Let me entertain you

It was a 4th birthday party double-header for us this weekend. Yesterday’s party was at the soft play place that we had the girls’ party at (and a million others before and since). Todays’ was a church hall with an entertainer affair.

It takes a certain type of person to be a children’s entertainer. They broadly fall into two categories:

  1. Young, male, tall, skinny, probably doing children’s parties as part of a large organisation to  support themselves through drama school and to earn a bit of beer money at weekends.
  2. Older, male, rotund, trained at RADA, lots of stage work on the CV, along with bit parts in TV dramas and some adverts.

The younger entertainers are, without fail, enthusiastic and clearly enjoy their role, even if it isn’t quite what they might have had planned. Some even stay in the profession, setting themselves up as independent children’s entertainers.

Eventually, there is a tipping point at which the young, snake-hipped entertainer becomes a grumpy old ham. Today’s entertainer definitely fell into the latter category. I’m not going to name names here. I adore the child and family that hired the entertainer. I’m just going to list a few highlights from the afternoon.

We were in a small-ish church hall. The entertainer insisted on having a microphone throughout his performance despite his voice being more than loud, which made said microphone redundant. This meant that the parents on the periphery that wanted to chat had to wait for the quieter moments in the act (there weren’t many) to have a conversation. There was also an awful lot of feedback, which made him quite unpleasant to listen to.

Entertainers generally make an effort to learn at least some of the children’s names (some, impressively, learn all) and he did (to start with at least) but he gave children nicknames based on their actual name. For example (this is fictional but you’ll get the idea), Milly became Milly-Willy. Generally best not to mention willies at children’s parties.

He did a lot of falling over and not much else. 4 year olds find pratfalls hilarious, but they lose interest after the seventy-third ‘pretend fall towards the audience, rescued at the last possible second’ moment. The magic tricks he did were rubbish.  Not ‘looks a bit shit but is actually pretty clever’, actual ‘that’s really shit and no-one, not even the six month old gurgling in the corner was impressed by that’. He made jokes but most of them sailed over the children’s heads and made the adults groan…and not in a good way.

There were 25 children in attendance and in his infinite wisdom, he decided to initiate a game where the children sat in a circle and he chose the birthday child to be chased around the ring by another child. Predictably, this ended when one of the children slipped over and banged her head. The weather was lovely and there was a nice patch of grass outside – why not play the game out there?

I’m just whingeing now. Towards the end of the party, the entertainer finished his act (just realised that no-one clapped him and everyone is normally appreciative of the entertainer) and started handing out flyers to the parents. This is a fairly normal event and the flyer is usually an advert for the entertainer with the contact details and testimonies, should we wish to book them for our own children’s parties.

I’ll give you a few edited highlights from this entertainer’s flyer:

“At present X is appearing in [soap] as a door-to-door salesman….recent work on TELEVISION (caps his not mine) for [hospital based drama series]…..guest starred in [various 80s children’s TV programmes]….toured with the RSC….played character in pantomime….trained at [proper drama schools and theatre companies]….”

So far, so predictable. Then it gets really surreal: “Numerous adverts for ITV including dodgy Video Market Trader in anti-pirate video for 7 years….X has been an actor for 21 years and has worked with Colin Firth, Daniel “007” (quotation marks his) Craig and Clive Mantle at the BBC.”

I’m amazed he didn’t hand us all a showreel DVD. Of course, Dh and I looked him up when we got home. He’s even got his own YouTube channel. I may know very little about his abilities as a children’s entertainer (except to say that he wasn’t great) but I could compile a pretty detailed Wikipedia page for him, should I wish to. (I don’t).

I think R summed it up best. After the entertainer had gone, she turned to Dh and asked “Where did that woman go?”. Dh ascertained that she was referring to the entertainer and, stifling giggles, explained that it was definitely a man.

She didn’t look convinced.

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Boy band heaven

The 4th birthday party we attended on Saturday (the 4th one of the year so far) had a disco. There was some B*eb*r, some Agadoo and then What Makes You Beautiful by One Direction came on. The girls, acting as if they had been hypnotised, climbed off the bouncy castle and launched into a choreographed dance routine.

