“What on earth can we do for her birthday?” I asked Gav, willing for some flash of inspiration to help us avoid the dreaded Play Gym Party scenario.
Not being one for orchestrated, indoor fun courtesy of those expensive padded cells that have become commonplace amongst the Playground Mums, I was desperate for an alternative. “What’s more ‘us’?” I pondered? “What do we do together, with the girls, and how can we make that a part of Tilly’s birthday celebrations?”
And then the lightning bolt struck me very late one night: THAT’S IT! WE’LL HAVE A JUNIOR PARKRUN PARTY!
It was a risky plan.
Many Sundays, Tills seems riddled with pre-parkrun apprehension. She puts undue pressure on herself to work hard and aim for a PB. We’ve spoken about that – I’ve bored her to death with “it’s the taking part and enjoying it that counts” reassuring blurb. Not to Tilly it isn’t – she’s one for self-imposed striving of a 6-year-old’s insanely high standards. Most weeks, I can see her push herself, and I know it hurts. The little lungs burn; the chicken drummer quads prickle with lactic. It’s the start of a long journey – those ‘hurts’ feel just the same in adult turkey thighs.
So, my plan to combine this ‘fun’ with her birthday party seemed at first insane. Would she be mortified at the prospect of propelling herself around the usual 2km of hard work in full view of her classmates? Would she secretly be hankering after the sugary-coated play gym party, with a rainbow of plastic climbing frames and ropes, in full view of the latte mums and reluctant corporate dads? Maybe she quite enjoyed the sickly pink slide and the wipe-clean climbing mats with just a hint of vomit on overly warm days. Perhaps it’s just me who struggles to know how we all came to fall in love with this as a concept.
And what about the other kids? Would they even want to come to a Junior Parkrun party? Would the playground parents really want to be up and off at 8.15am on a grumbling Sunday morning to head for a local park? The Plastic Slide parties are usually at a more forgiving Sunday morning hour: time enough to look beyond Saturday night’s wine splurge that was never meant to end in opening that third bottle…
Not to mention the weather. Last night, I was awoken with dread at 2:30am by the unwelcome rattle of swollen raindrops on our velux window. “Ahh shit. What do I do now? What if it’s like this in five hours time? Do I even have all the contact details for those parents who’ve been bothered to reply? How would it look if we bailed on our own child’s party due to British weather? The play gym would seem like a dream then, smart arse, wouldn’t it?” I berated myself for not having a Plan B.
I’d made a valiant attempt to cover most bases: We’d ordered a cake, complete with the Junior Parkrun logo. They’d missed the photo of Tills off it, but it looked great nonetheless *it should do at that price. I’d ordered some kids’ sandwich boxes from the Cafe at Greenhead Park. Knowing how ravenous most of them are on crossing the finish line, it was a no-brainer. If in doubt, feed them!
And then there was the issue of presents. A second thunder bolt had struck and convinced me that there was an alternative to the reams of plastic tat suddenly needing a second home on the back end of a child’s birthday celebration. Without wanting to sound like a tight arse, or some holier-than-though tree-hugger whose daughter is made to do without ‘for the greater good’, I had a plan. Having an approximation of the levels of brick-a-brac already destined for residence with us, I decided we didn’t need any more encouragement for ingenious storage options – I hate IKEA at the best of times. And so I wrote to the parents and simply asked that instead of buying Tills a gift, we would greatly appreciate a small donation to our friend’s fund-raising efforts since losing their daughter last year – #FlyHighEdie. This seemed to hit a number of objectives, and we were over the moon that Cheryl, Tom and baby Annie were able to come over for the occasion, too.
And so, with the overnight downpour having just about abated, we headed off at 8am to see what this purportedly inspired Parkrun Party would deliver.
As we parked up, a couple of the Playground Mums meandered into Greenhead park, and I breathed a sigh of relief knowing that at least some of her classmates had turned up to give this left-field party idea a try. Phew! A few more arrived in dribs and drabs, and before we knew it, we were hobnobbing with many familiar faces. It was exciting to be able to share a little bit of what our family likes to do. Some of the parents had never heard of Junior Parkrun before. This was their first introduction to the world of Alternative Sunday Mornings.
We moved outside to the start area, and all around us Tilly’s classmates and friends were dotted in amongst the regular runners. Tills got a lovely birthday shout out, and before long we were off. At full capacity with a child gripped firmly in either hand, I looked down to either side of me. I saw giggling faces, full of laughter as novelty combined with the excitement of suddenly legging it for no apparent reason washed over the pair of them. And I thought to myself, “You’ve pulled a blinder here, Rach. This is ace!”
Once all the newbies had come in to the finish, and had the ‘you can register your little Johnny online...’ spiel from the lady with the clipboard, we congregated in the cafe. Within minutes, all little bodies were happily ingesting jam sandwiches, Pom Bear crisps and a Penguin chocolate biscuit. Hungry chatter was soon replaced by contented munches, and a mini wave of smug, self-satisfaction washed over me, as I knew it had worked – my random party plan had actually come off!
The cake was done and dusted within a few minutes, and then all children exited stage left to go and throw themselves around the play area outside. Back to the fresh air which is – I believe – the antidote most of us need to the centrally-heated, plastic-seated, overly-orchestrated world in which we find ourselves looking for the nearest Emergency Exit sign, most days.
The kids loved it; “It’s the best party, EVER!” one little girl said to me. I asked her what she’d said, just to hear it again for my own egotistical purposes. Back of the net!
We got home, and I received a text from a previously unknown School Mum who’d turned up with her little boy AND a 3 week old baby (how did she even get out of bed?) It said “Thank you again for the great time Oliver had this morning.”
Then – just when it couldn’t get any better – Cheryl sent me through a screen shot of the #FlyHighEdie donation page. She was made up with the few extra pounds adding to the impressive amount they’ve already raised to help Edinburgh Sick Kids.
…And finally, although we couldn’t escape the plastic tat completely, it could have been a lot, lot worse.