In my head, the toddler party would be a fun affair. There would be party games (played according to the rules and winners would graciously accept prizes), a healthy-but-not-too-healthy spread of food, and a sea of happy, contented 3-year-old faces. I would be wonderfully organised and produce homemade food for adults and children without breaking a sweat. It didn’t matter we had only moved into our house three mere weeks previously. What a great opportunity for a housewarming.
My daughter decided upon a pirate party. In that moment, I felt like I’d nailed parenting. Come on all you other mothers. Pull up a chair and watch me parent. Firstly, my child had chosen a theme that broke gender boundaries. I was proud she’d stood up against gender bias and shunned a princess/fairy/pink-themed party. Secondly, I was utterly relieved that she’d chosen a theme with readily available decorations, paper plates and party bag favours from supermarkets and a well-known internet auction site. This was going to be easier than I thought.
I Pinterested like my life depended on it and planned fun activities, including a treasure hunt with gold chocolate coins and sweetie beads as pirate booty; a Walk The Plank challenge and a ring toss game involving a garish parrot. I ordered a stash of pirate hats, eye patches and plastic telescopes to hand out on arrival and I planned to create pirate ships out of hot dogs. My husband refused to dress as Captain Hook, telling me it was going too far. Fine.
Slight sticking point was the cake. Baking has never been my strong suit. Memories of creating a birthday cake for my husband a few years ago were still painfully fresh. As the cake refused to relinquish the tin, the cake had to be served in the tin and then scraped out. It weighed roughly the same as a baby elephant and had an unusual sandy texture. Yum. I googled phrases such as “easy pirate cake” and “pirate cakes for novice baker” and the results looked beyond my capabilities. I know my limitations and threw money at the problem. An elaborate personalised pirate ship cake was ordered on the website of a shop that can only be described as a British institution. Handy when you can order a life-saving cake and a pack of five basic knickers.
Planning the adult food was easy. Pulled pork in rolls and a vat of coleslaw, plus enough prosecco and beer to sink a pirate ship. It could all be done in advance and heated on the day. It was at this point I started pondering a career in party planning. They do say pride comes before a fall.
The morning before the party all was going well. Skull and crossbones balloons were inflated and hung, party games were arranged in place and the party girl was extremely excited about her party. Her 1-year-old sister, however was not on her best form. She woke up from her morning nap and decided the only place where she wouldn’t scream blue murder was perched upon my hip. Each time I thought I was safe to lower her to the ground, the tears and squawking would start again. None of the usual tricks worked: her beloved stuffed giraffe; her favourite cartoon on TV; not even a desperate biscuit solved the wailing. My husband and I decided it was teething issues and dosed her up with the purple elixir that is liquid paracetamol, and this improved slightly. She was banished to her cot for a second power nap before the party guests arrived.
At the stroke of 2pm, several guests arrived at once. In the commotion of adults and toddlers arriving in the pouring rain, a couple of party games were decimated, but this was no big deal in the grand scheme of things. It seemed incredible that a few extra people in the house could make it seem so much smaller and so much hotter. We played the party games and there was no sense of good sportsmanship with these children. There were cries of “that’s not fair” and “I don’t want to play this game”.
As if demonstrating some kind of sixth sense, the 1-year-old rose from her slumber just as I was starting to prepare the food. Unfortunately, she was in no better mood despite snoozing. Trying to heat pork for 18 adults and serve party food to 10 under-5s, whilst balancing an unreasonable baby, is an arduous and sweat-inducing feat. What doesn’t really help is the older generation all suggesting what might be wrong with her. Approximately fourteen ideas later (including “too many people”, “wind”, “relies on her mother too much”) culminated in my patience being far shorter than normal. My husband can testify to this fact, after he asked if he could help. He couldn’t take the baby as she screamed louder when he outstretched his arms; so he ended up being in charge of serving up the food, despite having had no input to the menu whatsoever. He did well, apart from serving the coleslaw in a big plastic box instead of decanting it into a serving bowl.
Surprisingly, post-cake (which was tremendous and fed around four times the number of people that we had in the room), spirits ran high. Not only did the spirits run, but the children did too. Round and round, booting anything that happened to be in the way (furniture, toys, crawling babies). It was like a crazed gaggle of geese being chase by a fox. A lot of honking and flapping. The house looked like it had vomited its insides. By the time we had three children harmonising tantrums, people began to slowly leave, clutching my carefully planned party bags and overtired wee ones. Parents were praying that the kids were tired enough to sleep well that night but not so tired that they succumbed to the danger nap in the car.
Finally the only people left were the child-free couples, who mainly looked shell-shocked by the entire affair. To these people, the party looked utterly terrifying. A glimpse into their child-bearing future. They were quiet as they left, probably planning lifelong contraception.
My husband and I looked around the dishevelled house and vowed then and there that we would book the local village hall for next year. And an entertainer. And probably a cleaner.
Oh, and remember how smug I was about the pirate theme? This year, she has decided she wants a My Little Pony party. A big pink fluffy My Little Pony party. Part of me is disappointed she hasn’t gone for superheroes or the like, but the other half of me is punching the air at the thought of easily sourced party decorations. Every cloud and all that.