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My son's 18th bash... but I wasn't invited

"NUTS?" I ask, holding up a pack and cocking an eyebrow. We've driven miles to a supermarket for party supplies. It's our eldest son Zachary's 18th -- which is all, well, awkward

"I mean, I remember being 18," I'd confided to my wife earlier, screwing up my face as I emphasised the word 'remember' to show how inconceivable it seemed that one of our children should already have reached the milestone.

"Don't be silly," my wife replied. "Of course you don't." But I did and I do. What I don't recall is getting older.

Booze

Zachary shrugs at the nuts. "Sure," he says noncommittally and I toss in two packs. "Onion rings?" I offer, inching the cart forward. "Cashews?" chimes in my wife, a little too enthusiastically.

Thing is, we could spend all day perusing the snacks, but there's no avoiding the elephant in the aisle: the booze section yawning open ahead of us.

I catch my wife's eyes and steel myself, sucking in a single deep breath between clenched teeth before doing what I feel is the only appropriate thing under the circumstances. I fling myself on to the cart, arms wide and shoot off in the other direction, shouting "Wheeee!"

Later, still throbbing a little where my wife might have thumped me, I find myself loading two small flat packs of Heineken into the boot.

"Perhaps it would be good," she tells Zachary, "if we just held on to one until you need it." "Sure," he shrugs again. Where will we be again?" I ask. "In the playroom," she says. "In the playroom," I repeat. "All night?" "Yes, all night."

I swing the last bag in. "How much was this lot again?" I ask. "€190," she says and I splutter a little.

"Seems like a lot of money," I mutter to the dashboard as I reach down to turn the key, "for a party in our own house we're not even invited to."

Debris

At 11pm, the house is heaving. "It's good we're here," says my wife, "just in case."

The sound of live music begins from where they've found the drum kit and my electric guitar.

"I'm going to the kitchen for beer," I say.

"Eh..." she begins, but I'm already squeezing down the hall past young men, taller than me and eyeing me dubiously. I almost explain myself but press on.

I shuffle through the hubbub nodding politely but I only seem to make people tense. "Hello, Mister-Zachary's-Dad," says someone. I pop my head in at the band, who promptly drop everything and apologise. It hits me: I am the party killer.

"You're back quick," chuckles my wife before adding, mock sympathetically: "Did no one ask you in for a jam session then?"

We listen as the party peters out and emerge to clean up while birthday boy walks the last of his buddies home. Room by room, we read the debris like a forensics team. "Look, someone had a coconut," I say ruefully, sweeping up bits.

We examine gifts, some so grown up -- a collection of Oscar Wilde quotations; some not so -- monkey-face slippers, skateboard stuff...

I'm emptying half-full beer cans down the sink as I feel a twinge at our grown-up boy. And looking back at me from my reflection above the sink, there's me, still feeling young enough to want to join in -- yet so genuinely old for the first time.


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