It all started with the invitation cards. You’d think that’s the logical place for a birthday party to start anyway, but then, that depends. In this case, it started with Amit suggesting, some weeks prior to the actual birthday, that cards could be drawn by hand. By the kids, of course. But then, Amit not being the chart paper buying kind, he failed to follow up on this until three days before the birthday. Wednesday evening to be precise – for a party on Saturday. You’d think it was sufficient time – we only had to get a handful of cards ready for the school friends.
This time, the guest list was drawn up entirely by the kids themselves. So, if you were not on the guest list, don’t come blaming me. Tara, who is benevolence personified, would have invited her entire class and most of the kids in the other sections as well, but for this strange notion that she had got into her head: to invite someone to your party, it is essential for you to know where they live. Amit and I spent days trying to tell her such was not the case, that the invitees were expected to come to our house and that I was not going to be running a birthday party pick-up service for all their friends, so there was absolutely no need for us to know the locations of their homes. I don’t think she entirely understood, but something got through. She spent the next few days telling us she couldn’t invite certain of her most beloved friends because they didn’t know where she lived. Again, we explained, as patiently and persistently as possible, that there were telephones and things and directions could be relayed, maps drawn, or even GPSs enabled. To no avail – Tara restricted her guest list to people who knew where she lived, or in a couple of cases, to people who she knew where they lived. So if you were not on the guest list… you know why. Just invite Tara home once, and next year she’ll invite you. Maybe.
So yeah – only half a dozen cards for school friends. Wednesday’s chart paper was crumpled up by Tara (inadvertently, I hope; I wasn’t there when it happened) and thus rendered useless for card-making purposes, so the next attempt was assayed on Thursday. Remember – Friday was to be their last opportunity to hand out the invitation cards. I had the phone numbers of some of the invitees’ moms, but not for all, so another task for them was to get me the other moms’ phone numbers. Two numbers were obtained, written carefully on scraps of paper. One scrap mysteriously went missing from the kitchen counter (where all important things are kept) before I could call or at least commit the number to memory; the other, when I tried the number scribbled on it, turned out to contain a wrong number.
Thursday evening was spent diligently making cards. Since Amit can’t really cut chart paper either (and I wasn’t there at the time) cutting was left up to the kids. They cut all right – all kinds of shapes and sizes. Then they sat down to draw. Mrini drew three cards fairly decently. Tara wrote in three cards very neatly. They were, of course, a different set of three cards. Tara didn’t draw much and Mrini didn’t write much. So at the end of the evening, we had six unusable cards for two school friends (they having duplicated cards for one particularly favourite friend), and Tara had also proceeded to make a dozen other “cards” several of which were for the same friend. Hmmmm…. Must be a very special friend.
“Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrgh!” I fumed. “Now we can’t invite anybody from your school.”
“Don’t worry, mamma, tomorrow is Friday, I will get the phone numbers of my friends, you call their mothers. My birthday party is on Saturday,” said Tara soothingly.
And on that happy note, to the lovely sound of thunder and heavy rain, we all went to sleep.
On Friday, however, only one phone number was actually obtained.
The next day, Tara said dispiritedly, “Now my friends can’t come to my party.”
I asked the obvious question: Why?
“Because it’s Saturday today and the party is today and we haven’t delivered the cards yet!”
It took me right back to my childhood days in the neighbourhood – first you make cards, mom writes in them, you rush over to all the neighbourhood kids’ homes – some of them also being school friends – to deliver the cards. Each visit entails lots of giggles, fun and often food as well. Then on the party day, everyone comes over and you repeat the giggles, fun, and food.
Nowadays, it’s all cellphones, SMSs, emails, and even Google maps. Technology has robbed us of the joys of some things.
Tara was, however, quickly informed of the benefits of technology, which had already been amply demonstrated. They had neglected to get the phone number of the mother of one of their good friends from school. Late on Friday night, it occurred to me to ask the mother of another school friend. At 11.15 I sent a message enquiring, and lo and behold, I had the number by 11.17. It being a somewhat late hour (by my standards at least) I deferred making the call until Saturday morning, at 8.15, which I thought was a decent hour for mothers of young kids. Apparently not – there was no response. So I blithely SMSed the invitation to the mother and thought no more about it. Sure enough, there they were, ringing our bell that evening, despite the pouring rain.
The party day went the way all party days go – in a blur of chaos, confusion, and achievement ground together with a sprinkling of fun. I baked two chocolate cakes (since I’d been reminding the kids continuously the entire year that they hadn’t eaten so much as a single bite of the spiderman confectionary they’d selected from a bakery last year; this year they agreed to plain homemade chocolate cakes) and then one plain cake and one eggless banana-walnut cake for Amit. We had invited 14 kids and an equal number of parents (some parents coming with two kids and some kids coming with only one parent) so four cakes looked about right. Then we went out to buy the other stuff – samosas and veg cutlets from KC Das, juice (5 litres, which was barely sufficient, in two variants, sweetened and unsweetened) and ice cream (5 litres in three different flavours, which was much too much). We grabbed lunch on the way – though it was 2 p.m. by the time we reached a restaurant and almost 3 by the time we were served and by then the kids were driving us crazy with their constant demands for sustenance so “grabbed” might not be the best word for it. I’d promised the kids Treasure Hunt if they gave me some peace by sleeping in the afternoon, but our extremely late lunch put paid to that idea and without their help I could not have got 12 chairs into the living room while also organizing everything else and cooking up something that was meant to be chocolate sauce but ended up being just chocolate.
One of our friends had been invited for 4 p.m. and showed up punctually at 4.15, which was great, because the daughter entertained the kids while dad was put to work blowing up some more balloons. Precisely at 4.50, after the kids were finally dressed, I went to get dressed and then we waited about 15 minutes for the next round of invitees to show up. Soon the house was full and the kids were running around playing an entirely thrilling round of hide-n-seek.
From there, things went more-or-less as per expectation – we had musical chairs and pass the parcel without any gifts for the winners; electricity went and we ran the big fat music system on the battery back-up, which meant we had to turn off all the fans and many of the lights; there was a short and sharp downpour just as the last of the guests were arriving so a few people got a little wet; I restrained myself from suggesting a rain party; Tara managed to spill juice all over the table which, at that moment, was home to my cell phone and our digital SLR camera; and of course various other installments of food and drink were also spilt and hurriedly mopped up. The moms were all fantastic and helped amazingly. Somebody spread newspaper all over the living room floor for kids to sit and eat on, which is something I would never have thought of myself. Everyone ferried cake, snacks, and juice from the dining table to the living room and helped to serve. Electricity came back at some point, so we could turn fans and lights on again. The rain stopped. All 15 kids gobbled up their food and vanished into Mrini and Tara’s room where they proceeded to make a complete mess of everything, which Mrini and Tara had to clear up later. The smallest kid, not even 2 yet, managed to watch all the fun without getting trampled. So all went as it should and the last of the guests departed in a flurry of waves and smiles around 8.30. All in all, it was a fun and extremely satisfying kiddies party. (I think the grown-ups kind of enjoyed it too.)
Every year I sigh at the prospect of the birthday party and tentatively eye McDonald’s – and every year we have it at home and we have a blast. By 9.30 the kids were fast asleep and we had cleared most of the debris, procured a bottle of rum and one of coke (Thumbs Up if you really want to know the brand) and served up two good size helpings of ice cream in two big bowls. Ahhh… how can McDonald’s (or any other place) possibly compare to this?