Having long given up the quest to be a perfect mother, I last week gave up the dream of hosting that perfect birthday. You may well ask what made me go there, but if you are a mother, dreaming impossible dreams comes with the territory. It could be something as simple as arriving home to a no-mess house, neatly-combed-hair son, or a daughter who isn’t fussing over the teacher’s command for homework on lined, coloured sheets. Or it could be as complicated as organising a “Harry Potter Birthday”.
Did I hear a collective “Aaaahhha….!”? So, at least some of you have been there, or to another “theme party”. The one we went to last week had the Harrys, the Hermiones, the Rons, the Weasleys, the Dumbledore as well as Platform 9 3/4, tickets to Hogwarts, Quidditch games, sorting hat, “Floo powder”, an actual chimney, a toilet seat, and a Moaning Myrtle, who actually sang, and sang well. As return gifts, each child got a Harry Potter mug, and hand-crafted snitch, broomstick and wand. Each mother returned with that sinking feeling: how do I top that?
My son was born in late December, my daughter in mid-June. If you haven’t done the calculation already, that strikes off two things immediately: birthdays with full attendance (holidays are beginning in December, and we are in the middle of a long summer break in June), and any chance of just taking those children out and letting them loose in the park. Only if life, or at least the birthdays in it, were that simple.
So no, for a month leading up to the big day, we list venues and weigh the costs, we narrow down a complicated list of children to be invited and figure out the phone numbers (now we also form WhatsApp groups, to cut down the calling part), we fuss over a menu that must combine health with “whatever children like”, we pick a cake that comes closest to a fantasy, we try to think of a simple, not-too-costly, yet-useful return gift, we squeeze and squeeze out time, and when the day comes, we spend it chasing around a bunch of children who, left to their own, end up playing the games they always play.
When the day is over, and we are gathering the streamers off the floor, that thought strikes — did we get it all on camera? As we turn accusatory eyes at each other, the child is obliviously tearing apart his or her latest acquisitions.
So what does it mean for parents like us, who end up half-collapsed on the floor from the exertion of blowing a packetful of balloons, to be encountered with birthdays of the scale such as above? My first thought is to damn JK Rowling for inflicting on us the very many possibilities of Harry Potter that I, a fan, didn’t even consider. After all, what can you do with a Superman? Though somewhere deep inside your closet you perhaps still have that costume of the man in blue and red, he didn’t do much more than peek out, sweating through the Delhi heat, from face masks.
But then, invariably, your thoughts turn to that child by your side who, you know, sleeps with her Harry Potter under the pillow, and who, you would think, is perhaps worse off since the last birthday you held for her involved just her best friends coming home and playing. There was cake, there was pizza, and there was Paddington the film, and that made it “special” enough.
They — and that includes all those not in your shoes — will tell you that’s good enough. But then comes around another birthday, and you know, and they know, no one means a word of it.There is help at hand, of course, and anybody who has been to a Delhi birthday recently would have seen these emcees who think of games, organise the same, round up reluctant children (not as easy as that sounds), and decide the winners (the trickiest part). But if you have the slightest trouble with the idea of an emcee at a birthday, or believe a birthday calls for a more modest budget, join the club.
Is this a call for simpler birthday parties then? It wasn’t too long ago after all that return gifts were unheard of as were NGOs to whom you can direct donations now, “instead of bringing along gifts.”
However, this isn’t that call. It’s just a heart-felt cry out to parents in like-minded predicaments to stand up and be heard. Let’s claim Harry Potter too. So what if we can’t go beyond the pages.
As for my daughter, she is still basking in the memory of last week’s party. And June is a long, long way away. By then her reading tastes may move to Hobbit. Now try and emulate that.
PS: Meanwhile, my mind is on another matter. We already missed one birthday party recently that required the children to dress up as Bollywood stars. My daughter and I took a serious look at her wardrobe, stared at each other, and shook our heads. Even Katrina Kaif, I told her, waited till she was 16.
But now we have been invited to come dressed as a Hollywood celebrity to a birthday party next week. My daughter’s breadth of knowledge extends from Frozen to Ice Age. Unless you count Miley Cyrus from when she was Hanna Montana.