Fiona McCade: My party and I’ll choose if I want to

Picture: Ian Georgeson
Picture: Ian Georgeson
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Somebody once told me that the simplest way to organise a child’s birthday party is to only invite as many guests as the child is years old. So, ask along two little mates to a two-year-old’s celebration, and so on.

Of course, you can invite family to boost the numbers, but this rule takes the pain out of deciding which and how many friends to invite. It’s especially helpful for people like me, who don’t do crowd-control. You start small, build up your experience and confidence, then by the fifteenth party, you should just about be able to manage.

But what if you had to invite at least 30 kids, every time your child had a birthday? How would you cope with that?

If, like me, you’d go stark, staring mad, then spare a sympathetic thought for parents of children who attend Kingswood Preparatory School in Bath.

The headmaster, Mark Brearey, has issued a notice saying: “Please could you avoid bringing any party invitations into school that do not include all children in a particular class or year group.” According to Mr Brearey, inviting only your child’s friends: “… goes completely against our policy of inclusion for every single child and is divisive and unkind.”

He goes on to explain that: “We consider kindness to be one of the key values of our school … If children feel they have been left out by one of the class it can have a serious impact.

He’s happy for invitations to be issued privately, but not at school, where non-invitees may see, and be traumatised by witnessing such transactions. He suggests that parents should communicate with each other by email, but what if you don’t know the parents of your child’s friend well enough to have their email address?

I’m having visions of one parent shuffling up to another behind the bike sheds, glancing around surreptitiously, before pulling out an envelope and cramming it into the other parent’s hand, or dropping it into their bag, then exchanging knowing looks before hurrying away in opposite directions, whistling like nothing had happened. No, nothing happened at all, headmaster. Honest, sir, it didn’t.

Backstreet, underground party-invitation-dealing may be the only way around this crazy idea, but it’s not just the thought of the massive cost, or the lack of space at my home that makes my head spin. It’s the sheer unreality of the situation, and the knowledge that this faux-cosy experience will be utterly useless in the post-primary school world. Life is often unkind and rarely inclusive, but we all need to come to terms with this, and the earlier the better. Most kids quickly learn to accept that while being invited is nice, not being invited is hardly grounds for despair. It’s a valuable lesson to learn.

Some parents at Kingswood have also pointed out that inviting the whole class (or whole school, if your child turns out to be expensively gregarious) might well mean having to include the class bully. So, the party-giver won’t enjoy his or her own celebration, and the bully won’t get the message that their behaviour hasn’t won them any friends.

Kingswood Preparatory School is founded on “Christian principles”, and I’m wondering if this is why Mr Brearey is so concerned about kindness and inclusiveness. Yet the Bible clearly states that Jesus only invited twelve mates to his last supper. Perhaps he should have invited the whole of Jerusalem, so nobody felt left out, but he didn’t. He could easily have entertained everyone in Judea (loaves, fishes and water-into-wine anyone?), but he didn’t, because sometimes, there are moments when we just want our nearest and dearest around us.

And that is our right.

I’m now wondering how many kids there are on the Kingswood Preparatory School football team. I mean, someone had to be chosen, didn’t they? And that means that someone else must have endured a “serious impact”. Unless, of course, they have a 40-strong team, with 5 goalies – but then, wouldn’t that be unfair and unkind to the opposition?

Nevertheless, kindly Mr Brearey obviously wants to embrace and include everybody. So, here’s a suggestion for his own children: Brearey kids, next time you have a party, just announce it on Facebook.

Your dad can’t object, can he?