My daughter is turning eleven next month and I must admit I’m dreading the party. Children’s parties are big business these days, especially in the UAE, and the pressure is immense to make it unforgettable, particularly at her age where nothing less than an all-singing, all-dancing princess pamper party will suffice.
It’s easier when they’re small: when my toddler turned one a few months ago, we stuck a candle in a cupcake, sang Happy Birthday, and then went back to watching The Simpsons. Sadly I don’t think I’ll get away with such a low key affair for my daughter, who is already picking out matching invitation and thank- you notepaper.
When I was a kid, parties were simple. The children arrived to your house (paying for a venue was unthinkable), then played for a while as the late-comers arrived. Next came the party games – musical chairs, musical statues and pass-the-parcel – which often ended in bitter tears since this was a time when competition was still considered healthy and children weren’t shielded from the horrors of losing.
Afterwards everyone would proceed to the dining-table, which would be laden with fairy cakes, chocolate fingers and cheese ’n onion crisps, followed by jelly and ice-cream – not a carrot stick or hummus pot in sight – and the children would cheerfully stuff themselves until someone inevitably threw-up on the shag-pile and had to go home.
The happy event would conclude with a chorus of Happy Birthday, usually as the birthday girl or boy wept since it was the ‘You look like a monkey, and you smell like one too’ version of the song. And then it was time to go home laden down with nothing more than a slice of the birthday cake and a queasy feeling in your stomach.
Within the space of a generation, birthday parties have become far more sophisticated affairs. It is now necessary to outsource the entire thing to a specialist party centre, complete with colour theme and menu choice, since inexplicably it is now expected that dinner be provided – as must entertainment – and no party is complete without a chocolate fountain, life-size piñata, or a personal appearance from Dora the Explorer.
In fact, my wedding was less organised (and indeed costly) than some of the parties my kids have been to in the UAE. A couple of years ago, my daughter was invited to the party of a classmate which featured
a mini-funfair, pony rides, a marquee, outdoor dance-floor complete with DJ, seating for a couple of hundred and a large buffet. A professional photographer was on hand to take a snap of each child as they arrived, which was nicely mounted inside a High School Musical frame for the child to collect on departure, along with a lavish party bag.
And since when did it become necessary to chaperone your child at a party? I’ve noticed that whenever we show up to the party venue, the mother of the child in question will ask me, ‘Would you like to stay?’ to which I will politely decline, keen to be down one child for a couple of hours. Drop and run, that’s my motto.
Having said all this, I do have to admit that when I decided last year to keep my daughter’s party ‘low-key’ in order to avoid both cost and hassle, the plan backfired massively. Convincing myself that half a dozen tubes of Pringles and a few bottles of Sprite would suffice, and that the children could just play CDs and entertain themselves, I was left with a house full of bored, squabbling nine-year-olds, half of whom only liked organic crisps and imported mineral water, and a daughter who has yet to forgive me.
And so, this year I shall make my life easier and book the local party centre and let them organise the (low-fat, sugar-free, gluten-free) cake, the candy-floss machine, and the Monster High-themed decorations. And although I will be more than a few hundred dirhams down, I will have the pleasure of doing nothing more than sitting back and reminiscing about the good old days when children were allowed to eat real cake and knew how to amuse themselves without the help of a professional entertainer.