As a father, there are certain times of the year which are busier or more stressful than others. (Not that there’s ever a time which isn’t busy when you have three under-fives.) For the most part Heather and I get by okay – for every bad day there’s at least one good one – but there are definitely periods when it feels like we’re permanently living in an episode of Outnumbered. Only more chaotic. Like now, for instance.
For people of a certain type, ‘the season’ marks the highlight of the annual social calendar: Royal Ascot, Glyndebourne, Wimbledon, Henley Regatta, Cowes Week and so on. It is an opportunity to show off posh frocks and outrageous hats, to hang out with the ‘beautiful people’ and quaff champagne, to get really bad sunburn and then fall down in a pool of one’s own vomit in a portaloo. Something like that.
For us, however, the ‘season’ starts in late October and runs to the second week of December, and involves hanging around with cold-riddled fellow parents – not so much the beautiful people as the beleaguered people – quaffing fruit squash and hoping we don’t have to clean up pools of vomit. This seven-week period is book-ended by Halloween and Bonfire Night at one end, and by Isaac’s birthday and Christmas preparations at the other. In between comes an almost incessant stream of birthday parties during which all of Isaac’s oldest friends – the NCT and ante-natal class mob – notch up another year.
In amongst the trick-or-treating, firework displays and visits to Santa’s grotto is a packed diary which features at least two parties most weeks. Last weekend was one of the more complex ones we’ve had to manage. Four birthday parties – three for the boys and one for us – required us to shuffle our resources such that Boy A (Isaac) and Boy B (Toby) both got to where they needed to go without Parent X (Heather) and Parent Y (me) spending two entire days chasing them around soft play centres and/or wishing they’d never been born. It’s like one of those logic problems you get alongside the word-searches in those jumbo puzzle books.
Chasing a hyperactive, sugar-filled child around a soft play centre is tiring enough. Planning the logistics and getting the appropriate children to the right place at something approximating the appointed hour is even worse. And every now and then the right combination of parent and children turns up at the right time at the wrong location. Don’t laugh. It’s easier than you think. (Actually, do laugh. The person it happened to wasn’t me. Having said that, sod’s law guarantees that I’ll turn up in the wrong place next week.)
Also, it isn’t until you have kids that you realise what a political minefield children’s birthday parties can be. Who to invite? Who not to invite? Who’s best friends with who? What to do about people you’re not inviting who have invited you to their child’s party? Which invitees’ siblings to include so they can play with your and others’ other kids? Who to tell not to tell others that they haven’t been invited in case they get offended? And any number of other delicate permutations which send my head spinning when I can barely remember who’s who and what their children’s names are anyway, let alone their complex web of interpersonal relationships and who’s annoyed who this week. It would all be much easier if we were all Facebook friends.
Not surprisingly, I try to stay out of party politics as much as is feasible and leave that to the one adult in the household who possesses (a) decent social skills and (b) a memory less leaky than a sieve which has been attacked by Edward Scissorhands. I turn up, chat with a couple of the other parents, interact with the boys as much or as little as they want – gratifyingly, Toby for the first time ever actively wanted me to play with him at the parties this weekend – and generally run interference to free up some time for Heather. Usually while updating my Facebook status.
And that’s the ‘season’ as far as a father of three is concerned: Halloween, party, fireworks, party, party, Christmas shopping, a few more parties, Isaac’s birthday. It’s a good job that, once the season is over, there isn’t anything big coming up in the following month like, say, Christmas, New Year and Toby’s birthday.