Now it’s not just the conservative government who know how to organize a party. If you’re a parent of young children this is a skill you need to be hot on.
This afternoon my daughter is going to a party for one of her friends. I’m thrilled about this. There is nothing a parent loves more than sending their angelic child into a church hall on a Saturday afternoon, only for them to emerge two hours later, red faced and sweaty, clutching a plastic trumpet and charged up like Al Pacino in Scarface. Unable to sleep after having ploughed through more sugar than the Tate and Lyle factory.
That is one of the joys of hosting a kids party, just watching the fear in the parents eyes, knowing that you’ve swapped their child for a nightmare. My youngest daughter is in the party phase at the moment. There seems to be one every weekend. She’s basically a socialite now, I’m not her daddy, I’m just her driver. She’s even started sitting in the back, air-con on full blast, wearing sunglasses and sipping a Fruit Shoot, like one of the Kardashians.
It’s not easy organizing a party for your kid. It was so much simpler when I was young. You submitted names to your parents, and they filtered through the list and removed anyone who they thought was a lunatic: “Not him love, one blue Smartie and he’ll set fire to his fringe, we can’t have that.”
You then all piled into the back of your dads hatchback and went to McDonalds and sat in a boat for an hour. You were given a hat, they sang happy birthday, then it was over.
Now it’s a bit more of an event. First of all there is the understanding that children should write their own invites. This isn’t just basic admin now, this is a chance for your child to express themselves, and to be independent:
“Susie did hers in calligraphy, she added stickers, and rose petals, it was like an invite from the Queen. We need to go one better! Get a stamp made with the family crest on it, seal it with wax and have it delivered via carrier pigeon!”
Then you remember that your child is only five and takes about an hour for them to write four letters, two of which are the wrong way round. It’s painful to watch. By the time they’ve finished these invites it’s time for their next birthday.
My five year old did hers this week, Toy Story themed. On the arrival time she had written 16.00hrs. That was a bit odd, who is she inviting? The SAS? It’s a birthday party mate, you’re not going paintballing in Helmand Province, wind your neck in pal. If I see kids doing commando rolls through the doors and abseiling through the air vents I’ll know why.
There are so many places pitching for your kids’ special day now. Firstly there is the trampoline park. Which is perfect if you want that magical cocktail of vomit, slush puppy and broken collar bones. Why go home with a party bag when you can have concussion?
Then you have the wonderful world of Build a Bear. Where a child can make their own teddy bear to take home with them. How magical:
“Happy Birthday Sweetheart, ever wanted to know what child labour is like, well here we are!”
I’ve felt like turning to the staff and saying: “I’ve signed the contract, I’ll pick her back up in 18hrs, no toilet breaks!” For her 18th I’m getting her a week in the Primark factory, she’ll love that. It’s an amazing place is Build a Bear, it always makes me smile. A chance for your child to make their own teddy bear for the bargain price of thirty five pounds. Thirty five quid?!? What are they filling it with, crack cocaine? They offer you these amazing optional extras, like you’re buying a new car.
“Would you like a voice box for it? A birth certificate, have you thought of a name?”
It’s a teddy bear, I’m not re-animating a corpse! This isn’t Frankenstein. Why does it need documents? It isn’t going on the grid! Why stop there? Let’s get it a passport in case it wants to fly home to Peru. A national insurance number, enrol it in the local school. Honestly there is more admin for this bear than there was for the child I am buying it for.
Having an entertainer come along to your child’s special day is always a risk. We’ve been very lucky in the past, they’ve all been wonderful, but it’s a tough gig. As a comedian I have had my fair share of on stage nightmares, some that have been so brutal that I feel like part of my soul has evaporated, but I’d still rather take on a room full of angry builders in Hull, then ten seven year olds powered by Haribo.
Next time you have a children’s entertainer for your child’s birthday, try and stare into their eyes, you’ll be able to see their truth. It’ll be there, hidden behind the clown paint. Their real pain, they did a drama degree. Some of their friends are on stage in the west end and this is their life now. The only role they’ll ever come close to is a sausage one.
Sometimes parents opt for a Disney themed party. Frozen was always a popular choice. I remember taking my youngest daughter to one that was clearly done on a budget. It was in a social club, which are amazing places. They have been preserved in time. Polystyrene ceiling tiles, old men in the back playing snooker, a carpet that your nanna still has, and posters that say things like, “top male vocalist Bobby Benson, here next Friday!”
When I dropped my daughter off, in her brand new Elsa dress, that magical shine was soon removed when we saw Olaf hiding behind a transit van having a crafty cigarette. A plume of smoke coming out from under his carrot. He clocked my daughter and said “ooh I shouldn’t be doing this sorry!” she quickly replied, “no you shouldn’t, you’ll melt!”
