Happy Birthday (to you) (S. Wonder, 1981)
That time of year in our house has rolled around again. The children’s birthday show is back in town. The week when the birthday that we have literally been counting down for since January, is back upon us. My son, Cole, is 8 on Tuesday and this weekend has been filled with over excited 8 year olds, a pool party, a sleepover and birthday present shopping in Dubai. Eight is an age where a birthday party is still cool but he is old enough to have a sleepover and so decided he wanted a “bob each way” this birthday by doing both. And, as he is an only child I of course folded faster than Superwoman on laundry day upon that request. And what followed was every bit as high-pitched and over excited as you can possibly imagine; as if we were being made by some higher power to atone for the sins of the past. Let me elaborate.
We wake early out of necessity for we have organized a 10.30am commencement of birthday proceedings. At this point I have no idea why I did that. It simply added insult to injury by meaning we had to be up early and rushing about. The sun is shining and Cole is excited in the extreme. We've outsourced the pool party to a hotel not far from our home. The hotel will organize the food and music. The cake is being delivered half an hour before the party and it's all going swimmingly (excuse the pun). Easy.
Wrong. The reality is so vastly different. Thirty minutes into festivities, things are panning a lot more like this. When I say that the 'sun shining', a more accurate statement is: it 45 degrees in the shade, and humid. The heat is harsh and claustrophobic. Children, coming at me from all angles like spider monkeys in some sort of frenzied attach. I do not recognize a single one of them as now they are not sporting their usual school uniform. Nor do I recognize the parents accompanying these children. I was expecting the mothers that I know from the daily school run. No. This time it is dad. Dad who has not been seen since parent introduction night nearly a year ago who is doing his bit and has (to) come along. Instead of the picture above, it felt a lot more like this:
So there I am, Cole buzzing around in a state of extreme excitement. Two dozen other children and adults, none of which I properly recognize through my sunglasses. Oh, did I mention it's hot? While this rude awaken is taking place, Matt is on the fourth call of the morning to the cake company who can't find the hotel. If you live here in the Emirates you will totally appreciate how hard it is to find some places. Addresses in the traditional sense are a somewhat fluid concept and are in many cases about as useful as a concrete parachute.
The cake finally arrives. We open the box. It's typically average. A small mercy: “Cole” is spelled correctly. The parents, mainly dads, have done the pleasantries and promptly left to enjoy three hours of liberty from their children, leaving them in our custody there by the hotel pool.
Understandably, and those of us with children know the exact feeling, I am now feeling rather overwhelmed with the whole thing. That feeling is only further enhanced as I look in the pool at and see 15 eight year olds going crazy on their woggles. The realization washes over me. I am now actually a lifeguard too. There I am, perched on the edge of the pool; I'm still wearing my favourite River Island beach dress as I don't really think my Beach Bunny bikini is really that appropriate for this particular occasion. I am hotter than the sun and in need of some inspiration. In a light-bulb moment I decide to hold impromptu swimming races for the guests. This brainwave has a dual benefit: it passes time with some semblance of public order to the utter relief of the paying hotel guests who are trying to enjoy their Friday morning by the pool. It also puts a dent in what feels like the endless energy of these children. It reminded of my days as a teacher and didn't in end in tears. Result.
Things now well on track, they were corralled out of the swimming pool and to the tables which had been prepared, together with enough mac-and-cheese, hotdogs and burgers to feed a standing army. The kids loved it. Feeding their faces and bobbing along Shawn Mendes Stiches, on repeat.
All that was left was to cut the cake, belt out Happy Birthday To You (in English and Arabic, of course) and then pack these little delights back off with their parents to enjoy the rest of the weekend with their by now exhausted, fed and watered under-ages.
And that left Matt and I, with Cole and his closest friend to have brunch there by the pool side and put together our shattered nerves as if we were recovering from a diagnosed case of post-traumatic stress disorder. And prepare ourselves for episode 2: the sleepover. Thankfully, the sleepover proved to be a cakewalk in comparison to the pool party. The considerably smaller numbers and the fact we were not dying of heat exposure and were instead in the familiarity of our home, made this a much easier proposition. Pizzas were eaten, Minecraft was played, children’s disagreements were arbitrated and much, much fun was had by the boys who giggled their way into the night.
That giggling was the first thing I could hear down the other end of the house this morning. But it was now done. All that was left was to pack the bags and return children to from whence they came. And it was over for another year. Matt and I have resolved that next year things will be different. Somehow quieter and altogether more dignified. But at about this time next year I am sure that the rubber arm will be twisted and we will be having the same conversation. For now, thank the Lord it is over.