Dh and I (once we’d recovered from the shock) asked where they had a. Heard the song (we’re always a bit dubious since the B*eb*r incident at nursery a year or so ago) and b. Learnt the moves. Apparently it’s one of the things they do in the tap element of their combined ballet and tap class.

I felt it was motherly duty to download the song so they could practice at home. I bought the song on my phone and when I played them the opening bars their eyes lit up. I then searched YouTube for the accompanying video but to no avail so I downloaded (i.e. BOUGHT) the video as well. I explained that the boys in the video sang the song (I haven’t tried them on MTV and the like since they were about 18 months old) and R asked me what the boys were called.

It would be easy for me to lie at this point and say I didn’t know so I had to Google the answer, but I didn’t. I knew all of the names off by heart thanks to my X-Factor habit and my frankly ludicrous recall of celebrity gossip. (Maths? Not so much. Celebrity trivia? I’d get an Olympic gold medal ).

G decided that Liam was very clever because he was able to sit on a fence. R asked why Harry was talking to ‘that girl like that’. I said they were very good friends. They’re 4 years old – that’s enough of an answer for now.

Dh took a video of the girls doing the dance but it’s really dark so I’ll have to try and capture it again. It’ll be great blackmail material for the inevitable moment that they decide to paint their bedroom black and become goths.

Half-full

I can finally cast off my mourning garb and uncover the table legs*. I’m officially ‘over’ my sadness at not ever having any more children. Having (nearly) four year olds is (almost) brilliant**.

My father-in-law had a 65th birthday party at the weekend. A year or two ago I would have been planning a. Babysitters*** or b. A strategic exit from the party when one or both girls reached inevitable meltdown at 8pm. This time I was confident that the girls could see most of the evening through. Dh was convinced that we would be in bed by 10pm. I told him to have a little faith. I had a plan. We travelled to the Fens after lunch, the point in the day at which the girls are most likely to be content and a tad sleepy. It kind-of worked when we turned off my driving tunes and Classic FM did its usual trick of putting the girls into a coma.

The girls were on the dance floor until 11pm when Dh and I staged an intervention and took them back to the hotel. This was their first ever late night and they coped admirably. G is a proper little dancing queen, although the beat in her head is clearly different to the one the rest of us can hear as she dances a bit like Phoebe from Friends. R spent most of the time following her cousin P (6) around. P is the Chloe Pig to R’s Peppa. She worships her. Dh was told on several occasions that the girls were ‘The best behaved children we’ve ever seen’. These people were only a teensy bit drunk (i.e. still able to stand) so I’m totally taking the compliment.

We have finally redecorated the girls’ bedroom. When we moved here two years ago their room was yellow with a teddy bear border and they were young enough at 20 months to warrant keeping the décor the same. Over the last year it became increasingly apparent that the room looked too babyish for their swiftly evolving tastes. It took me a while to persuade Dh but I finally wore him down and earlier in the week we painted their room pale pink (it looked worryingly like seafood sauce initially but has calmed down now) and decorated it with Peppa Pig wall stickers. I have also – finally – hung my cross-stitch alphabet up. It looks LOVELY.

I wanted to buy the girls proper beds but Dh has vetoed that for the time being because (brace yourselves) the girls aren’t dry at night yet….

<I’m now going to give you a moment to digest that. I’m getting a hot chocolate while you revel in our crapness by leaping around the room, air-punching, whooping with joy, whatever>

All done now? Good.

….so there’s no point moving them out of their current beds (their cotbeds with the sides off) until they’re in knickers. We’re dangling that (along with promises of bunk beds, Hello Kitty and Minnie Mouse bedding) as a carrot to ‘encourage’ them out of night-time pull-ups but they’re having none of it.

So, we’re not quite where I’d like to be, but we’re getting there. Plus, we don’t have to go through this again with other children so my glass is (for a change) half-full. All hail the 4 year olds!****

*I don’t actually think the Victorians did this.

**Apart from when they do something so naughty and/or stupid that I want to fall to my knees and weep at my parenting failures. This happens approximately once a day.

***Ha ha ha. I’m joking of course.

****Except when they make you cry.

Wanna be in my gang?

I don’t like gangs. I don’t like cliques. I don’t like ‘Here come the girls’, loose women, hen night whooping and hollering. I think all-female workplaces are a Very Bad Idea and I don’t just mean the syncing of periods. In the immortal words of Frasier Crane, women shouldn’t be allowed to talk to one another. I’ve dabbled in all female-gangs before and it generally Doesn’t End Well.

