August 25, 2011

My Dark Secret

I have a confession to make: I hate hate hate birthday parties. I consider myself a fairly good mother in other ways, but organizing and hosting birthday parties for my kids isn't one of them.

I hate having to listen to Impatience and Sunshine chattering about their birthday plans most of the year (I strictly ban all birthday talk directly after the birthday but invariably it resumes about a month later, with eleven months to go).

I hate having to plan so far ahead to find a suitable date and possibly a venue for the event.

I hate having to get invitations out to everyone.

I hate organizing all the little stuff you need on party day, like paper plates, forks, napkins, etc. etc. Where other mothers love to spend weeks planning table decorations and the contents of the goodie bags, I find myself rushing through the house and grabbing the essentials last-minute on the way out the door. And when the day is finally done and all the presents unwrapped and sugared-up kids tucked in bed, I’m usually as exhausted as if I’d paddled upstream and against the wind for an entire day.

Of course I didn’t anticipate all this when having children. The first few parties were actually kind of cute, when there were just one or two every year. Being a perfectionist, I threw myself at them full-force, creating cute little invitations, party props, and cakes. In fact, I'm glad I took these pictures over the years, otherwise even I myself wouldn't believe how many cool birthday cakes and props I've created.



My first birthday cake ever. Full disclosure: This being Singapore, my Filipino maid helped!

Zax's 3rd birthday. Can anybody guess his passion at age 3?

My crowning achievement in birthday props, made from moving cartons

The Titanic (see the iceberg?) was another one of Zax's passions

I think this one was for Jabulani...

...complete with fire engine prop


I remember spending quite some time with this one


Maybe you will find it hard to believe that I didn't enjoy making all these cakes, and it's true. When pushed, and at the 11th hour, I usually get energized enough to crank out good stuff. But as time passed, the novelty subsided. Or maybe by now I'm simply worn out. I also should have thought about the fact that when you crank out kids, German-precision-style, in August of every second year, you will be saddled with lots of birthday parties every August. (You might now wonder what happened every November the year before – going back through our photo albums reveals that several company incentive trips to Hawaii are to blame).


The first time I solicited outside advice from Family Fun


Lest you think I only did boy cakes!

Here in South Africa, birthday parties are especially lavish affairs. Or maybe just here in ritzy Dainfern, where the urge of keeping up with the Joneses seems to be programmed into every mother’s DNA. When your child turns thirteen, it is very common to invite the entire grade of 70-plus kids into your house and host a disco-cum-crazy-pool-party which, trust me, invariably involves a lot of sweeping and mopping up the next day, and maybe a burst eardrum in the bargain. If the thought of that invokes nightmares in you, as it does with me, you always have the option of choosing another venue and coughing up big bucks for the rental of facilities and disc jockey. Jabulani was upset with me last year for not letting him go to a party of a girl I had never met and whose parents I didn’t know, who had boasted to her classmates that her party cost R60,000 or some otherworldly sum, and where the gift bags reportedly were actual gym bags filled with designer clothes.

Thank God two of our kids are now teenage boys who could care less about pretty invitations let alone a color scheme and who are perfectly happy to SMS their friends three days ahead of time for a low-key movie and sleepover. But that still leaves the girls. You might remember that my new strategy is to pick a place where I can at least take plenty of action pictures and later write about it in my “Around Joburg” column, which landed us at JoziX for Sunshine’s party in June. So this time up, for Impatience’s turn, was Avalanche, an artificial ski slope right here in Joburg at Cedar Square (which I’ll write more about in my next post).

The one good thing about Impatience’s obsession with birthday planning is that she, well, plans ahead. I can leave a good deal of all the pre-birthday stuff to her, like designing and printing the invitations and – get this – actually handing them out to her classmates. That would have never worked with Zax, where I regularly find such things as birthday invitations or Valentine’s greetings, even report cards, crumpled up in his backpack – together with the occasional moldy ham sandwich – months later.  But Impatience is very organized (if she ever becomes more patient I might concede to a blog name change to that effect – any suggestions?). The notebooks in her school bag are sorted by the order of her subjects, and her homework entries are color-coded. How this could have sprung from the same family as the fifteen-year old whose method of organization is to shove every single piece of paper he’s ever been given at school into his closet next to the hockey stick and smelly shin guards is a mystery to me.

