Anne’s party invitation list, presented with happy optimism for my approval, spreads to two pages of her exercise book and numbers no fewer than thirty names.
Regretfully, but firmly, I point out that due to uninteresting but important factors such as shortage of space and seating in our small house, at least 20 of the would-be guests will be disappointed.
Even after Anne has drastically pruned the list, it is still subject to alteration as illness or pre-arranged treats prevent some children from joining us. Indeed a case of suspected mumps and a broken
leg combine, fatally, to bring a certain Master Goodchild onto the guest list.
“Goodchild,” I say, reading through the final names, “Goodchild
by name, good child by nature, I suppose!” and I laugh at my gentle joke. Anne does not laugh at such feebleness; nor would I have done, had I only known...
feel I am going to have trouble with Master Goodchild from the very first game - The Farmer’s in his Den – when he, the farmer, flatly refuses to choose a “wife” on the grounds that he is “not the marrying kind.” Finally,
he chooses me, grudgingly, for the doubtful honour, because he isn’t going to marry “any girl” and I swallow the back-handed insult meekly, for the sake of the game.
I can see that, if any fair lady does, in years to come, ensnare the affections of this stalwart then it will be a classic case of reaching a man’s heart through his stomach. Master Goodchild likes to eat. We stand
and gape as he shovels crisps and sausages onto his plate by the grubby fistful, then proceeds to wolf them down in a matter of minutes.
Andrea, who sits next
to him at the table, counts the cocktail sticks left on his plate. “He must have eaten 16 sausages!” she tells me in a tone of respectful wonderment and I warn myself to keep a sharp eye out for possible side effects.
However none materialise and the rest of the party is a riot, mainly due to the unceasing efforts of my young friend. I mentally cross “Hunt the Slipper” off my list of party games. I would
not put it past Master Goodchild to have the carpet ripped up beneath my feet in search of the missing object.
From time to time I make panicky sorties into the
kitchen to consult the slow-moving hands of the clock, only to be pushed hastily back into the fray by my anxious husband ( who is bravely dealing with the wreckage of the party tea) with the agonised entreaty: “Don’t leave them all alone in there
whatever you do!”
By six-thirty, the last tired guest has departed, trailing a bright balloon behind him and dropping cake crumbs all along the drive. The
silence, so suddenly fallen, is startling and we sprawl in the party-strewn room and close our eyes on the chaos.
In this moment of peace, Anne, the birthday girl,
climbs onto my knees, snuggling her toffee-coloured head up against my shoulder and curling her lanky legs awkwardly into my lap.
“Tell me,” she demands,
as she has done every birthday since she could talk, “the story about the day I was born.” It is Anne’s favourite story, the one which begins: “Once upon a time, Daddy and I lived all alone, just the two of us until one Sunday,
very early in the morning, our first little daughter was born.”
“And that was me!” Anne’s hazel eyes twinkle at me from under the party
hat, tipping crazily over her forehead. It is a story punctuated by Anne’s eager questions, the answers to which we both know off by heart. What did I look like? What did you think when you saw me? What did Daddy say? Was I just what you wanted?
As I talk, and Anne listens, I am remembering for myself in tender detail the special moments of that certain Sunday, the fearful, the funny and the unforgettable.
Birthday parties are strictly for the kids but birthday stories are for mothers, too.
Slough Evening Mail: