Have party, have invitations, might have nervous breakdown

People like me shouldn’t throw parties. I’m far too fraught to be a host. But sadly if you want to make sure your kids will visit you in your twilight years then you need to throw a party for them every now and again.

Fortunately, Ray is miserable, like his father and me, (two negatives did not make a positive in his case) and he is satisfied with me taking him and his mates to the footy or the cinema. And up until now, Arnie and Mini had been content with family teas and shop-bought cake. Then, they started to go to different parties –  and they saw what was out there – and boom, Arnie was desperate for a “proper” party for his fifth birthday. Shiiittt.

Surprising, husband who has the social skills of a hedgehog agreed. “Yeah,” he said. “As long as the fuckers don’t come to our home and wreck it.”

So I got organised. I outsourced it, naturellement. I found a Venue, entertainer, and food. It worked out about £10 a head. That is important. Each child had better be good value. I decided on the magic number 12, which take away my own three kids, was nine guests.

“Who do you want to invite?” Arnie is in reception and since he didn’t go to the local play school, I hardly know a soul at the school.

Arnie didn’t know. He had no idea who his mates were. Not a scooby. I tried to remember everyone I had ever heard of. But the kids Arnie talks about most are those who have been under “the Black Cloud.” I only wanted kids from under “The Sunshine” at the party. (£10 a head, remember?!)

“How about Johny?”

“Yeah,” he said doubtfully.

“Stan?”

“I don’t like Stan.”

“Remy?”

“Yes.”

I sent out the invitations giving them three weeks to reply. Standard, so I thought. I made Arnie sign the card thus giving him much needed writing practice – boy, I was getting good at this parenting thing.

The next day, Arnie came home looking glum.

“Jennifer,” he said with doe-eyes. “Amelia. Arthur. Jack.”

“You want to invite them too?”

“Yes.”

“Well, you can’t. We’ve reached the limit.”

And that’s where it got complicated.

So I sent out nine invites. Did I hear back? Did I shit. Two, let us call them, two Sunshine parents, texted the next day. Yes, blah, blah, would be delighted to come.

The rest. Silence. Radio Silence.

Now, I suppose you are thinking, that’s no surprise, no one likes you, and you could be right, but these people didn’t even know me. Surely, you have to know me to not like me?

They might not like Arnie, and you could be right, but he’s quite a nice kid. If it were Mini, yeah, I’d understand, but Arnie’s pretty inoffensive, he has never, ever been under the black cloud and he did get seventeen Christmas cards which was more than the rest of the family put together.

The problem was I couldn’t be certain why they had not replied and indeed if they had not replied.

a. Did they even get the invites? They were merely stuffed into the book bag. Still, the teacher is quite on-it and the cards weren’t in bag. Surely, she did not bin them?

b. Did I write my own phone number incorrectly? Hmm unlikely.

c. Did they fail to copy my phone number into their phones? Possibly.

d. Are they just bastards at keeping in touch? Very likely. (Particularly Black Cloud Max’s mother.)

Fortunately, Private investigators managed to track down two mothers and I kettled them at the school gate, direct, bish, bash, bosh. “Are you coming or not?” Both were quite sheepish. “Oh, I thought I had replied.”

“Did you really?” I said, shining the torch in their eyes.

“Yes,” they said nervously. “Anyway, the answer is yes, please…blah blah would love to come.”

So we had four yes’s, but still that was only four out of the nine. I had paid £120 for this! So I gathered the c-list, friends of mine whose kids were approximately 5. Well, they ranged from 12 to 2, but that’s ok and I asked them to come. But that meant I still was in danger of going over the sacred twelve. Quelle horreur.

I blockaded one further parent at the school gate the Friday before, “Oh no, sorry,” she said, “Didn’t we let you know?” “No you didn’t.” “oh.”And on the morning of the party, two people sent texts. Nope, their kids weren’t coming. Worse, they proceeded to give me gumpfy excuses – involving grandparents and spa dates and the like. At this late date I didn’t bloody care. “Thank you,” I didn’t reply, “Had you let me known earlier I could have invited someone else.” (Which in fact I had done, but still…it’s the principle of the thing, dammit)

The party went well, Arnie and his friends, had a ball, and there were no major hiccups. Still, at pick up time, I was under my own black cloud of resentment still seething at the three late respondents and the two who had simply disappeared into the ether. Feckers.

As I complained to my sister, she asked me if I had let some mutual friends know whether I was coming to their engagement party or not.

“What? Oh well, I’ve been really busy organising this hoo-haa for Arnie.”

“You slack arse,” she said, cheerfully.

“Oh.”

So these have been my new years resolutions.

a. Always reply to invitations promptly

b. Never, ever, throw a party again.

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This wedding dress

My sister brings Dad over for dinner.  She is exhausted from clearing out his old flat.  She is carrying a large cardboard box that has ‘Paid: £4.99’ scribbled on the lid.

“I thought you’d like this,” she says. I open it straight away, still in the hall.

It’s Mum’s wedding dress. It’s creamy white, beautiful. I had no idea it was still around. I gently peel the tissue wrapping away. I feel like I am nursing a sick bird and I’m frightened I will break its wings. I unfold the dress and hold it up. Dad says, “Brings tears to my eyes that does.” Mini shouts, “I love you, mummy,” as she shoots past on the way to Scooby Doo on telly.

I never dreamed about dresses or weddings. I was a jeans and tank top girl with a homemade fringe. and every time a Wedding Invitation appeared on the mat I would groan. Weddings were places to be kissed by old ladies with moustaches or to eat salty food stuff I didn’t know the name of. But family parties were always like that, and I enjoyed them well enough. My ambivalence about weddings ran deeper. Even when I was only seven or eight, I couldn’t understand the big deal.  I loved my cousins and my babysitters, or whoever the bride was, but on their wedding day, they seemed to shrink in front of me. I would look at the groom and puzzle: why on earth was she marrying this one? Afterwards, the brides said it was the happiest day of their lives, but I was never convinced. I mean, if it were, would they really need to say it?

But this, this is a different wedding, a different dress.

It is long, so long, I have to hold it high over my head to get the full sense of it. Mum was much taller than me, and there is a train too. I am amazed it fitted in this box. It is made from a heavy cotton. I think it’s nothing like my wedding dress was but in some ways it is: It’s a dress that holds together two contradictory states perfectly: don’t look at me, but also, oh but if you must, you will see, I am, umm, classic and elegant?

Mum and Dad married early in 1963. So, after the Cuban Missile Crisis – The world came close to annihilation – wouldn’t that weaken your defences? and before JFK was shot. Mum was four months pregnant with my sister at the time. The families didn’t know, or at least, no one admitted they knew. The dress played an important part in the concealment. I know the facts about the day – The Cumberland Suite, chicken and potatoes – but I don’t know Mum’s feelings. I don’t know the answers to the questions: Were you in love? What kind of marriage was it? Did you have to fold yourself into something small to fit?

I take the box upstairs and put it under my bed. I wonder when I will take it out again. I find it hard to look at. It is one of the few things of Mum that we have left.

It seems hard to imagine that if it weren’t for her in that dress, that day, everything would be different.

Husband comes up and asks if I’m ok. I feel as though I am expected to say this, rather than actually feeling it, but I go: “Maybe my nieces or Mini will wear this one day.” I can’t imagine.

“Or Ray or Arnie?”

It is his little joke. Ha, I say and we go downstairs and have dinner.