To invite the whole class or not to invite the whole class? – That is the question, and one that continues to plague parents, starting from kindergarten. Even as I write this, I am conflicted. For some children, the whole-class party may be the only party they attend for the year (that kid is always welcome). If anything, the presence of a warm, caring community with equally beautiful children makes the decision to engage twenty-something kidlets at once, all hyped up on sugar and raging with silliness almost necessary.
Everyone’s doing it. (Or so it seems). And once the momentum builds, a simple five-year-old birthday party turns into the epic event of the season. This mum invited siblings too. That mum had a clown. This mum had a clown, a disco, face painting… a unicorn. You don’t have to do this! I want to cry, easing yet another poor mum off the cliff of elaborate birthday parties. But there I am, blindly organising away – or orge-jah-nis-ing as my son would say.
Of course, I am far more savvy than those other parents. Refusing to be stung hundreds of dollars in exchange for musical statues and fart noises, as chief orge-jah-niser, I assign myself chief entertainer. As a secondary school teacher, I’m used to managing kids; these kids are just lower to the ground, and more open with their enthusiasm. Even so, the planning and preparations are all consuming. The cooking, cleaning, theme-related shopping. Lists endlessly revisited and revised. Incessant checking of weather reports.
When the day arrives, I execute my planning, beginning with the simple tried and tested Duck. Duck. Goose. A very basic game of exiting the circle; chasing the elected ‘goose’ around the circle; and sitting back down within the circle. With little need for an introduction – no need to treat pre-schoolers like… pre-schoolers – the game commences. My son exits the circle – check. He selects a ‘goose’ – check. And then – dodging an array of invisible obstacles, he improvises with an epic chase (you might say wild goose chase) down the yard. This free and unrestrained running, buoyant and playful, (accompanied by my own sense of helplessness) is reminiscent of my childhood dog, Ike, a rambunctious boxer, bounding through the air, tongue hanging out, weaving to and fro as I chase him down the yard; my barbie doll held between his great, slobbering jowly chops; (accompanied by my brother’s girlish laughter, surfacing when the humour is too great as if being held down and tickled).
With the other planned party activities following in much the same vein, we finally move onto the piñata. Boys with sticks, instructed to ‘thwack’ with all their might. The stuff of dreams. The then-pregnant me, retrieving my toddler from the front line, as he weaves in and out of the firing line, miraculously resurfacing unscathed after coming face to face with a boy swinging at the piñata with all his might, determined to make it rain.
So, my learnings are this: 1. Don’t arm kids with piñata weapons until all toddlers are secure. 2. Give the people what they want: running without purpose. 3. Respect kids’ entertainers.