The first thing is to try and keep numbers down. So we'll only invite the girls in her class.
But if we invite Giselle, then we have to invite her sister Sophia. And their cousin Xena is staying with them for a couple of weeks, so she'll have to come too . . . Then there's little Wensleydale from next door and so on. Before you know it, you've a dozen little girls in party dresses sitting around your table eating rice crispie buns and ignoring the sandwiches.
Last year, we just weren't well prepared. Pass the parcel was a complete mess. I was upstairs wrapping up the little princess notebook we got for the prize and my wife arrives up. "No, no, no," she says. "You need a present each time a layer of paper is pulled off." So suddenly we had to find 12 effin presents. Besides nicking some of our children's toys, we also included a salt cellar, soap, and my mobile phone. But I didn't wrap the parcel that well, so it leaked presents. Confusion over who won the phone resulted in a heated dispute between two guests, and soured the mood for musical chairs, which came next.
Okay, musical chairs -- how could that go askew? Count the girls, count the chairs, take away one. Simple, right? Wrong. Music starts, they all prance around. All well so far. The music stops and the one who's been showing off her ballet moves doesn't notice and keeps pirouetting. So I say, "Ah-ha! Bethany, you're out!"
Bethany breaks down into tears. So I go, "Oh stop crying, stop crying, no one's out, we'll start again." This time it's Xena who's still in motion when the music stops, so you say, "Okay, Xena, you're out!" Xena's lip starts to quiver so you rush in again: "Oh, I made a mistake ... no one actually moved, we'll do it again ... " So you quickly realise that the only way to stop the tears is to remove the competitive element, but that doesn't suit everyone because, well, the competitive element is gone, so people start to lose interest.
The pinata came next. If you're not familiar with pinata, the idea is that you get this cardboard animal, fill it up with sweets and hang it from a door frame or something. Then the birthday person is blindfolded and given a small plastic stick with which she uses to try and break open the animal and rain sweets down on herself and all her friends. After five minutes of aimless whacking and more tears when she cracked one of her own friends on the skull with this thing, we took off the blindfold. Still it would not break, so I took over . . . Eventually I had to take it outside and hack it open with an axe.
That was all last year. As birthday number seven beckons, it's becoming clear we're arriving at that awful stage where the whole point of the party is to outdo all other parties that she's been at this year. We're both determined that this won't happen . . . But well, it's easier said.
Last week, at the barber, I was talking to a teenager about her plans for her debs, and she was saying that because there was a recession on, they wouldn't be getting a limo or a Hummer. Instead, they'd get a disco bus, which has tables, a bar and a glitter ball, for €50.
In that moment I saw the future clearly. I know with iron-clad certainty that when it comes Annie's turn, she'll be campaigning for the chariot drawn by panthers to bring her to and from her debs because that's what all her friends are getting. There's a very thin line between a responsible father who doesn't want to spoil his children and a miserable ould skinflint determined to ruin his daughter's happiness.