1. At the previous year’s party, declare to anyone who will listen that you are never doing this again. The cost, the time, the hassle, all for two hours of mayhem in which your ungrateful four/ five/ six year old will play with the same three children they would have played with if you’d just had them round to your house for jelly and ice cream.
2. Go to lots of other children’s birthday parties, all of which have been organised much, much better than yours will ever be. Admire the beautiful invitations, sent out at least two months in advance. Marvel over their party bags, carefully crafted with seemingly every individual child in mind. Gaze in gobsmacked awe at the bloody impressive princess/ rocket/ ice queen homemade cakes, constructed with love. Hope your own child is too young to count up the number of hours that you, as opposed to Waitrose, have spent on their own cake.
3. Attempt to persuade your children that they don’t really want a party. This year, child 1 happily agreed to the bribe of a sleepover rather than a proper party in a hall and planned many hours of Star Wars/ pirate/ knights/ anything that involves a weapon themed merriment. Child 2 was horrified. ‘But I’ve been to all my friends’ parties, Mummy, now they want to come to mine.’ Agree to a party, driven by the guilt that child 1 has had a party every year of his life. Realise this is a vicious circle you might never get out of.
4. Empty your bank account, and hand its contents over to a party entertainer, hall hire, food, tat for party bags, party bags, and a fancy dress costume for each child. Mutter darkly about how you just had a few kids over for jelly and ice cream and you were happy – no, bloody ecstatic – with that when you were five.
5. Referee your children’s total inability to agree on a theme or party entertainer. Explain to a distraught child 2 that really, it isn’t fair to have Elsa at a joint party with her brother, and that he has to have a say too. Ignore the ensuring indignation and tell them its Mr Marvel or nothing.
6. Break the news to your children that they can only invite ten children each. This is totally fine with child 1, who invites his best friend and then all the children he plays with at lunchtimes. It means much writing of names and crossing out from child 2, who wants to invite everyone in both reception classes. Feel guilty about the children who have invited her to their parties that you won’t be able to invite to hers; you have no idea of the etiquette. Is it like weddings; are return invites expected? Will she be blacklisted from all parties in the future? Decide she’ll have to be if so; the thought of two separate parties could give you a nervous breakdown and much debt.
7. Have a little stress over the combination of party entertainer/ hall hire. Resign yourself to never getting both the hall you want and the entertainer you want on the same day at the same time. Remind yourself that children wouldn’t notice if you held it in the toilet, as long as there was party food and balloons.
8. Order printed invitations because you can’t face all that writing out. Wait impatiently for printed invitations because, really, you ordered them far too late. Curse them when they arrive for being wrong, and yourself for ordering them so late you have no time to change them. Force children to write names on invitations themselves. Children are all enthusiastic about this for the first two, and then whinge. Lecture them on the time/ money/ effort you’ve spent on this party and how all you are asking them to do is write a few names. Children are entirely unmoved by this. You write the bloody things youself.
9. Lose track entirely of who’s coming and who’s not coming. Pretend the party isn’t happening for as long as you are able, and then reluctantly total up attendees and non attendees when absolutely forced so you can order party bags. Think dark thoughts about people who don’t respond, and then apologise in your head when they respond at the last minute and tell you their grandma was in hospital. Think even more dark thoughts about people who respond at the last minute and don’t offer any reasonable excuse. Remind yourself that your children’s party is only at the centre of their universe and everyone else, while grateful for the two hours’ respite the party will afford them, are thinking their own dark thoughts about the cost of presents and what the hell you buy a five year old you’ve never met in your life.
10. Find child 2 in floods of tears over the child she can’t believe she forgot to invite and who she now can’t imagine the party without. Wonder how to phrase this to the mother without making it sound like she just didn’t like the child enough in the first place or that you’ve had cancellations. (I hadn’t; child 2 was genuinely distraught over this omission) Text the mother, who is fortunately someone you know reasonably well and entirely lovely, and explain.
11. The day before, have a panic about the fact that you haven’t done the sodding party bags, or thought about the food; feel grateful that at least you organised the books that will go in the party bags beforehand. Your children pretend some enthusiasm for books in party bags but really they’re thinking, ‘but where’s the plastic tat?’ Sometimes having an English teacher mother is a drawback. Put in four extra party bags just in case you’ve forgotten a guest (or several) and feel some inner fury about the world that we live in that has even you gendering the party bags. Rebel against it and make some pirate bags for girls, which they will hate and secretly (or not so secretly) long for the Disney princess ones instead.
12. Have a row with your husband about the fact that you’ve done everything. Ignore that he offered to help several times and you, martyr like, declared, ‘no, no, I’m totally on top of it all.’
13. Hand over more money to the supermarket. Spend the morning of the party, Cinderella like, in the kitchen making a million sandwiches that the children won’t eat.
14. Have the party. Leave Mr Marvel entirely and totally in charge. Smile fondly at everyone having an amazing time and your children playing with the same three children they play with every day, but this time with the benefit of a magician and disco. And snow at the end of ‘Let It Go.’ Declare you’ll never, ever do this again. And pretend you can’t hear your child planning next year’s party.