The build up to our son’s fifth birthday was frenzied.
My partner had a vision, see. It focused on his obsession with Shaun The Sheep, and in particular with Mossy Bottom Farm’s resident scarecrow, a peripheral figure in the animated TV serieswhose intermittent appearances make the boy fall off his chair in paroxysms of demonic cackling. He loves that thing, with its creepy stitched mouth, button eyes and outstretched broomstick arms.
So we were to construct five scarecrows and make hunting for them around the gardens we’d hire for the occasion the central activity of his birthday party. Lavish, expensive and onerous, just the ticket.
In truth, I’ve always been a sucker for birthdays, so I didn’t really mind making the effort (especially as my partner made most of it). And turning five seemed to me kind of a big deal, a milestone worth commemorating.
Turning five seemed to me kind of a big deal, a milestone worth commemorating.
Maybe it’s because that’s the first of my own birthdays that I remember. I was dressed up as a cowboy, my mum made me a cake in the shape of a train, and I had all of the neighbourhood kids over for a party. I even had a magician (well, a man in a top hat with a rabbit). I remember all the parents cleared out when he arrived and the first thing he did was ask who the birthday boy was.
Now, everyone there knew that the birthday boy would score the sweet gig of magician’s assistant. This would mean not only getting to tap stuff with the wand, but also say a few abracadabras and maybe even handle the bunny.
Cue every single kid in the room, girls included, jumping up and down, arms waving in the air.
“I’m the birthday boy! It’s me! It’s me!” It was like that scene from The Life Of Brian.
He never did work out I was the real deal, and instead spread the duties among my treacherous peers. The closest I got to the action was having a coin produced from behind my ear. There began my lifelong sense of being cheated, and aversion to magicians.
One of the effects of parenthood can be to reconnect parents to their childhoods. And for those of us fortunate enough to have had the reasonably happy kind, free from, say, abuse at the hands of trusted elders, or residence in offshore detention centres, this is something of a treat, a counterpoint to child rearing’s myriad tribulations.
So many things take us back there- the smell of playdough on a kindergarten craft-table, the apparent endlessness of summer afternoons, the unparalleled thrill of a chocolate cake festooned with candles and a massive 5 made out in sugary icing - and remind us that, in spite of all our pretences and our worries, we’re all just big kids in essence, unchanged in our responses to the moment.
One of the effects of parenthood can be to reconnect parents to their childhoods.
Our son’s fifth birthday party went off.
He was dressed up as the grumpy old lady from Shaun The Sheep (her schtick battering with a handbag anyone who crosses her), his mother wore an ovine onesie, his older sister dressed as the farm cat while I pulled on some gum boots, stuck some ginger sideburns on to my face and spent the entire event explaining that I was supposed to be the farmer.
The scarecrow hunt engaged and exhausted our fairy-bread-fuelled guests as planned. The pinata made in the shape of one of the farm’s naughty pigs was a masterstroke, the use of the old lady’s handbag as instrument of destruction its crowning glory. The candles on the cake even stayed alight for long enough for the boy to blow the buggers out.
And throughout the proceedings, while basking in the pleasure of seeing our son enjoy his special day, one that he might recall when he’s a knackered dad himself, I channelled, too, my inner five year-old, and let him play. I took from the day a fresh understanding that life moves really, really fast - it was only yesterday that we were kids ourselves, while old age awaits just around the corner - that the day is to be seized and the simple, silly stuff cherished.
Which is some consolation for the house now being full of goddam scarecrows.