The Restructured Birthday Party

We were living in Libya when the first little traveller turned three. At the time I must have been about five months pregnant with the third traveller, the second little traveller was ten months old. Can I just tell you I had to double check that last sentence twice before I typed it onto the page I must have been about five months pregnant, the second little traveller was ten months old. What a nut job.

Her third birthday was a joint affair. We’d made friends with a couple who had a little girl the same age, she was also their first child. This meant we were both novices when it came to birthday parties. I remember we’d planned some games. There was pass the parcel, pin the tail on the donkey and a few other old faves to keep us going. We had everyone there, in-fact everyone we’d ever met appeared to get an invite; parents, siblings, grannies of friends who were passing through – it was complete chaos.

With the swell in numbers and the average age of the participants sitting at around two and half years old, it became an exercise in crowd control. Little people ran in different directions like pacman without a goal. I’m not going to dress this up, it was excruciating. The kids were tiny and really would have been happier being left to play, but we were both first time parents far from home. We had some sort of preconceived idea in our heads that this was how parties were meant to be done. We may have been in Libya but these kids were not going to miss out. No Siree. We were going to make them line up and pin that tail on that bloody donkey whether they liked it or not. Are we all having fun? Of course you are?

A game that has to be explained, stopped, started, explained, stopped and then restarted again, kind of loses its flair after the twenty third “no no darling, pass the parcel around, pass it around, no no don’t open it, pass it around, pass it around, no paaa – oh bugger it, sure, just open it”

I was looking around for something to ease a headache in what seemed like the party’s twenty third consecutive hour when I realized it had only been running for twenty minutes. Oh god, we still had over two and half hours to go.

Ten years on and things have changed somewhat. While there’s still sugar, squealing and crowd control, my job is now performed from a distance. What’s my role? Well, the family business appears to have recently adjusted the organization chart. We’ve restructured. What was once an Event Planner/Function Manager’s position, has now moved into a Supply Chain Management and Logistics role. While it is clearly in my job description to source, obtain and distribute party supplies, there are several “hands on” tasks that have been taken from me. In fact, if I could find some way to do my job remotely, my colleagues would be more than happy.

It became apparent at last years sleepover party that G and I were no longer required to participate. We were obsolete. After twelve years of loyal service, we’d been made redundant. Yes we could lead up transportation. And yes we were still responsible for catering, and yes we could stand and shoot the breeze with other parents (as long as weren’t too embarrassing and we made it brief) – but we were to recognize those pregnant pauses in conversation. The moment when your child somehow manages to look at you and the door at the same time. You can go now.

I knew the look. I’d done it to my own parents, but did that just really happen? Did I just get the hurry up?

“Pizza’s downstairs guys.”

“Thanks Mum.”

Pregnant pause. Child looks at friends, child looks at you. Child looks towards the door.

“O’kay, we’ll see you down there then”.

G and I sat in our room smiling at the giggles coming from the spare room, the sleepover room. And then I noticed G’s face change to a look of regret “She really doesn’t need us at her parties anymore does she?”  It was another one of those milestones, the milestone you waited for without realizing what it really meant. All those parties where we would have killed for five minutes to just sit. The wish was now granted. There we were, sitting.

Yesterday I watched on as my now thirteen year old indulged in the pleasure of girls being kooky. She giggled uncontrollably at nothing. Painted shoes with material paints and glitter, decorated a collage for her room, and then practiced her dive bombs in the pool with her buddies. I appeared intermittently with more sugar and carbohydrates.

At the end of the day with ten minutes of the party to go, I settled into an inconspicuous corner by the pool and for a moment found myself mesmerized by the beauty of youth. Pure and constant energy wrapped in the essence of a natural high. My eyes stayed fixed on my own little beauty, she giggled as she bobbed around in the water, I watched her attempt a somersault and cheer on a friend. I pictured her three year old face in Libya, her seven year old face in Canada, her nine year old face in Houston and her now thirteen year old face in Qatar.

And there I was, sitting. Completely consumed by watching her be her.

“Mum, I think this will go down as one of the best birthdays ever”.

I agreed.

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