M’s party has dominated my life for nearly three months and its all she has talked about since the spring. I tried to tell her months ago that by elevating her expectations to such a high level, she could only ever end up disappointed. We’ve had endless discussions on her dress, what way to wear her hair, where to have the party and the theme, let alone the smaller detail of the food and who’s coming and I can’t count how many of these have turned into arguments or strops which have ended in door slamming or screaming! It would be easy to forget that M isn’t the only one to have a birthday in the summer and J will turn 10 in August.
Most of the details have been elastic, but I gave M a budget in the hope she would learn that money doesn’t grow on trees and she will have to compromise her wishes with what she can afford. The other non-negotiable detail was alcohol; I made it clear to M that there would be no alcohol at the party and she was to clearly communicate that to her friends. Luckily due to a school trip last year, I had most of her school friends parent’s contact numbers and along with the invitations sent out, I reassured them about my no alcohol rule. The rules laid out, the day of the party finally arrived and M woke in a hyper anxious mood which didn’t bode well for the long day of preparation ahead, let alone the party itself. She was snappy and tearful, and before 10am we had already had two meltdowns. I spent the day making soothing noises and troubleshooting disasters. I took her to the hairdressers for a surprise beauty treatment and she enjoyed having her nails and hair done but that wasn’t without incident; Instagram disasters of who’s not coming followed by tears. By 6pm, M was already tired and overwrought but seemed to rally with the final preparations and finally enjoy being involved.
By this stage both Hubby and J had retreated to the living room and would only come out if I needed something carried or set up. The teenagers started arriving and M was immediately upset as instead of dancing and laughing, they were mostly taking selfies and chatting. I seemed to lurch from one perceived disaster rescue to another, and managing M’s emotions became a full time job. By 8pm, I had 30 teenagers in our back garden and I was immensely grateful the hot weather had held as I couldn’t image the chaos to my house if it rained. I recognised lots of faces but there were a few older faces that started to alarm me and by 9pm Hubby was evicting several older girls with bottles of Jack Daniels from the house. I had warned both M and Claire (her best friend) not to put the party details on social media and the consequences of uninvited guests.
Amongst all the preparation and troubleshooting planning, I had stupidly missed the most important potential disaster of all. M spent a lot of time tippy tapping on her mobile ‘phone and I had assumed it was to friends still due to arrive or posting photos to Instagram. However it was messages from M’s family that caused the biggest problems and I should have anticipated it. Like a lot of Looked After Children, M has a complicated and often turbulent relationship with her birth family (I’ve changed relationships to protect her privacy) and she was sent conflicting and upsetting messages from her mother and older sibling. Instead of letting her enjoy her day and maybe sending a card or a simple message, she was bombarded by messages of how they are going to fight to get her back, how I’m trying to split their family apart and what they are going to buy her. M hasn’t received a birthday or Christmas card or present from her family while she’s been with us, but they promise the world and M hangs on to every word. She knows she can’t live with her family, who are split over a wide geographical area, but it doesn’t stop her wishing and hoping for them to come through for her. So the evening ended in tears with M being locked in the bathroom and hating the world, but mostly me. Claire was the saviour of the birthday evening and I was surprised by the thoughtfulness of M’s best friend. She talked to M through the bathroom door for an hour and finally persuaded her out. At midnight, after the rest of the teenagers had been collected or gone home, I started the huge clear up, leaving M and Claire at the breakfast bar in our kitchen uploading photos to Instagram and calling it the best party ever!
The morning after the night before was an anti-climax and I left M and Claire in bed along with another girl who had slept over while Hubby and I, along with a very helpful but slightly bemused J, helped collect rubbish and bring back order to our house and garden. When the girls finally surfaced they nibbled on the pastries that Hubby had thoughtfully popped out to buy, sent each other photos and poured over their social media accounts. M was withdrawn and tired for most of the day and spent a lot of time talking about her family who were now quiet and not responding. I couldn’t face cooking after the Party Weekend so we got a take away and were grateful the Big Party was finally over and we could move on with the fallout. M came out of her room to show me some of her photos and we were able to talk about the party in a positive way. Her friends were calling it the party of the year and that seemed to be the most important thing to M. Social acceptance is a high priority to her (a child who has moved around and had many foster homes and schools), and I felt the strain leave her shoulders as she said good night and went to bed early for the first time in months. I was putting J to bed and as I left the room he asked me if he can go to McDonalds with Tim for his birthday? I could have kissed him!