I remember when I was a kid, birthday parties were the talk of the school yard. We’d stand still when someone had small envelopes in their hand, hoping to be one of the chosen ones.
We’d be forced to wear our smartest, scratchiest clothes and we’d turn up at a hall or someone’s house. We’d eat too much, run around a lot and we’d have a brilliant time. Someone would inevitably end up eating too many cakes and throw up. If we were really lucky, when we left we’d be handed a bag holding a mashed up bit of cake, and occasionally a balloon. Parties were fun because it was about spending time with our friends.
Since I've had children of my own, things seem to have changed. I was clueless about this until my eldest child was three and started being invited to these things. We’d go, and my son would cling to my leg while some lunatic of a parent would attempt to herd three year olds into playing a civilised game of pass-the-parcel or musical statues.
I have four children now, so I’ve seen it all. Parents want their precious child’s party to be bigger and better than that-kid-from-down-the-road’s. The fear of being shown up is foremost in every mind when a birthday approaches.
For years now I have observed these social events with an open mind, and tried to learn from everybody else’s mistakes. I’ve seen it all; from the children fighting over prizes, to the tensed-up mothers having screaming matches.
I stand in the corner of yet another hall. There are sandwiches and cake trodden into the flooring, tables and chairs everywhere and the remaining adults and birthday child look as if they have run a marathon. I wave goodbye and exit rapidly.
Climbing into the front seat of my car, I reflect on yet another party; one in a series of many, yet they get easier to cope with as time goes on. I slip the folded cheque into my pocket and turn the ignition. Jumping Janie does it again.