Tag Archives: birthday party

Beautiful Parties Magazine Fail – Part Two

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.

neat stars

Christopher Robin was very methodical,

messy stars

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.

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Beautiful Parties Magazine Fail – Part One

So Matilda turned eight last week.  My baby girl is now officially a tween (ugh! I hate that word!).  And this year is a party year

As we have spent a good deal of Matilda’s lifetime rebuilding our house, this would be our first chance to have a proper “home party”.  And I really wanted to make it special.   Matilda and I could decide on a theme together and then I would hit Pinterest with great vigour!

So when Matilda suggested that she would most like a party in the evening, when she and her friends could eat pizza and watch a DVD, I felt a little crestfallen: it was a great idea, but it all sounded so very grown up.  Had my baby girl outgrown cupcakes and Pass the Parcel?

Matilda must have seen the expression on my face because she put her hand on my knee.  “Don’t worry Mummy,” she said soothingly, “you can still put up bunting if you want.”

I soon cheered up when I started to think about it.  The girls could wear their pyjamas and bring their favourite soft toy.  We could call it a ‘star light’ party and put up fairy lights and pretty candle lanterns and have star-shaped glitter everything!

In the week leading up to the party, I set to work getting ready.  I shopped, I made a big batch of gingerbread stars for the girls to decorate (I cut the star shapes and put them on the tray, Harry cut them and put them in his mouth); I baked a cake (Nigella Lawson’s Dense Chocolate Loaf Cake, because I was trying to channel Nigella, don’t you see?), I poured jelly into my lovely vintage-Tupperware jelly mould (ditto).  And I cleaned like you wouldn’t believe.

You see, Other Mothers would be coming to my house for the first time.  And many of these Other Mothers had not already formed (bad) impressions of how I keep house.  Yes, I know: vanity, thy name is Kate…

I have been known in the past to write out a full running sheet for my kids’ parties and I had every intention of doing the same for this one, but in the end I ran out of time and had to content myself with a sketchy timetable.  They would decorate biscuits when they arrived, then snuggle down and watch a movie with snacks and cosy blankets, eat pizza in the intermission, watch the rest of the movie, sing Happy Birthday and eat cake (and jelly!) and then go home with their lolly bags, happy and contented and full of good cheer.

I had been a little stuck on what to do for the birthday cake.  So I asked my friend, Jack Sprout (from Beautiful Parties Magazine) for advice.  And, oh, her face just lit up as her brain fired off one beautiful, creative idea after the other.  And her enthusiasm was infectious.  In a frenzy of inventive zeal, we decided on a bed-shaped cake with royal icing (the type you knead and roll out) for the cover and a tim tam for a pillow.  Then Jack almost fell over and couldn’t talk – what if I put a little crochet bedcover on top????

We both went home to think about what to do about the bed head (I deal with serious issues in my line of work).  Biscuit stick bed posts? A block of chocolate? Cardboard?  Then Jack called me on the phone: “this is probably a little over-the-top, but what about gingerbread?”

Yes, Jack, I thought, that is a little over-the-top.  I will not be making gingerbread. And I went out and bought a packet of bedpost-shaped biscuit sticks.

But I couldn’t get the idea of a cute storybook bed heads out of my own head.  With little cut-out hearts.  And then I figured I’d be making gingerbread stars anyway, and Jack had loaned me her very-cute biscuit cutters, I might as well make a bed head as well…

Incidentally, I used this excellent and very simple recipe from The Green Dragonfly.

This is the only picture I took on the night of the party and it’s not a very good one.  I’m really cross at myself for not taking any more pictures, which is why I’m probably going to be spending more time writing about this party than would be interesting to read about.

Matilda's Bed Cake

It doesn’t look as beautiful as it did in my mind.  I made a mess of the icing (how are you supposed to evenly dye that stuff?), the gingerbread got a little wonky, and I never made the tiny string of bunting I’d planned to hang between the bed posts (it would have looked so sweet!), but I did remember to put tiny teddies on the bed (after I took the photo, alas!) and Matilda was properly delighted with the whole rigmarole.

On the day of the party, we worked like crazy.  I strung up some fairy lights (from the Christmas tree) whilst Harry and Christopher Robin stuck star-shaped decorations (post-it notes) all over the house.  Matilda put lollies into little paper bags, Christopher Robin stuck star stickers on the little paper bags and Harry took the lollies out of the little paper bags and ate them.  I carefully vacuumed and put down a table cloth with the star biscuits, cachous beads and little tubes of ‘writing icing’.  I put the DVD (Disney’s Brave) into the DVD player.  Then we all put on our pyjamas (Matilda had a pretty new pair especially for the occasion).

And the little girls began to arrive.

I’m going to put an intermission in here as this is already a long post and we have a long way to go yet (oh boy, do we have a long way to go!)

But the scene is set, at least.

Beautiful Parties Magazine

Party Table

Aaah!  Let’s look at some beautiful, inspirational pictures together.  A month or so ago, my friend Jack Sprout (a lady, not an incredibly gay man) threw a birthday party for her daughter, who is a friend of Matilda’s.  As we went through mothers’ group together, I have seen many of Jack’s parties and they are always a visual feast.  But I think this rainbow-themed one was especially lovely.

babycino cakes

Ahhh!

Rainbow cupcakes

Oooh!

Ice cream station

Sigh!  This one was an icecream parlour.  At one stage in the party, the icecream came out, at all the little girls chose toppings and sprinkles.  It was a winner!

pom poms

Mmmmm… I know, deep down, that I could never execute a party on this scale.  But this doesn’t worry me. It makes my creative brain happy to know that something this beautiful is happening somewhere in the world.  I never feel jealousy or competition towards Jack because she doesn’t do these things to compete with other mums (if it was, it would kind of be like breaking through the finish line and then going on to do twenty-seven victory laps). I suspect she gets a beautiful creative idea in her head (or sees something lovely on the internet) and it fills her with manic energy that drives her to make it happen.  She has such lovely taste.

Birthday cake

I don’t know if you’re thinking what I was thinking when I saw this cake.  It’s definitely beautiful and the little garland of circles (made with a sewing machine) is just darling, but – I don’t know – isn’t it a little understated for Jack?

Rainbow Cake

Oh I should have known!  And it was yummy too!

So, while I would never put in the level of preparation Jack does, going along to this party did get me thinking about what I was going to do when Matilda turns 8.

More on that presently (or not-so-presently, depending on when I next get alone-time on the computer!)