A close approximation of hell

Dread does a funny thing. Usually, when I dread something, it tends to surprise me. Tends to turn out more fun, more interesting, or simply more bearable than I expected. Of course, most things are pretty much tolerable, and dread simply blows their potentially intolerableness so out of proportion that they’re not going to be that bad. Except for this.

A one-year-old’s birthday party, at some kiddie party venue somewere near Bothasig, in the middle of a deadline frenzy that hasn’t let up since some time in June. I’m beginning to wonder whether I’m the most un-fun child-hating killjoy parent in the world. But really, it was worse than expected. A dungeon of a venue, all painted a sort of Smurf blue. Fenced-in play areas with plastic balls littering the floor, and kiddie-sized slides and cushions and bouncy castles and jungle gyms. I guess it’s fun if you’re a kid. Maybe it was the ongoing high-pitched drone of the bouncy castle, but I was counting down til hometime.

There were the little plastic tables, laid out with paper boxes, each with a kid’s name on it. I have to admit to a feeling of secret glee when Kolya trundled over to someone else’s box to ferret around for Flings. What is this obsession with teaching kids propriety from the earliest age? This box has your name on it, and your meted-out ration of Party Stuff in it. The actual contents of the box are a bit dreary: a marshmallow fish, a packet of flings, a fizzer, some sweets in a packet. The kids who were old enough to already understand this all-hallowed notion of Mine peered curiously into the boxes. What is in here for me? Those that hadn’t quite grasped it ignored the boxes, or simply went for whatever grabbed their attention. I wondered: Why not have a tray on the table so that kids can choose and share? Is it about avoiding mess? Is it about avoiding negotiation? What is the point of all this individually boxed stuff? Is this useful?

(I saw this at the park a few days ago: Kolya had brought a ball. A slightly older kid was excitedly playing with it. His mom grabbed it out of his hand and yelled “It’s not yours, you can’t play with it.” A major tantrum ensued. It was entirely depressing. And what for? To teach the child some misguided notion of mine/not mine? What use will this ever be?)

The Smurf-blue-playpen hell didn’t just inspire less-than-charitable feelings towards other kids. It inspired similar feelings towards other parents and their weird weird ways. Maybe I’m just a hippie at heart, but the whole thing turned me right off. Does a one-year-old really want a party for thirty kids at a themed and catered venue? And does it have to be in a noisy Smurf-blue dungeon?

Today, a friend sent an invitation to a kids’ party at the farm stall out at Oude Moulen next week. Yay, I thought when I saw that. Chickens and goats. I somehow doubt there’ll be blue slush puppies and excesses of Fizzers. And – joy! – no whining generator for the bouncy castle. I think we’ll go, even if the deadlines are still looking rough. Maybe I’m not the killjoy bitch-parent-from-hell after all.


About Lisa

I live in South Africa with my husband and two small children, doing things, thinking about things and sometimes writing about them.
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3 Responses to A close approximation of hell

  1. Jeannine says:

    Gawd, the dreaded brithday party – I can’t tell you how great it is now that mine can go solo. Drop them off and pick them up in 2 hours, pure bliss.

    And you are spot on, when we were kids there was always a table laden with jellies, chips, different sweets, cup-cakes – the choice was entirely yours. These ‘party packs’ are so bland and prescriptive! The less said about the ‘fun’ venues the better. . .

  2. edenwild says:

    For our little guy’s first birthday I tried to go simple. My big deal was the food. I made it from scratch and there was plenty of yummy stuff to go around. I made simple decorations that I could reuse. We had it at a park, so kids could run around on the grass, the playset, and be in the sunshine and fresh air. Oh, yeah, and no stupid party packs.

    We went to another one-year-old’s party a few weeks ago. It was in an apartment club house and very crowded (why didn’t they do it outside in the courtyard where there were tables and lovely shade trees?). All the food was store-bought. The party packs were full of useless junk that will end up in the trash.

    I love celebrations, but in the future I think we’ll skip the party and just go do something fun as a family.

  3. Alex says:

    Party packs are useless. All that happens is they get strewn around the car, house, whatever and the rest ends in the dustbin. Kids very rarely eat all the stuff in there. It’s probably a better idea to let the kids stuff themselves at the party and give them a small toy to take home.

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