One of the advantages of having children very close in age (three within 15 months, in my case) is that they tend to have the same friends. This makes is significantly easier when organising play dates or sending out party invitations. Last weekend my tribe had been invited to a friend’s birthday party and I duly dressed them up and got them to the venue in good time. Expecting to follow them into the hall, where hordes of children were already hurling themselves around a bouncy castle, I was stopped at the door by a friendly helper jotting down names in a notebook.
“Could I just take a contact phone number just in case we need to get hold of you?”
I wondered how big the party was, that they might need to call parents’ mobiles instead of just hollering for them. And then I realised…
“You mean, I can leave them here? I can go home? Without them?”
Whichever way I said it, the answer was apparently yes. I could ditch the kids and head off footloose and fancy free. Readers, I’m ashamed to admit I barely said goodbye to my offspring, such was my enthusiasm for the prospect of two child-free hours. What should I do? Sit in a coffee shop with a good book? Go for a swim? Have a bath? Much as I was tempted by the idea of two hours of total indulgence, I was far more tempted by the idea of doing the grocery shop without six sticky helping hands. I sailed round the aisles for an hour smiling smugly at parents trying to post recalcitrant toddlers into unyielding trolley seats.
When I arrived to collect the children we were all blissfully content; they with their E-numbers and I with my replenished cupboards and recharged batteries. I thanked the birthday girl’s mother profusely, silently noting that she seemed significantly more harassed than two hours previously. And that’s when I realised – that’s what birthday presents are all about. Never mind deciding a budget based on how much you like the child, how much everyone else will be spending, or how much you can actually afford. From now on my expenditure will be based purely on the potential return on my investment; any parent happy to take my children off my hands for two hours can be assured of a humdinger of a gift for their progeny. It’s the least I can do.