However, I now find myself in a gang. Moreover, according to dh I am in fact the leader of said gang. As da kidz say WTF?*

As your children get older they have the temerity to start choosing their own friends. I now understand why my parents would occasionally get a bit concerned about me having yet another best friend. Or rather, the ensuing devastation that would be caused by me and said BFF falling out approximately two weeks later.  Luckily the girls have pretty decent taste and have accumulated a nice circle of friends. Though friendship come playdates, through playdates come birthday parties and through parties coms social events with parents but without children. This means that dh and I spend quite a lot of time with people who we wouldn’t have otherwise met if it weren’t for the children.

As I stood at yet another birthday party at the weekend, chatting with the usual crowd of parents and offspring (and very nice they all are too), I was struck by the fact that I’d seen three of four of the families several times at different parties and events over the last few months. It’s got to the point now where the presence of a different family feels a bit….odd. If the girls go to a party and some or all of their core gang aren’t present I feel (my favourite word du jour coming up) discombobulated.

When the girls started nursery I noticed that some of the parents already gravitated towards each other and I felt that we were being (unintentionally) excluded. Now I understand. I’m now a member of the Little Stars clique. We’re the feisty, shouty, rebellious parents that kick up a fuss when we’re not happy. When we mention that our children are meeting up for extra-curricular events you can see carers’ eyes widening and/or rolling (impressive if you can do both at the same time) and they know that Things Will be Discussed.

Dh and I were recently discussing the fact that the girls have added a couple of extra children to their friendship group. “Are you going to let them in our gang?” He asked me. I scoffed for a few seconds and asked in genuine amazement “What do you mean? It’s not our gang?”. He grinned and said “It is so your gang”. I thought about it and I can’t disagree with him really. It’s a terrible burden and one I’ll have to learn to shoulder but I’ll get through it.

Now if you’ll excuse me I need to go and bulk order wine, houmous and carrot sticks for our next round of ‘meet the guinea pigs’ playdates.

*I don’t think da yoof say any of this stuff

Parties

We’re in the midst of 3rd birthday party madness at the moment. The girls have already attended four parties this year and have two more coming up in the next couple of weeks. I can’t think where the girls get their sociable, popular genes from – certainly not from me!

Our little party back in December seems rather tame in comparison to the ones we’ve been to since. Soft play parties, bopping bunnies parties, puppet shows, dancing and zillions of party games. I say party games….attempts to play them is more accurate. Pass the parcel is a perennial favourite and anything that involves music and things that make noise. We’re not quite at the pin the tail on the donkey and musical chairs stage yet.

Most people are pretty good and give the girls an invite each. Occasionally we get a shared invite and inwardly groan as the girls and I open it and R/G asks where their invitation is. Note to those that don’t have twins – please, please give the girls an invite each. Surely it’s not much to ask?

My determination to individualise the girls is also my downfall because I feel compelled to buy each child a present from R and a present from G. This makes the whole attending parties thing slightly expensive so I look out for Accessorise sales for little girlie presents and take advantage of 3 for 2 book deals in Waterstone’s and WH Smiths. Amazon is also ridiculously handy for picture books and generally much cheaper than the shops. It also really helps if I know the child very well as I can get them things I know they’ll like. It’s much harder if R and G get an invite from a child I don’t know as the girls aren’t exactly great at giving detailed information on their friends! The pigeon books by Mo Willems are my default option. You can take the girl out of the library…

Having hosted a couple of parties ourselves, I can appreciate the hard work that goes into a child’s party. The children aren’t at the stage where they can be dropped off and left for a couple of hours, so the host parents have to make the other parents feel welcome and comfortable as well. We’ve always cheated and had help with food and drink in the form of my family but you still end up running around trying to talk to everyone.

I’m pleased to say that party bags are still a feature of the 21st century children’s party and the girls look very sweet leaving a party with a bag of goodies clutched in one hand and a balloon in the other. 3 year olds are (relatively) easily pleased and are more than happy with a pot of bubbles, a small notepad and a couple of pencils. The best bit for the grown-ups is the cake. It has a funny habit of ending up in my packed lunch for work the next day…