Monday, 29 February 2016

Hosting a 2nd birthday party: do you go traditional, modern or lazy?

Yesterday was Duckling's 2nd birthday, and as is required, we held a little party for him. Not too many people: just me and Drake, both sets of grandparents, my sister, brother-in-law and his cousin Gosling. Easy peasy, right?

Well I suppose in the grand scheme of things it wasn't really too much of a challenge. In the battleground of my mind however, it was all out war. The problem is, as much as I want to be a cool, tech-savvy, environmentally considerate 21st century feminist, years of patriarchal programming has burnt the 1950s housewife mantra "UNLESS YOU DO EVERYTHING YOURSELF, PERFECTLY, FROM SCRATCH, YOU ARE A FAILURE AS A WOMAN AND MOTHER" into my brain. Also, unfortunately I'm a bit lazy time poor. So this trio of competing factors led to much indecision when trying to decide how best to manage the toddler birthday party experience:

1950s me: Nice wooden toys with wheels, well made, not too many, antique car-themed wrapping paper and curly bows, presented in a bag with Duckling's name on.
21st Century me: Gender-neutral (erring on the more 'girly', just to make a point), quirky, second-hand items ordered on eBay (nothing 'branded'), unwrapped to save the planet.
Lazy me: can't we just give him some Pom Bears (it's all he's actually asked for) and leave the grandparents to buy the cool stuff?
Victor?: None of them really. He got a brand new Peppa Pig bathtime boat, some (new) jigsaws, (new) clothes and a mini IKEA circus tent (new) from us, plus a slide and a scooter ("dooter") from the grandparents. All our gifts were wrapped (very badly) in tissue paper as I couldn't find any non-pink and frilly stuff in the five minutes I had in Paperchase on my way home from work. So while 1950s Housewife does get one point for the presents actually being wrapped this year, 21st Century Mum also scores for the gender-neutral nature of the toys, as evidenced by the fact that he fought extensively over every single one with his Cousin Gosling, a girl. "NO Gosling! Me dooter! Mine! MINE!". Oh and he did get Pom Bears too...

1950s me: A beautiful sugar craft rendition of an orange Duplo block, complete with individual mini Victoria sponges for the nobbly bits on top (what are those called?), all whipped up in an hour or two on Saturday evening.
21st Century me: Wonder if I could I could construct an entire party cake by scaling up my no-added-sugar baby led weaning banana muffin recipe?
Lazy me: Do they still do Colin the Caterpillar cakes in Marks?
Victor ?: 1950s me. Ish. It took me seven hours. The shape, to be fair, was vaguely reminiscent of a Duplo block, but despite half a bottle of yellow food colouring going into the icing mix, the colour was more of a weird psychedelic pink than orange. I ran out of time to do the mini Victoria sponges on top, so they were just lumps of leftover cake covered in very uneven icing, and because my oven bakes everything at 200oC regardless of what temperature you set it to, the cake had a massive burnt dome on top, which caused the finished article to be slightly less than perfectly cuboid... Basically, it looked like a Duplo block following an encounter with bottle of Pepto Bismol and blow torch. But it tasted quite nice, and it had sufficient structural integrity to support a candle, so Duckling got to do the blowing out bit. That's all that really matters, right?

1950s me: Homemade everything, down to the flaky pastry and filling for the sausage rolls.
21st Century me: hummus, unsalted popcorn, bean and quinoa salad, chia seed pudding...
Lazy me: Everything ordered online, including the carrot sticks.
Victor?: Lazy me, all the way. I make no apologies - Waitrose caters waaay better than I ever could. Although I did cut up my own carrot and cucumber batons. Actually, I lie, Drake did them as I was too busy swearing at the pink cake.

1950s me: Bunting, banners, birthday confetti, party napkins, party bags and a bunch of bobbing "2 today" balloons outside the front door.
21st Century me: recycled paper chains, kids party classics streaming via the Apple TV, funky illuminations and a PowerPoint loop of family photos playing in the background.
Lazy me: A second-hand helium balloon passed on by one of my NCT friends whose son turned two last week.
Victor?: A mish mash. The second-hand balloon was very much in evidence, though I also found a Happy Birthday banner, napkins and some LED balloons in Paperchase (which only really glowed noticeably once we shut the curtains and turned out all the lights). The confetti was deemed a choking hazard, I couldn't get the b**tard Apple TV to work, and the PowerPoint and paper chains were just too much to organise in the six and a half minutes I had between cake completion and first guest arrival.  (Incidentally, I'm going to have to start telling Drake's parents to arrive half an hour later than everyone else. Even when travelling after lunch on a mild, sunny Sunday with no reported traffic incidents, they leave 90 minutes to make a 50 minute journey and consequently get here massively inconveniently early.  As an eternally late person, this drives me bloody bananas.)

In some respects, I am quite glad that I have such a schizophrenic approach to party planning.  My perfectionist streak balances out my lazy arse one, and both rein in my tedious desire to be some kind of uber right-on enviro-feminist (which let's face it, is bound to piss everyone else off, if only because a party is not a party without hyperactive sugar rushes and a bin bag full of carelessly discarded wrapping paper). Plus, it's not about me, it's about Duckling, and by next year he'll be much more able to articulate his desires. Still, for the sanity all concerned, I might try to dial down the cake ambitions in exchange for a slightly less random set of decorations and maybe a homemade potato salad.  Organic potatoes and homegrown herbs optional.

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