All right. Intermission over. So the house was clean and decorated and everything was in place for Matilda’s Star Light Pyjama 8th Birthday Party. Hmm. Might have been quicker if the whole of the last post was condensed into that last sentence (at least, that’s what I can hear my older brother saying in my head – damn you, Greg!)
Here are some pictures I took the morning after of the boys’ decorating efforts with the aforementioned star-shaped post-it notes.
Christopher Robin was very methodical,
While Harry let it all hang out.
I was feeling a little nervous about the whole thing. The party was to begin before Mr Knightley came home from work and while I had hoped Jan or Cindy (my sisters) might have been able to offer some moral support, it was the beginning of a busy long weekend and they were all booked up. But I could manage, yes sir, no problem. For I am Supermum.
When the guests started to arrive, the parents tended to remain on the (neatly swept) doorstep, and so did not get the opportunity to come in and marvel at the glory of my fully mopped and vacuumed home. But no matter. I reassured one of the mothers that the children would not be playing outside after dusk (her daughter is allergic to mosquito bites…) whilst another mum was staying to help look after her daughter, Matilda’s firm friend Phoebe , who has high-functioning autism.
There was a moment, as I stood in my dressing gown, while ten little girls exclaimed and fussed and became completely absorbed in decorating gingerbread stars, each on their own labelled paper bag, in an orgy of coloured sprinkles and cachous beads, there was a moment when I felt completely smug. I had made it as a mother. Some of the biscuits were pretty little works of art, while others were science experiments in the icing load carrying capacity of the biscuit, but every little girl was happily engaged and so was Christopher Robin (Harry was steadily eating one biscuit after the other – I hadn’t noticed and he knew he was onto a good thing).
Soon it was time to put the movie on. There was no snuggling under blankets as it was still 35 degrees outside, but the girls happily plonked down on the couches and bean bags and jostled good-naturedly (ish) for position. Within the first five minutes, several of the girls loudly announced all of the major plot points, taking care to elucidate on any particular surprise twists that we might not yet have been aware of. Informative. As I scrambled to prepare popcorn, Mr Knightley arrived home from work and I promptly despatched him to get pizza, with instructions to buy extra, as the girls had already demolished two large bowls of popcorn, a tube of Pringles and a large bag of chips in no time at all.
I think it was around this point that everything started to go wrong. Several of the girls decided they’d had enough movie watching for the present and quickly got up and went outside; the rest of the party followed, tripping along as daintily as a small herd of baby rhinoceros. In retrospect, it was unwise to plan so much of the party around watching a film, with no back-up activities should the movie fail to impress.
“You can’t expect kids to sit still and watch a movie – that’s not a party.” commented one wholly unsympathetic girlfriend the next day, echoing the voice in my head.
“Thanks for the tip, Captain Hindsight!”, I exclaimed in response (in my mind, a few hours later).
I watched helplessly as ten girls and two small boys jumped in unison on one trampoline, nervously eyeing the sun as it crept closer to the horizon (mosquitoes: remember?).
When Mr Knightley arrived with the pizza, the girls gathered around enthusiastically, shrieking and jostling and having shouty conversations as they ate (but they didn’t eat that much, for all that – we had heaps left over and it wasn’t long before the girls were looking for the next diversion. I was beginning to wonder if Matilda set strict limits on attention spans in her criteria for choosing friends – or maybe I’m just getting all old and out-of-touch).
I don’t know if it was all the noise in a confined space, the sky-high excitement levels or the fact that there was no more orange fizz, but all of the frustration and stimulation-overload became too much for poor Phoebe and she launched stridently into what Matilda calls “one of Phoebe’s meltdowns”.
I was really glad that Phoebe’s mum had hung around and that she knew how to best deal with the situation. Up until this point, I had regretted the presence of this grown-up witness to my abject failure as a party-planner, but now I watched with humble respect as she set to work diffusing and containing Phoebe’s noisy angst as she must have done countless times before.
It was at this point, as I optimistically put the movie back on, that the doorbell rang. No, I must be honest with you, it was a little earlier than this point in real life, but the story flows so much better if we pretend it was at this point. So let’s pretend. I hope you don’t mind.
It was at this point (*wink*) that the doorbell rang. And there, in my hour of need, standing on the doorstep having arrived heroically on a white horse (or in a white Ford Festiva, I can’t remember which), was Cindy who had decided to arrive late to her other engagement so that she could help out at her niece’s party.
When the film ended (much earlier than I anticipated), Cindy politely asked me to stop weeping and kissing her feet and then set to work running some games around the table whilst I prepared the cake. Cindy has a lot of experience running children’s camps and is completely undaunted presenting icebreaker activities to a group of rowdy girls with no time at all to prepare. Handy to have, in the way of party helpers, I must say. After a couple of different games, it became apparent that what Phoebe would want, more than anything in the world, would be to present her magic show to the girls.
So Cindy got the audience ready and, after a couple of false starts, was underway, bantering confidently with the audience in the way she had rehearsed, delivering a show with so much flourish and panache, that it took me a while to work out that she hadn’t actually learnt any tricks. But something magic was happening. The girls, who had eschewed Walt Disney’s multi-million dollar computer-animated offering, were now giving Phoebe their full attention, clapping and cheering heartily at every ‘ta-da’ (the ball has disappeared because I threw it over my shoulder) moment. They were not being patronising, either. They were supporting their friend.
By the time we’d sung happy birthday, eaten cake, waved glow sticks about and demolished the Nigella jelly, we still had ten minutes to fill before the parents arrived. Ten minutes can be a very long time when dealing with a group of restless and overexcited little girls and Cindy had left for the other party. In the end, it was Mr Knightley who came up with the solution, and though I’m not proud of it, I’ll tell you what we did.
Now, please don’t write me angry letters, I know it was inappropriate, but Mr Knightley has hooked up our TV so it can play YouTube clips, and he put the music video for Gangnam Style on for the girls’ entertainment. Accordingly, the parents arrived, crunching across a floor carpeted with popcorn, cachous beads, sprinkles and pizza topping into a room strewn with spent juice boxes and gobs of pink jelly to find their daughters bouncing up and down on the couches and singing “Heeeeeey SEXY LADY!”
Not my finest hour.
After we waved away the last of the party guests, Mr Knightley and I flopped down on the couch. “We survived!”, he croaked, then I think he fell asleep.
As I sat there, I reflected that Matilda and her friends were not so grown up after all, and that this was far from being a bad thing. Matilda came and sat on my lap, putting her arms around my neck, “Thank you SO MUCH, Mummy!”, she exclaimed with starry eyes, “It was all so wonderful! I can’t believe you VACUUMED for me!”
And, just like that, it was all worth it.