But I digress. I was told to book Avalanche way in advance, because apparently their party slots go quickly, and so I did. I also ordered the birthday cake, feeling pleased with myself, and remembered to pick it up on party day. But that was the extent of my planning. In my defense, we were leaving for Zanzibar the very next morning and I had to finish packing and doing all those other things one usually does on the last day before a trip, so the party was not exactly on the top of my mind. “Just grab the cake and get out the door” were my thoughts when it was time to leave. We were also taking two friends with us, plus Sunshine, and the chatter of four very excited girls did not exactly help my focused thinking. I managed to grab some napkins and paper plates, some chips and grapes and a plastic bowl, and then I froze. Candles! I didn’t buy any candles for the cake! Fortunately, cheap as I am, I had kept Sunshine’s candles (I mean, you only use about 0.5% of these every time you light them because they get blown out immediately!) so I raced back upstairs while everyone was already in the car and grabbed those pretty silver candles out of the drawer. Alas, there were only ten of them, which had worked for Sunshine who had turned nine. But I needed eleven! What to do? This is what fellow blogger “4 kids, 20 suitcases, and a beagle” might call a MacGuyver parenting moment. I searched my brain frantically on what I might have that passes for another birthday candle, and sure enough came up with the perfect solution: Ages ago we had been to one of those places where the kids get to make their own candles by dipping a wick into wax, and the resulting gold-colored candles (which I’d also kept in an obscure cabinet) were slim enough to pass for birthday candles. And you know what? I even came up with the perfect cover story. “Ten silver candles,” I said, “and one golden one in the middle because it’s your golden birthday.” She had been going on and on about the golden birthday (I must admit it’s kinda cool, turning 11 on the 11th of the month in the year 11) so you might imagine how pleased I felt with this perfect solution.

I had another brief moment of panic while we were driving to the party and Impatience asked me whether I had brought any goodie bags. Of course I hadn’t! Goodie bags are another thing I hate – getting OR making them. But it turns out Avalanche bailed me out on that one. There waiting for us was a table beautifully decorated in pink and purple tones (how did they know?) with goodie bags all ready for the taking. I didn’t have to do a thing. I must say I had a bit of party envy when glancing at the next table, where a mother AND father were busy setting out sandwich platters, tiered platters filled with delicious brownies, and a swirly lollipop wrapped in cellophane and cute ribbons on every child’s plate. It made my two plastic bowls of grapes and chips look a bit sad. Then they proceeded to take pictures of their beautiful creation, which reminded me that I had totally forgotten my own camera, somewhat hindering my plan to take cool sledding action pictures for my blog. Well, you’re going to get some action pictures taken with my phone, but they will be a bit blurry, plus they might actually be of other people’s kids because by the time the shutter snapped on my old phone my own kids were already safely at the bottom of the hill.



It gave me some satisfaction to see the other table wrap up their beautiful platters untouched and taking several trips to lug them back to the car. All of our kids were way too busy to actually spend any time at the table, and the party was a big success.

But I still hate them.

5 comments :

Juli said...

Sine, this post is AWESOME! I literally enjoyed every single second I spent reading through it.

Plus, it made me kinda glad to know, I helped you with at least one birthday party about 5-6 years ago :)

Sine said...

Haha, thanks! But now I'm intrigued - when and where? Which of the cakes? Raleigh? Wisconsin?

Stephanie said...

I feel your pain! I am enroute to a birthday party right now and just spent all day cooking for my mother in law to come over tonight for her birthday. Tomorrow is another party and we've said no to three in the past month. I don't like the lavish affairs and try to keep it simple but like you said that's hard to do whether it be here or in the USA. I hate the gift bag thing -- so ridiculous and at my kids age filled with sugary sweet crap I don't want them eating!

Sine said...

It probably turns out we all hate them and are just doing them because everyone else is - maybe we should just have a huge giant mom powwow and vote against sugary sweet crap and over the board parties!

W. A. Jeffrey said...

I'm with you on this one. I never liked birthday parties and the couple I had as a kid I hated every minute of. I like presents and cash but I don't like having a bunch of guests around. Unless there was a family get together around the same time I didn't even have a party because I didn't have any friends.