I say “we”, but actually Heather did all the hard work. I merely had to sign up to the idea that having a party somewhere which required minimal planning and where we wouldn’t have to set up beforehand and tidy up afterwards was a good idea. (As you can imagine, that particular decision took about five nanoseconds to make.)
Notwithstanding the fact that three is his favourite number, this was definitely his best birthday party so far. Zac is now old enough to have formed genuine friendships with his mates, and physically capable enough to clamber up and down and over and under climbing frames, slides and the various other play areas unsupervised. But not quite old enough yet to get into too much mischief.
Hence he is a lot less high maintenance than he was this time last year, making life much less stressful for us as parents. Which means we can spend some of the time doing grown-up things like drinking coffee and actually talking to people, rather than constantly haring off to prevent some calamitous accident, arbitrate a tug-of-war dispute over a toy or change a nappy. Perfect.
In addition to the usual party food, we had also organised a cookie-making session for the children, which seemed to go down well. (Zac certainly threw himself into it, and quickly polished off his finished cookies later.) But otherwise it was just a case of letting the kids off the leash and watching them have the run of the place. And run they did, with the giant slide being a particular favourite for the thrill-seeking adrenalin junkies in the group – which was most of them.
Best of all though was Zac’s cake, which Heather had painstakingly specified to pander to his many car-related foibles. It was not just any car, but a VW Beetle (his favourite make) in pink (his favourite colour), complete with a towbar and, best of all, a missing hubcap (his favourite thing in the whole wide world).
(If you have ever been with Zac in a car park, you will know that he loves nothing more than to name the make of every car he sees, and that he loves pointing out those which have hubcaps missing. It’s my fault. A few months back I was passing time with him one afternoon at a party, and commented on a car which was missing one. In the way that only a toddler can, he picked up that particular ball and has been running with it ever since.)
The ear-to-ear grin which spread across his face when he saw his cake – complete with the immediate and obligatory cry of “hubcap missing!” which accompanied it – was worth the expense of the party alone.
In fact, to watch him running around excitedly loving every minute of his party was one of those genuinely rewarding parenting moments you want to freeze in time when nothing else – sleepless nights, chicken pox, cleaning poo off the carpet, trips to the hospital – really matters. (Someone remind me of that the next time he drags me out of bed at 4.30 in the morning …)