A couple of years ago, we had a Christmas craft party in the local village hall. I took my sewing machine and some dried lavender, and some blank canvas tote bags and fabric paints, and chocolate truffle mixture ready to be rolled in coloured sprinkles, and some marzipan to colour and make into fruits (or, as it turned out, various mud-hued shapes that I was assured had something to do with Minecraft). In a fit of Advanced Planning, when I was block booking the village hall for birthday parties at the end of November and the beginning of January, I decided we’d do it again. I didn’t bother to ask the children or James; I just booked the hall.
That was in September. The 11yo had started a new school, away from her friends, and found it strange and unsettling. The 10yo, having been badly bullied before the summer holidays, was desperately reluctant to go back to school. We made it alive to half term, but my children attend different schools and we ended up with only three days of overlap. No one quite got the rest they needed. The November birthday became the life raft for, not only the birthday girl, but the household as a whole.
And suddenly it was December, and the only people I’d mentioned the Christmas craft party to were the newly minted 12yo’s friends’ parents and the mother of one of the 10yo’s friends whom I bumped into at the School Fair. Not only that, but my sewing machine had given up the ghost a few months previously and I’d done nothing about it. Cancel, cancel, I told myself. I issued the invitations, but of course everyone was busy. Not one of the children the 8yo invited could make it.
I don’t know why I didn’t cancel. I’d like to pretend it was out of respect for the children, but they were all still full of unicorn. James, I think, would have been glad. He’d made a great Dark Lord in the village hall, but it’s not the kind of thing you can do every weekend. The Kindness Sieve would have been fine with calling it off. Instead, I sent out a general invitation to the 8yo’s class and hoped that one of them would be able to make it (‘What if they all do?’ James exclaimed, horrified.) It was insane.
I didn’t get invited to many parties when I was little. I was never invited to join in playground games, and it didn’t occur to me to ask. There was too much shouting at home for me to seek it out at school. I liked books and reading and making things; I was happiest in the library. And I realised that I wasn’t running the Christmas craft party for anyone but myself. Or rather, not myself, but the child I used to be, who would have been in seventh heaven decorating gingerbread reindeer and painting glass jars for tealight holders and decorating tote bags.
And the strange thing is that she turned up. One of the last-minute friends was dropped off by her mother and a pale, wide-eyed little girl, clearly fascinated by what was going on but too shy to ask. Because I’d messed up the invitations, there were plenty of supplies. Because I’d messed up the invitations, we were in our cosy warm home instead of the big, empty village hall. Because I’d messed up the invitations, I had the emotional and physical space to invite her in. And because it was my party, and the little stranger was my guest, it was up to me to look after her and shepherd her through the edible glitter and sugar pearls, and together we tied her creations into cellophane bags with bright pink ribbon. And at pick up time, her mother told me a story that’s not mine to share here.
We mess up. It’s what we do. But if we can be honest about why we do what we do, we create the space to entertain angels.