“For my eldest daughter’s first birthday party, I invited 30 friends and family and made a cake straight out of the Women’s Weekly Cake book. For my third child’s birthday, I stuck a sparkler in a banana muffin and invited precisely zero guests to help celebrate.”
For my eldest daughter’s first birthday party, I invited 30 friends and family, laboured over the invites for weeks (and posted them out. With actual stamps) and make a cake straight out of the Women’s Weekly Cake book. For my third child’s birthday, I stuck a sparkler in a banana muffin and invited precisely zero guests to help celebrate.
Let’s just say I’ve learned a thing or two over the years, yet there are still some strange and inexplicable aspects about these parties that I will never quite figure out.
1. At some point, all the parents will disappear
From the ages of zero to four, a parent will stick like glue to their child at a party. If you’ve invited 10 kids, you need to double your catering to accommodate parents. But as soon as the child turns five, the parents pretty much disappear. Is it because they’re toilet trained? At school? But it’s kind of weird when you think about it.
Monday-Friday we bang on about stranger danger and avoiding the (possibly poisonous) lollies they have to offer. But come the weekend, we’re all like Off you go into the house of someone I don’t really know but has a kid in the same class so must be okay. Enjoy the cake! Don’t eat too many lollies! See you in two hours!
It’s weird, right. So weird that I decided to write a book in which I posed the question – how could a parent manipulate this situation to their advantage? In After the Party, one of the mums exploits the relative anonymity of a large fifth birthday party by abandoning her child at the bash. Yep, she drops her off and never comes back to collect her. She has her reasons, but still… My point is, when you host a big party, you can’t really be sure who you’re letting in the door, just as the parents of the guests can’t really be sure of what lies behind yours.
2. Drop-off welcome doesn’t mean what you think it does
This relates to the point above. Yes, parents will disappear and that will largely be a welcome thing because it means you don’t have to feed them or make small talk and you can focus on the people that really need your attention – the kids. Drop-off welcome is code for Please don’t stay, unless your child is a nightmare.
3. Pinatas never work in the way they’re supposed to
It just seems like so much fun, doesn’t it? Kids releasing some of that pent-up aggression by having whack after whack at this harmless little papier mache thing that eventually explodes with a waterfall of lollies. Fun all round.
Except it never works that way. Either one of three things happens. An eye gets taken out by an over-zealous whacker with terrible aim. The unicorn/rainbow/dinosaur fails to spontaneously explode and the kids get RSI from too much whacking until the parent takes things into their own hands and rips the thing apart, then nearly gets tackled in the unfolding scene of kids scrabbling on the ground like crazed rabbits. Alternatively, the unicorn/rainbow/dinosaur explodes on first hit, leaving a bunch of extremely disappointed kid who desperately wanted to have a crack. In ten years of kids parties, I’ve only had one that worked well – and that was because we used the broken t-bar off a broken scooter to attack it. Seems it’s all about the implement.
4. An impressive cake is actually very cheap and easy
The Australian Women’s Weekly Children’s Birthday Cake Book is an institution. I’ve loved it since I was a child. But now that I’m a parent, that cake-train on the cover has haunted my dreams. Every year, my kids leaf through it and ask in hope if I can make the duck with popcorn feathers and a chip mouth. No, I cannot. I’m a writer. I don’t sculpt cake into ducks, but I’m a dab-hand with a piping bag and can do a heart-shaped cake covered in rosettes that never fails to impress both adults and children. Here’s the truth about cakes. Kids don’t appreciate the effort. You could take a shop-bought sponge, coat it in shop-bought icing, slather it in hundreds and thousands or lollies and the kids would go nuts. Whole thing would take five minutes to make.
5. It’s the host that does the thanking
After my daughter’s first birthday party, I got about zero thank yous. Instead, I found myself doing the thanking for the gifts. I found this strange as I’d been brought up to believe that if you went to someone’s house for a meal or a party, then it was up to you as the guest to acknowledge the effort made by the host by thanking them. After all, the host has done invites, cooking, cleaning and cake making. All the guest has done is turn up with a twenty buck gift. I know which I’d prefer to be.
6. Pass the parcel takes an hour to make, and three minutes to destroy play
Don’t let this deter you. So many things about childhood have changed, but know this: the games you played as a kid are still fun for today’s children. What’s different is how you remember them – you remember pass-the-parcel going for aaaaaages, because you were waiting your turn to rip open the wrap. It doesn’t.
7. Your party bags may cause other parents to hate you
Putting too many lollies into party bags means you are essentially sending a sugar-zombie back home to their parents. A few sweets is fine. Some plastic tat if you must. Just don’t go overboard. Oh, and don’t go giving the kids really expensive things like Smiggle pencil cases because it just sets the bar too high for the rest of us.
8. At-home parties are more stressful but more memorable
The phrase no-pain no-gain apply just as equally to exercise as they do to kids parties. Yes, hosting at home means much more work and stress and potential for things to go wrong. But that’s why you’ll remember them because sometimes the worst parties make for the best memories.
Cassie Hamer is a Sydney-based writer and author. Her novel ‘After the Party’ is published by HQ fiction.
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