The Small(er) One had her second birthday party yesterday. It degenerated into a riot - the usual state of affairs when you pack over-sugared children and over-lubricated adults into an impossibly small space.
Children's parties are a minefield. In comparison, throwing an adult-only party is a breeze. All you need is lots of booze, some music, and one of your wilder friends to behave badly to ensure the other guests have something to talk about.
When it comes to kiddie celebrations, there is something about the combination of daytime hours, alcohol, screaming excited children, luridly coloured party food and annoyingly repetitive music played at top volume that brings out the worse in grown ups. I don't mean drunken foolishness - this is a must for a half-decent party - but the kind of stuff that makes you despair of being human; namely, hideous displays of parental competiveness.
If any of the following subjects start to creep into the conversation it is the host's duty to create a diversion - yes, even sudden and gratuitous nudity if nothing else comes to mind - in order to avert certain disaster.
1. Birth stories - detailed descriptions of hemorrhaging placental walls and a life-changing episiotomy do not do anything for the party atmosphere. It is also guaranteed to bring out the competitive streak in another mother who feels that her story of how she gave birth unaided in a bus shelter during the middle of an ambulance strike in deep mid-winter, oh and by the way she was having twins, should receive an equally loud airing.
2. Schools - trying to get your child into the 'right' school in London is an all-consuming obsession for most parents. Parents have been known to lie, steal and cheat to get little Tarquin into a half-decent state school - the alternatives being paying hefty private-school fees or putting up with the fact that there is a good chance your child will end up semi-literate and skilled only in mugging old ladies. This is a sure-fire parental conversational flash point, the equivalent of introducing the subject of rent boys at a Lib Dem party conference, and will only end in tears.
3. Child intelligence - an especially tricky one as it creeps into the conversation like a stealth bomber under the guise of a harmless misty-eyed anecdote. Always started 'innocently' by one parent, after which all those present will leap into the fray baying for blood. Any mention of Baby Einstein DVDs must be stamped on immediately or baby IQ tests and Japanese language classes for toddlers are sure to follow.
4. Weight loss - always a minefield for mothers, especially those who have given birth within the past year. Made much, much worse by the presence of the miracle mummy who managed to effortlessly ease back into her skinny jeans within three minutes of giving birth, who airily claims to scoff lardy snacks all day long and to never exercise. Cue a host of dejected faces and wholescale muttering. The only solution is to force the offender to eat twice as much cake as anyone else and never invite her to a gathering again.
So when it comes to pre-party planning, don't waste your time worrying about how to entertain the kids. Throw them a plate of hydrogenated oils and e-numbers and they'll take care of themselves. It's the parents you need to prepare for. A degree in psychology helps, otherwise pop a valium, prepare to be ever-vigilant, and steel yourself for the inevitable fallout.