Last weekend I accompanied my son to a 5th Birthday party at one of the preferred local parks. Parks have become the couples-with-kids equivalent to nightclubs, and certain crowds tend to gravitate to different ones. This particular one was know for its city views, relaxed dress code and DJ sets by a local crazy who lived in the corner of the park (no one has the guts to tell him his ‘decks’ are just two old pizza boxes).
Kids parties can be daunting for parents on either side of the equation. If you are the host, there is all the preparation that goes into the modern annual celebration of the child birthing. From Pinterest-ing ideas, sculpting cakes that make the Women’s Weekly Cake Book look like it was pulled together by amputees, table styling (to just decorate the space would be like telling your child they were an accident) and connecting guests. That is on top of making sure no children break limbs or severe arteries. But that is something for another post…
To be the parent of an invited child (POIC for short) at a party can be a horrid way to spend a few hours. This dread of the unknown came over me as we drove to the park on Saturday. What would I encounter? No doubt there would be plenty of small talk revolving around nostalgic memories of fairy bread. What is so appealing about some pieces of air posing as bread, topped with what looks like a shredded up Lego man!
It was a girls party, so Archer was a little apprehensive too. I told him that in 12 years time he would kill to be the only boy at a girls party, that it was all about the long game and if he was willing to put in some serious groundwork, it will pay off in 2027.
We arrived and I was surprised to find a few Dads there. They ticked all the standard Dad-looks; The Still in Work Uniform (either office or trade based) ; The Human Barcode (vertical and horizontal stripes head to toe, paired with some form of flannel) and The Birthday Present from 5 Years Ago (a fading coordinated outfit the wife picked), but they turned out to be nice guys. Lesson: never judge a book by its cover, unless it doesn't have one...probably don't talk to a naked book.
I expected to find a picnic table of Mums in active wear, comparing personal trainers whilst elbow deep in Camembert and Pinot Gris, and there was a few of those. One of them approached me early on and realised Arch will be attending the school her kids are currently at. She then proceeded to tell me about her gripes with the school, which seem to centre around a lack of a netball team and too much of a focus on emerging technologies, individualised learning plans and French. This netball loving, francophopic luddite commie was clearly from a different school of thought.
I realised her life was about as empty as the bottle of wine behind her when she started to clumsily drop her high status neighbourhood address into the conversation.This is a conversational trend I am fighting more and more as I draw closer into that feared category - The Middle Middles, or middle aged middle class. Anyone over 35 seems to love nothing more than compare careers, houses, relationships and children. All of which are basic small talk areas of conversation when you attend a kids party.
What was delightfully surprising was how myself and the other Dads moved on from those surfaces points to tackling broader issues. We spoke about the challenges of paying for childcare at the same rate as a private education, the fears we had about our firstborn’s starting school next year, the struggles to balance career and family, religion in education and the silent burdens of being a Dad in a modern world.
It was one of those little moments that helps restore some lost faith in people. That we are all capable of connecting with anyone, sometimes it just takes things like a plate of fairy bread to start the process.