I don’t want to be a kill-joy, obviously, but I’ve always found celebrations one of the most stressful aspects of bringing up children. I’m an introvert, which means I’m great at speaking to a group (I’m in control, there’s a structure and a start and end point) and I love a night out at the pub with friends and even parties, but only as long as I can escape when I want to. I’m the sort of person who spends more time socialising one-to-one with old friends who know me and I can be fairly sure there’s nothing left about me to find out which will disappoint them. I love it when other people invite me to lavish celebrations, but the thought of throwing a party/organising a big get-together myself fills me with fear and dread, it always has. What if nobody comes? How on earth do you actually do it?
Top of my list of stressful celebrations are birthday parties, and here’s the thing: (I never realised this before having children) you have to have birthday parties for your kids. I’ve got four children, they have their birthdays in two sets, very close together: there’s the September/October couple and then the January/February couple. I have always felt very grateful that they are not spread out, one birthday every three months, otherwise I would never be able to fully relax. As it is, from early October onwards I feel enormous relief, that’s that done for the year! About mid-January I start stressing-up again and then from early February it’s another big sigh of relief, phew, now I can relax and forget about birthday parties forever.
Is that an awful admission?
Of course I’m aware of how I am, and I do a lot of self-talk around birthday times: ‘Enjoy your child’s birthday party! Don’t miss it! Don’t just try and get through it! Be present! Look at their little faces!’ but still, I am very relieved when it’s all over and it didn’t go horribly wrong.
I would never throw a birthday party for myself; that would be my idea of hell. I did send out an invite to friends to meet me in the pub on my Fiftieth, but that was because a good friend bullied me into it and made me do it, with check-ups and threats and the promise to be with me there right from the start to hold my hand.
As my children have grown up, I have become increasingly relieved that our house is just too small to host a teenage birthday party. Shame, but there it is. My daughter had her sixteenth birthday party at a friend’s house and I am forever grateful to those parents, although I had a brief stab of regret that I couldn’t do that for her. Very brief.
I was pondering all this last week because my third son set off for a three-month trip to Japan and spent his final evening having a celebration meal at a friend’s house, not with his family. To be fair, Sunday evening was the only time every one of his siblings could make it to have a meal all together, so we sort of combined it with Mothers Day and did it then. I confessed to him that I felt a bit guilty that I’m not the sort of mother to throw huge parties and invite loads of people, I’m a bit low-key, I would find it terrifying, and he said ‘Me too Mum! That would be really embarrassing, please never do that!’ He was just grateful that I’m casual enough not to mind that he was going off to a friend’s house on his last evening, because they cook really good curries there apparently.
So there you go. Next time I start feeling guilty that I’m not the sort of person who is capable of throwing big lavish celebrations, I must just remember that none of my children has actually ever asked for one.