IT WAS one thing taking on Ed Miliband. But now Myleene “you can’t just point at things and tax them” Klass has picked a fight with a more formidable opponent: her fellow school-run mums, and they are proving less tolerant of her quirky approach to conflict resolution.
Outraged by a Facebook party invitation which suggested that, instead of buying individual presents, parents might donate £10 to the cost of a Kindle, Klass posted a tongue-in-cheek reply in which she explained her daughter would like “a real live unicorn” and asked them to send cash to www.getwhatyourgivenandendthismadness.com. She then tweeted the anonymised exchange to her 461,000 followers. Cue much verbal abuse at the (private) school gates and, one assumes, a difficult year for her unostentatiously named children, Hero and Ava.
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Klass clearly believes that, as a former member of Hear’Say, she has a direct line to the zeitgeist and on this issue – if not the mansion tax – perhaps she’s right. In 2013, the must-read for middle-class mums was not a steamy S&M romp, but The Hive – a suburban horror story featuring Boden-clad members of the playground Mafia battling it out for supremacy. Then, last month the Twitterati had one of their 24-hour tizzies after a mother invoiced a fellow parent for a no-show at a skiing party. By exploiting her celebrity and publicising a private message, Klass has breached school etiquette, but does she have a point? Have children’s birthdays now become little more than commercial enterprises, where income and expenditure is expected to tally? And should we all be taking a stand against self-entitled, over-invested parents and the commodification of children?
For most people in Scotland, these vignettes from the Home Counties – where mothers apparently carry Prada handbags and have mastered the art of slighting other people’s children while superficially appearing to compliment them (Example: “I love the way Saffron isn’t hung up on exam results”) will be as alien as Londoners’ claims that the average house costs £1 million. I don’t know what it is like at private schools, but I have never felt judged for my tatty jeans or tiny car, though I have witnessed one-upmanship over academic achievement.
Still, some aspects of what Klass says ring true. The birthday party scene is tedious and out of hand; it doesn’t matter where you have it – soft play, bowling, laser tag – it is likely to cost upwards of a tenner a head and be a soulless affair in which an hour of activity is followed by a slice of tepid pizza and a slab of chocolate cake. If you’re a good mother it will culminate with the distribution of party bags, filled with cracker-style trinkets. I hate party bags so much, I long ago stopped giving them. Then there is the question of presents, and here you can’t win. I mean, Myleene’s right: soliciting donations is outrageous, but what’s the point of buying some piece of plastic that will be played with twice then chucked away? Then again, if you give cash, how much is enough? You don’t want to appear showy. And you definitely don’t want to appear stingy.
I have heard people say the problem is that children’s parties have become a competitive sport, with parents vying to stage the most extravagant event, and, for all I know, somewhere in Glasgow’s West End someone may be filling tote bags with Tiffany brooches, but my own experience is more prosaic.
I think that – as with sleepovers and many other things – middle-class parents are caught on a hamster wheel they don’t know how to stop. Every one feels duty-bound to hold a party because everybody else does, and so the wheel keeps turning. It’s easy to say “just don’t buy into it”, but it would be selfish to opt out of hosting parties while continuing to accept other people’s invitations and it takes a certain zealotry to serve a social death sentence on your own child.
In any case, those energetic parents who go on about the simple pleasures of an ice cream and jelly party are just as annoying as the ones who splash out on boat trips. I’m delighted you organised an obstacle race, treasure hunt and water gun fight in your back garden, but I’m guessing your children are under seven and you don’t work full-time.
The most depressing thing about the party treadmill is that it doesn’t, as I had supposed, end when your child leaves primary. At 13/14, the trend appears to be to hire a hall and hold what is cynically known as an “iPad party” (the idea being that if you invite 70 people who each give a tenner, then subtract the cost of the hall and disco, you still have enough for an iPad). Then, at 16/17, you are expected to turn your property over to an alcopop-guzzling demolition squad. If you’re lucky, they will only puke in your plant pots and break the odd photo frame. If you are unlucky, someone will pull your cistern off the wall and flood your bathroom.
So far I have resisted all pressure for teenage hall or house party, not because I am strong-willed but because my desire to conform is outweighed by my fear of losing control. I have, however, just concluded complex negotiations on a P6 party which will involve a game of Bubble football and a small tea back at our house. Is that too much or too little? Who knows? When it comes to children’s birthdays, all most of us really want is to serve up some happy memories. And for the party to be over as quickly as possible. «