What are birthdays like in your house? Are they peaceful, happy occasions, when children play nicely all day long while their smiling parents celebrate another successful year in their child-rearing career? Or are they more like this …
(1) The pressure starts to rise months in advance as the birthday child begins tortuous deliberations over what present to choose. A week before the big day he’s narrowed it down to two options. You misguidedly try to help by offering to get both, whereupon your son bursts into tears, wailing, “But that would be so selfish!”
(2) By the eve of his birthday the pressure has mounted to meltdown levels. When you go in to kiss him goodnight, you naively ask if he’s looking forward to his birthday and are dismayed to be told, “No, it’s going to be awful! Just like last year.”
As you cast your mind back to the fun he seemed to be having at the theme park you visited on his last birthday, your son continues, “And just like Christmas. Why did we have to be at their house! Why couldn’t we have stayed at home?”
You grope for a way to stem the tide of vitriol and turn the mood to pleasant birthday anticipation. “You’re looking forward to your presents, aren’t you?” But it’s too late. “No! It’s awful having to pretend I like my presents when really I hate them! Like that rubber octopus that the eyes broke off within a week!” (Referring to a stocking-filler squidgy toy he played with 24/7 until not only its octopussy eyes but most of its tentacles were worn away.)
You eventually calm your distraught son by reassuring him (fingers crossed) that in the morning when he opens his presents from his immediate family he can be completely honest in his reactions to his presents.
(3) The big day dawns and birthday boy wakes, smiling and refreshed. He glances happily at the little pile of wrapped gifts and opens the card his sister hands him. Each card then has to be opened before any presents are unwrapped, “because I’ve opened one card now. It would be unethical to ignore the rest.”
(4) You’re delighted when your son asks to go to the climbing wall as his birthday treat. All that exercise will help use up some of his psychomotor energy in preparation for the sugar rush that is birthday cake.
(5) Less auspiciously, he wants to follow up with ten-pin bowling. Despite your best efforts to end up in last place yourself, your heart sinks as birthday boy’s final ball barrels into the gully, an enormous zero flashes onto the scoreboard, and the inevitable meltdown ensues. You drive home in silence.
(6) Your daughter, whose latest passion is watching cake-decorating videos, has decided to decorate her brother’s birthday cake with his favourite video game character. She’s planned it all out in her imagination but despite your gentle suggestions that she practise, she’s never actually made icing, drawn the design or used a piping bag before she attempts the project on the big day.
You’re thrilled at the result of her efforts, but your daughter is tearfully crestfallen at the apparent chasm between the cake she designed in her imagination and the one she’s managed to create.
Many hugs and the birthday boy’s exclamations of delight later, big sister is consoled, and you all sing Happy Birthday.
(7) Birthday boy helps himself to an enormous slice of chocolate cake and you brace yourself for the sugar roller coaster. All goes well as the kids run straight out to the trampoline, though when they contort arms and legs into monster limbs using one of their dad’s sweaters, you suggest they move the game onto a less bouncy surface.
(8) Disaster. Wagamamas doesn’t have a side table available for dinner. The four of you squeeze onto a bench in between a dad with his two daughters and a twenty-something couple. You smile apologetically as birthday boy expresses his feelings about having to share a table. Times like this you really want to explain that your son is not Veruca Salt, he’s just incredibly sensitive to noise, light and touch (on the best of days, let alone at the end of an overwhelming, sugar-fuelled birthday).
(9) Back home from the restaurant, your daughter finally cracks from the pressure of being nice to her brother all day. You spend fifteen minutes cuddling, wiping tears and appreciating her for being such a lovely sister.
(10) 10:30PM. Birthday boy comes to show you he’s solved the 3D wooden puzzle Grandma gave him and to describe the life cycle of a star he’s just learned about in his new space encyclopedia. He hugs you tightly and tells you he’s had the best birthday ever. You collapse into bed smiling, exhausted and relieved.
(How many days until the next birthday..?)
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What are birthdays like in your house?
What are your top tips for maximising the fun and minimising the meltdowns?
I’d love to hear from you, in the comments or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page!
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