Face-diving into flans and other party games – creating birthday fun and havoc

Since having my kids we’ve clocked up 18 birthday parties between the pair.

Only a handful of those involved professional entertainers and hall hire. Amber’s sixth party is note-worthy.We shared the party with her class twin, a girl born on the same day. We chose a cheer-leader theme. The entertainer  gave us such a bizarre experience that when we detailed our grievances her booker gave us a full refund. She’d had them put on a show staged for the final 5 minutes when parents returned to the hall for collection. They were met by dwarves wearing David Cameron and Gordon Brown masks performing a can-can. It looked so wrong. I’ve kept the our 4 page email complaint for it catalogues the shortfalls better than I am doing here and it makes for a hilarious read.  I keep it in Amber’s baby journal – she’ll especially enjoy it if she becomes a mum herself. The booker apologised profusely and said I described a party package she could not recognise! A day later she’d unraveled the mystery. The entertainer we’d hired was double booked so the girl asked her friend to stand in for her. A woman who normally catered for stags and hens.

Since then I’ve opted for home parties – simple, nostalgic and cheaper by a long shot. It’s also a very creative process and one I can involve the kids in too. In May I’ll have my son’s birthday and Holy Communion just a day apart. The festival tent will go up in the garden with meters of bunting that seems to expand with the kids. That’s my blank canvas and I’ll work from there. I have yet to settle on a theme. We don’t have as many options with my daughter’s February date though minutes after dropping the guests home from her tenth party last year we started planning what we’d do for the eleventh. We had to trump shopping and sipping. As her birthday this year fell on Pancake Tuesday and the day before the Lenten fast we decided on something around chocolate indulgence – a sweetie send-off. Those girls would be so sugared up they wouldn’t want to touch the stuff for at least 40 days.


Last year it was canvas shopping bags, this year chefs hats. With fabric pens, flowers, diamond beading the girls set about creating bespoke caps which after decorating they chose to wear for most of the party. We had blind chocolate tasting. The rhubarb and vanilla was pleasant but difficult to name.  The mango, lime and chilli made no sense at all. Why would you do that to chocolate!  There’s a skill to oreo stacking unlike our chocolate bingo game that depends on your call sheet.



Things got a little raucous with the flan decorating.  With squirty cream, icing bags and a load of toppings, it was inevitable things were going to get messy. After over-working their cakes they were rendered inedible so someone suggested a face dive. Pony tails held back, glasses removed and the diving commenced. The girls took pictures of their cake faces. Four and a half hours later carriages were called. Oh we somehow managed to squeeze in a chocolate fondue and pancake flipping. The girls were sent home with toothbrushes in their party bag and a group pic. Sweet.


Names…branding for life

Naming is a serious business. As soon as I knew I was expecting I started my search. Really the process started long before that. In the rain forests of Guatemala.

My host was a white witch, an American who ‘dropped out’ some decades earlier and made a living receiving intrepid backpackers with the guile to find him.  Not easy.  It’s nearly 20 years ago now but I know it involved a lorry ride and a creepy trek through thick plantation. As well as providing bed and breakfast there were add-ons like earth burials (for grounding, don’t you know), guided river dips, Reiki and personal astrological charts. The latter cost $10 and was very labour intensive. He didn’t have the internet (did anyone back then) so consulted books and maps and other aides. You had to commit to at least a 4-day stay to get the completed chart. With hindsight I see it could  have been a ploy to keep us longer but I was happy to stay for the duration. While there I met a lovely Canadian woman called Beth and her young daughter. I fell in love with the daughter’s name as soon as I heard it. Sequoia. I knew if I had a girl she’d be called Sequoia. A native American name called after the highest tree in the forest. I loved the link to trees – they’ve been a constant in my life. I loved that it had all the vowels too. A name to live up to.

So it was top of my list. And yet. How I struggled with giving her a name. Even that name. Friends failed to recall it. Few could spell it unaided. Did I want to saddle her with a name that would always have to be followed with a spell-check, a name that people might avoid for fear of mispronouncing.  Did I not have enough difficulties with my own name. We left the official registration to the very latest moment – 6 weeks after her birth. And in those last moments we inverted the name. Sequoia Amber became Amber Sequoia.

Three years later when her brother followed the search and torment started again. I’d hoped that one look at his little face and I’d feel inspired but I knew in my heart I’d have the same struggle. I didn’t know I was expecting a boy so during his incubation I raided the forests again with Sorrel and Willow this time.

For his first weeks he was referred to as “My boy”. Meanwhile I had everyone in on the name quest. I went through the same books and sites as I did for his sister.  I even listened to her but “Toonda” sounded like a reject from a Disney script. I spoke to elderly relatives to see if his name destiny was rooted in the family tree. Nothing. The registrar was very patient with us once again and I took comfort from his assurances that we had the year to make one change to his birth certificate and even after that it was possible but would require us going down the deed poll route.

So with unease we committed to Sawyer and as the weeks moved on I started to use the name and it felt right. The inspiration behind his name was Mark Twain’s Tom Sawyer. DH reminds me that Lost (the American TV series) was on the telly at the time and featured a very handsome rogue called Sawyer. I prefer to claim the literary link.

These reflections on naming are timely. Naming children and branding are two sides of the same coin. After weeks of word-wrestling I have the name for my own new venture. So coming soon the big reveal. I just might have found my purpose. But that can wait for another post.