AND so it has begun. The parties. The never-ending parties.
The pink or blue envelope in the school bag weekly. Every Saturday or Sunday and last week both Saturday and Sunday. The constant invites. The constant expense. Now I'm all for little girls and boys having birthday parties, but what I'm not all for is being told what to buy for them and what type of party to have. The new Party Phenomena.
"Please come to our son's party. We are buying him a set of golf clubs so if you could just put €25 in his card that will go towards them. Thank you." Em, sorry now? I had no intentions of spending €25 on anyone's fifth birthday present. I was going to go for a colouring book, markers and maybe some colourful marbles? But what do you do?
Are you going to be the only one who didn't chip in and, therefore, the poor wee fella is on the golf course with a fancy golf bag and some marbles. Clubless. Tiny index finger pointing right at me.
It seems to me like our decisions are always being taken out of our hands. Notes from parents through the letterbox or in the school bag.
"We (who are the the royal we, I often wonder?) are buying a big present for the principal's 25th wedding anniversary, so please put €10 in your child's schoolbag in a brown envelope so the teacher can collect them for us. Yes, brown envelope. Oh my alarm bells are ringing all right.
"We will be printing a list of names of every parent who contributed." Printing a list? Why? Where are you putting it? Framing it for the school hall? How ridiculous. Don't threaten me!
(Put the money in envelope, seal it and pop it in the schoolbag).
"Mammy, Niamh H and Niamh B are wearing that new red maxi dress from Penneys with the blue sandals to the party, can I get that, too?" asks my fashion-conscious five-and-three-quarters-year-old.
"You've lots of lovely dresses; no." I put my foot down. It's costing me €25 already.
At the school gate. Twelve mammies swing their brown paper Penneys bag and pull the aforementioned red maxi dress out as each of them ooh and ahh over it. Right. I have to run to Penneys now and get the maxi dress and the sandals before Saturday. Then I get the question I was not expecting.
"So what are you going to do about your daughter's party? She's in August right?" Click of tongue. "Do you want such and such to collect phone numbers so you can text us all the address, time, theme etc?" Time and theme? I take a deep breath. Slowly in through my nose.
"I hadn't thought about it?" I exhale. Their eyes are wide. Bulging. The crumpling sounds of paper bags being held tighter.
"You haven't booked Sabrina yet?" A collective gasp.
"Who's Sabrina?" Wry smiles I'm sure I heard a stifled giggle.
"Sabrina is the fairy, she's done almost all the parties except one," they all raise their eyes to heaven.
"Why, what happened? I ask, even though I don't want to.
"Marina didn't book her on time. Ended up with someone none of us had tried, it was a total mess. You do not want to know. Sabrina is the best. The ultimate in fairy-themed parties. She does it all. Do you want her number?" She thrusts her Penneys bag at me and I surreptitiously take a peek at the maxi. She rummages.
"Here you go." A small square gold card with a rainbow is placed in my hand.
"Call. Her. Now. Tell her I gave you the gold card?" I grasp it tightly, the tiny glittery pieces marking my palms.
"I will, but... I think we might be going away, though?"
And now I suddenly get it. I see the open mouths. The confusion. What, no party-back? You owe us all a party-back. It's payback. If I don't have this party I'm taking advantage. They all gave my daughter a great day out, and now I must do the same.
So I will have the party and invite all the school friends in the summer holidays, only because I don't want my daughter to be the odd one out.
But I am not booking Sabrina. I'm still doing my own party my own way – where I make a crappy but love-filled hedgehog cake with chocolate buttons as the spikes.
We will do pass the parcel and musical chairs and opening all the presents (whatever they may be) just like in my day. And maybe, just maybe, it will be good old-fashioned cheap fun.
The Other Side Of Wonderful, by Caroline Grace-Cassidy, is published by Poolbeg Press, price €14.99