I’m planning my son’s birthday party. It’s such a cute thing to do.
We like to keep parties simple in my family. We don’t hire in and we try to keep the list short. I’ve noticed children have more fun that way. When there are too many people the birthday child is either overwhelmed or plays with one or two friends while the others do their own thing. I don’t see how that is a birthday party for a specific someone. In my view a birthday party is a chance to celebrate the person who was born into our lives. I guess, as in discipline and life choices, my preference is connect first, everything else second. I see a birthday party as an opportunity to deepen connection.
Anyway so the friends have been invited and each one means something to my little guy. As each friend informs us he or she can make it my boy grins and settles a little more into the joyful anticipation of having them there at his special day.
Now it’s time to decide what games and activities we play. He knows what he wants and my job is to organize it into a workable format. Big brother wants to help manage the party so he is My Helper. This should be interesting – we both like to be in control. I’m reminding myself now as I write that I need to settle into working WITH him rather than be his boss. I hope I remember that otherwise he will just get frustrated and sulk. As would anybody who understands they are a partner in a project only to find they are merely a powerless lackey.
Anyway back to the planning. Someone spoke to me about how the game Pass The Parcel has changed. “In the Old Days”, they said (ie the hardcore 80s), “there was a parcel with layers which was passed around a circle. When the music stopped whoever was holding the parcel ripped off one layer. Slowly the parcel became smaller and smaller and the anticipation built to see who would be holding the parcel for the final layer because that person could keep the prize in the center”.
I remember this as fun. I don’t remember times I won or lost, I just remember the excitement. “Nowadays”, this person continued, “we are so afraid of our children’s disappointment that we put a prize in each layer and make sure everyone has had a turn.” Maybe our parents also sneaked a peek to make sure the music stopped on the child who hadn’t yet had a turn, but I don’t remember tantrums and tears and screams of “It’s not fair!” I know I have seen that nowadays.
I also know that last year I found myself packing a parcel chockablock with little surprises in every layer and feeling concerned that it would work out unfairly. I wondered about the idea that we don’t give our children practice in dealing with disappointment.
By the way, my solution worked really well. I only put gifts in some layers and each surprise that was uncovered was put by the children into a bowl that sat in the center. They were informed the contents would be shared out fairly at the end so they sat there and were excited by each thing that was added to the bowl for them as a group. It was fun. No fears of unfairness and disappointment for them or me.
This year my boy wants to play The Chocolate Game. It’s a super fun game for those who may not know it. A large bar of chocolate sits on a bread board in the center of the circle along with a fork, knife and some articles of clothing – a hat, scarf, large jacket. It’s great fun if the clothing is large or floppy or interferes with dexterity in some way. The children pass a die around and when someone rolls a six he or she jumps up, puts on the clothing and sits down to eat the chocolate with a knife and fork only. No fingers allowed. They sit there eating chocolate until someone else throws a six at which point they must immediately stop and pass the clothing onto the next person. Sometimes it takes time before the next six is thrown and sometimes it is immediate… There is a lot of fun and hilarity.
So my two boys were discussing this and said, “We must leave some chocolate aside so that if someone doesn’t get a chance at all then at the end they get given some chocolate.”
I found myself having an old-school reaction to this. “What? Toughen up, life isn’t fair, que sera sera, you need to learn to cope…” Luckily I shut up. I simply observed myself. It’s true that life can seem very unfair and they’ll learn this, but is a children’s party really the moment to force them to engage with this? Anyway, where did this tough attitude get us? Maybe it’s this very attitude that has caused the problems in our world today? Who is to say a softer approach won’t create a kinder world? If we aren’t all hardening ourselves against the ‘harsh reality’ and ‘unfairness’ we could concentrate more on connecting and having fun.
Back when children were seen and not heard young folk didn’t get much of a say in how games went: parents said and we did. Nowadays children get to say so much and we – having not enjoyed the experience of being silenced – listen to them.
It was a small but meaningful moment for me as I relinquished the decision making to the children. They wanted to make the game fair. A socially trained part of me wanted to stop them. For what? To maintain the skewed power dynamics in our world that we have been taught are ‘right’? The very same power dynamics populations around the world are rising up in great masses to rebel against? Funny how our children reveal our imbalances and indoctrinations in the oddest places – we’re talking about the Chocolate Game fer goodness sake!
So, to help make the world right again in little and big ways, I will keep some chocolate aside so if there are some who don’t get during the game, they will get after the game is done.
World peace and fairness will prevail in our Chocolate Game.