In our column documenting the ups and downs of family life, local mum Harassed Harriet dreads her daughter’s birthday celebrations
For her birthday, my middle daughter wants a pyjama and movie party and for her friend Tilly to stay the night. My heart sinks at the thought of a dozen children tearing my house apart followed by a broken night’s sleep. The last party ended with the youngest wailing, "I don't want to be here, I just want to go to Waitrose!" I couldn't have put it better myself.
Two hours before the party, I get an apologetic call from a mum. Her child doesn’t want to come, as we are showing Nanny McPhee and she is terrified of the warts on Nanny’s face. I am secretly relieved that we are one down.
“You look a bit like Nanny McPhee, says my eldest, eyeing the large mole beside my nose.
The doorbell rings and, on the birthday girl's insistence, I find myself greeting children in my slightly grey and saggy pyjamas, not usually for public consumption. My husband, on the other hand, is dressing up as an old fashioned cinema commissionaire. Unfortunately when Tilly’s mum takes her daughter’s overnight bag upstairs, he is still naked except for a small towel.
"Don't mind him, he's just changing into his frilly shirt," I assure her, and she looks rather alarmed.
Meanwhile the children are whipping themselves into a frenzy, jumping all over the sofa and chairs. We quickly switch off the lights and start the film.
Halfway through, my husband and I shuffle into the darkened room with refreshments. Kitted out in his dress shirt and velvet jacket, he has a homemade cardboard tray of ice cream tubs hanging from a string around his neck and I am shining a torch at his feet. Sadly, the retro cinema touch is lost on the children.
Later, after tea, the parents arrive and I breathe a huge sigh of relief. At bedtime, my own three and our sleepover guest are hard to settle. Tilly keeps appearing beside our bed at half hourly intervals saying that she is hungry. I run back and forth with fruit until eventually, beyond caring, I send her downstairs to help herself to crisps. At last, I close my eyes.
Moments later, I am shaken awake: "Mum, Tilly’s crying. She had a dream that you were Nanny McPhee and you were being really mean to her." I glance at the clock. It’s 3am – only five hours till Waitrose opens.