A climbing party is a new one, which is becoming very popular amongst my daughters’ friends. I like the idea of these, it’s normally the parents who are climbing the walls, so it makes a change to let the child have a go. They also normally have a decent café, so you can sit back on your phone, sipping a cappuccino whilst your little darling dangles from a harness twenty feet in the air, legs flapping like a kite stuck on a pylon.
The presents have gone up a gear too. There is a pressure there. It used to be so simple. Three pound coins stuck inside a card on a strip of sellotape. If the card has come from a Grandma it should ideally be one of those that had a hand drawn footballer on the front, or a train or a sportscar, which is really relevant when you’re six years old and live in the box room. Now parents have upped their game. Lego, Barbies, LOL dolls, it’s expensive. I’ve already two children I buy the affection of, I don’t need another one.
Sometimes you have to turn down a party, because your child doesn’t want to go. That’s always tricky. You can’t be honest. These are children after all. The easiest and most painless option is to say your child is ill or you’re on holiday, then all you have to do is simply life like a hermit for the entire weekend, doing your shopping in full disguise and never looking out of your windows. It’s a bit of a sacrifice but more palatable than the truth which is, “my child actually hates yours.”
You have to remember though that to a certain extent your child’s social life depends on how well you bond with the other parents. This is something you need to realise fast. You have to find out quickly, who the key characters are, the ones you need to be in with. Basically what I’m saying is, if there is a kid there whose parents have a hot tub and a villa in Portugal, your kid needs to be their best mate.
“But I don’t like him daddy, he’s rude?”
“It doesn’t matter, I don’t like going on holiday to Skegness, so suck it up and mingle mate!”
Sometimes you get to parties and it’s a drop off. They are the best, you can just roll up, get your kid out of the car, hurl them through the fire escape and you can be in Wetherspoons within fifteen minutes. Others, you have to stay.
It’s so strange being a parent at a kids birthday party, the only connection you have with these other adults is your child.
You find yourself stood next to some random dad, just making small talk, like some sort of forced speed date. Your wife will ask you when you get home:
“How was the party?”
“Great, I spent two hours standing next to a fire escape in a church hall talking to some dad called Paul about Game of Thrones!”
You do adult chat, but in a children’s world it’s so surreal, you start reminiscing about other parties your kid has been to:
“You done the chuckle hut soft play, that’s good, great staff in there, very clean too”
“You should’ve been at Grace’s party. That was special. Her parents gave everyone Prosecco. They even laid on a buffet, M and S too! If I close my eyes, I can still taste those Chorizo bites!”
Sometimes if you’re the parents of the child who’s party it is, you have to make tea and coffee for the parents. It’s not good enough to just keep the kids happy now, you have to focus on the adults too. I’ve been in that situation. Making tea for about 30 parents. I didn’t leave that kitchen. I missed my daughter blowing her candles out, because I was stuck in there. I felt like a barista in Costa.
There is always that awkward moment when a parent brings along an older sibling who wasn’t invited, because they couldn’t get a babysitter.
“Can they come in?”
“Well yeah, they’ll have to now won’t they!”
That upsets the dynamic. Now you have this eleven year old giant smashing his way across the bouncing castle sending toddlers flying onto floor. It’s like entering a rottweiler into Cruft’s!
There is an unsaid etiquette when it comes to the party food too. All the parents know that this looks really good. But you can’t have any of it.
You stand behind your child, you push them up to the table and that’s the nearest you get to it. But there are mavericks out there who break the rules. I once saw a mum just pull up a chair, load up a plate and plough through some buffet like she was nine years old. A massive grown adult, sitting in between the little kids like Will Ferrell in Elf!
Look, all parents want to eat it, but there is a way. You have to use your kid as a conduit: “Have you finished with that Sausage roll Samuel?”
“Yes, you have haven’t you, well don’t waste it, give it to Daddy!”
“You’ve had enough now haven’t you Sophia, you’ll not want those fifteen chocolate fingers, come on then…..give them to your Daddy, I’ll deal with those!”
The whole time all you can think about is getting to those party bags. When you see the parents organising those you know it’s almost over. The best moment for a parent comes later that evening. When your child is safely tucked up in bed, shattered after a great party, and you’re downstairs on the sofa, watching The Crown and polishing off their sweets while they sleep.
You sling the cake though don’t you. It might be home made, it might look delicious, but as soon as that kid blew out those candles, it’s been baptised in bacteria. One slice of that cake will have so much DNA on it, by the time you’ve finished eating that, you’d probably be related.
Scott Bennett Comedian
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