Comment: How to be party to entertaining teens

We are already a third of the way through January and I haven’t yet (or rather my husband hasn’t) taken down the outside fairy lights, though he has up-ended the poor old Christmas tree in the brown bin, where it reminds me of a pantomime dame bending over to flash her knickers.

My New Year diet is still on my to-do list, we are still eating up bits of whiffy Stilton and the battle to get my children to write their thank-you letters to their various aunts and godparents has yet to commence.

If you have kids you’ll know the routine: “Why do I have to write to Auntie anyway, Mum?”

“Because it’s polite and to make sure you get a present next year, darling.”

“But I didn’t like the Mickey Mouse slippers she gave me. And I didn’t like the matching pink pom pom hat and mittens she gave me last year.

“In fact, I never like what she gives me, so p’raps it would be better for her and me if I didn’t write?”

“Stop arguing, she expects a letter as a matter of courtesy. And before you ask, no, you cannot text ‘tx’ to Great Aunt Mildred.”

Actually, when it comes to getting children to write their bread-and-butter letters, I get off very lightly, as two of my daughters are twins with a birthday in January, which means that one thank-you letter per aunt, signed by both girls, suffices for both Christmas and birthday presents.

If getting them to produce one hand-written letter between them – (“You mean I actually have to write it? Hello? What do you think laptops are for, Mum?”) – is like extracting blood from a stone, I fear my efforts to persuade my girls to write four letters over the year would bring me to the attention of social services.

My one consolation is that this January they will have fewer letters to write after their birthday, as, this year, we kept the celebration small.

You see, while I shudder at the memory of getting the twins to write two dozen or so thank-you letters after their 12th birthday party last year, it is the party itself that still brings me out in a cold sweat whenever I think about it.

The nightmare started when I acceded to their demands for a large party for their new “BFFs” – a mere 20 of their closest friends – all acquired in their first term at secondary school and against my better judgement, I hired a small hall for two hours one Saturday afternoon.

I tell you, hosting a party for the acutely sensitive and über-cool creature that is the pre-teen girl is a positive minefield for parents. Talk about a game of social snakes and ladders.

My first mistake, so I understand from my daughters, was to greet the guests as they arrived and introduce myself to their parents. Embarrassing or what?

Slither down your first snake, Mum.

I smiled brightly, admired one girl’s shiny black leggings for being “snazzy” and exclaimed “Felicity, what a lovely name” to one girl, thereby, apparently, exposing her to untold ridicule. Wrong again, Mum. Slide down a very, very long snake.

I initiated a game involving those positively antediluvian items, a paper and pencil, and suggested, as sweetly as I could, that they really didn’t need mobile phones at a party and would they mind desisting from all under-the-table texting, NOW? – oops Kathy, down you slide, dragging your mortified offspring with you, into the murky depths of humiliation and despair from which they will never, ever recover.

And don’t even think, Dad, of making a compilation CD for the party, not with your taste in music. You might as well throw yourself into that pit of vipers right now.

So last weekend for their 13th birthday there were no party games, no pink paper napkins or sausage rolls and absolutely no jolly Mum and Dad in silly hats to act as MC to a gathering of sulky, petulant adolescents.

Instead, we took the twins and one friend each, to an outdoor skating rink (at the Van Hage garden centre at Great Amwell, near Ware). With the memory of last year’s fiasco still all too raw, I wasn’t taking any chances this year and so booked an hour’s skating as far back as November, when it was first advertised.

Our session was on Sunday between 2pm and 3pm – ideal for avoiding the lunchtime queues in the café and yet light enough to finish skating before dusk fell.

Pre-booking allowed us to go straight to the boot hire counter and onto the ice as soon as the sweeper had worked its way over the rink.

And you know what?

An hour of fresh air, winter sunshine, gentle exercise, music that was “cool” enough for the kids but not loud enough to annoy the parents and a general feeling of goodwill between fellow skaters, made for a birthday treat that my husband and I enjoyed as much as our daughters. Go straight to the top of the ladder.

A frothy hot chocolate and a cake each in the café afterwards (with our daughters and their friends insisting on sitting as far away from us as possible, natch) – I can’t recommend it highly enough And only one thank-you letter to write afterwards.

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