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AS YOU read this, I will be surrounded by a horde of small children, a mound of half- eaten peanut butter sandwiches and, quite possibly, two floppy-eared rabbits. It's Jamie's fifth birthday this week, so I'm in a frenzy of party preparation.

I feel he deserves a nice party this year, because last year's was a bit of a wash-out. I was 11 weeks pregnant and staggering around feeling bilious. My husband was working in America at the time, and Jamie had to make do with a rather solitary, quiet celebration (I left halfway through the proceedings to be sick). So this time round he's having his eight best friends to tea, and Mr Marvel. Mr Marvel is a magician who produces floppy-eared rabbits out of a hat; and he can make balloon dogs, too. He's very popular in the neighbourhood: you have to ring him up weeks in advance and say: 'Mr Marvel, have you got any time left in September?' If you're lucky, he'll squeeze you in.

The trouble is, I'm worried that Mr

Marvel's rabbits will remind Jamie of the

birthday present that he's always wanted and never got: yes, a large fluffy bunny. He's asked for one again this year, but I've

fobbed him off with promises of Power

Ranger robot dinosaurs.

There was one terrible year - he was two - when he woke up on his birthday convinced that there would be a rabbit, nicely wrapped up and waiting for him. He opened his presents, and there was no rabbit, and he couldn't hide a look of bitter disappointment. But I'm sticking to the no rabbit rule: because it would be me that ended up cleaning the cage every day, and I'd feel bad about making a rabbit live in a tragic little hutch.

I think part of growing up is learning to accept that birthdays rarely live up to one's expectations. When I was five I wanted a pony for my birthday, which was out of the question in a small flat in central London. I wanted one when I was six, too, and every subsequent birthday until I was 14. After that, I realised it was never going to happen, so I settled for wishing for a boyfriend instead.

Now I don't really care what I get for my birthday (an uninterrupted night's sleep would have been fine by me this year). But I do care that Jamie has a nice time, despite the fact that I know it's all bound to end in tears. The dinosaur robots will probably get crushed under foot in the stampede to the tea-table; or Jamie will get over-excited and retire to bed with a tummy-ache; or Mr Marvel will be stricken by a terrible virus and cancel at the last minute. The last possibility is the one that really worries me: for how will I entertain nine children for three hours? We did try to produce some home-grown entertainment for Jamie's third birthday - a puppet show behind the sofa - but the audience was unimpressed, and stormed the sofa halfway through the proceedings.

I suppose that if the worst comes to

the worst, and we are Mr Marvel-less, I'll

have to rush out and buy a floppy-eared

rabbit - and resign myself to a lifetime of

caring for it. Oh well, at least Jamie doesn't want a pony . . . yet.-

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