my knee every time anyone so much as looked at him was virtually unrecognisable as the hell-raiser from the previous bash.
I didn't know which was worse, chasing after him every two seconds to keep him out of trouble or seeing him withdraw like a frightened mouse.
Luckily, help was on hand in the form of the birthday girl's big brother, a lovely ten-year-old with impeccable manners and more patience with kids than the rest of us put together.
Having observed Elliot's nervous demeanour, he reached straight for the big guns: a packet of Haribo. Elliot willingly accepted the challenge. I don't think I could have seen a more dramatic transformation if he'd downed a pint of Vodka Red Bull.
Within five minutes he was in the middle of the dancefloor, arms aloft, throwing shapes like a 90s raver (don't know where he gets that from, either). My little party boy was back. He even took his dummy out to give the birthday girl's little sister a goodbye kiss. And Elliot removes his dummy for nobody. Only biscuits.
Then again perhaps toddlers aren't as much like drunk grown-ups as I first thought because what grown man in his right mind would be upset by walking into a party to have a bunch of pretty girls start removing his clothes at the door? I'll remind Elliot of this one day.
More:Is It Just Me?
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