My daughter, Parker, has three birthdays a year. She thinks the Queen, with only two, to be slightly common.
The annual ceremonies always begin in Canada in August. She hosts a party, exactly one month before her actual birthday, for her Canadian relatives. Despite them being Canadian, she treats them all with fairly good humour. She even pretends to appreciate the "educational" toys and "ethnically correct" books they load her up with. In fact, she is the perfect hostess and never comments on the curious amount of plaid or peculiar hats being worn by her guests. When it is over she flops into her favourite beanbag and lets out a world-weary sigh. "I think I might have a smaller Canadian party next year, it's all very tiring," she whimpers.
Back in England, the household gears up for her second birthday party where the main bulk of her friends from school descendfor an afternoon of festivities. My wife, Stacey, decided to have a "carnival" theme this year. Unfortunately the "carnie" scene does not really exist in Canada, so we were on completely different wavelengths to one another. Also, my appearance in the garden dressed as a slightly deformed, one-eyed ne'er-do-well didn't go down very well with the other mothers. Having been sent upstairs to change, I was put in charge of the most unpopular stall in the garden: the "throw a ring round a frog" station. Not, sadly, a recently snatched Frenchman tied to a tree but a rather crap paddling pool containing five miserable-looking plastic frogs that refused to float. Stacey told me I should be enthusiastic, really sell my stall and people would come. It was all right for her. She's Canadian and they are trained from birth in pointless enthusiasm. I just sat there in the heavy drizzle and watched parents desperately trying to break into our house to keep dry. Stacey had locked all the doors to keep everyone in the "carnival".
I eventually raided my garage which is where I store loads of old props and costumes. I found the two tattered fighting-dog costumes from Trigger Happy and forced two local lads to dress up in them and fight for money. This entertained the dads for a while, until one of the dogs knocked the other one unconscious and everyone quickly wandered off and pretended that it hadn't happened.
Parker, who is four, introduced me to her boyfriend, Jake. He immediately denied that he was anything of the sort. Parker looked at me with a slightly wistful eye and told me that Jake was being silly. Later, when we were on our own, she told me not to worry as she was going to wait until she was bigger before she married him. Ten, apparently, was the age she had decided that they would ride off into the sunset. I can't wait.
Her third and final party was yesterday, when relatives and very old friends were summoned to her court for an audience. As this is her real birthday, this is when we give her the presents. The whole present scenario is very difficult. She watches these loathsomely enticing adverts on kids' TV and then comes up with a long, detailed list of the horrible things that she wants.
Stacey and I went off to the local toy shop in Burford with strict orders to get something called "Snow White and the Seven Dwarves' Micro Palace". As we entered the shop I knew that we were in trouble. The assistant measured no more than four foot two and, although we tried to ask for what we wanted without mentioning "micro" or "dwarves" it was impossible. When we did eventually find the said item it was on the top shelf and the micro assistant had to get her special ladder while we pretended not to notice.
Next year things are definitely going to change. Maybe we can keep everything a bit more condensed. We could negotiate one über party and get Elton John to come and sing. She likes Elton John. They seem to have the same extravagant tastes. But then we have to face my son Jackson's celebrations. He will be having his first birthday next summer and Parker is already demanding a party of her own to celebrate his. Only 18 years to go.
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