It’s my younger son’s birthday tomorrow, so it’s time to do the grotto. Grotto is one of those words adopted by us as a family which has developed to have its own specific meaning. It went from Santa’s grotto, to the place where my parents hid the Christmas presents when we were teenagers, to a hiding place for any presents, to its current meaning – the pile of presents the kids wake up to on the morning of their birthday. Which always includes balloons and banners.

We take great pride in the grotto, carefully balancing out the shapes, sizes and colours of the presents to make it look as attractive and exciting as possible. The lounge always has to be clean and tidy. Or, as a minimum, the clutter has to be far enough away that it doesn’t spoil the look of the grotto and particularly any pictures of it. We always take a photo of the unspoilt grotto just before we go to bed. Because we know it will retain its unspoilt state for approximately three seconds in the morning.

An integral part of the grotto is Pumba. Yes, Pumba from the Lion King. I got a large toy Pumba for my birthday or Christmas when the Lion King came out the first time. The following birthday, my husband stuck my cards in his mouth. He’s come out for every single birthday ever since. Always with the cards in his mouth. My daughter has recently taken the responsibility of getting Pumba out and placing him in the lounge before she goes to bed the night before someone’s birthday.

My younger son, who rarely gets to sleep before 10 is remarkably good at getting to sleep the night before his birthday. We only have to remind him of how awful his 4th birthday was, and he obediently drops straight off to sleep. Both boys stayed awake for hours, then got up ridiculously early on my son’s 4th birthday – ruining the day for everyone. In photos of that day they look pale and unhappy.

We love birthdays in our family. For the kids, each other’s birthdays are as exciting as their own. And even grown-ups’ birthdays are pretty exciting. There always has to be ‘a party’ ie a cake with a candle on it for every member of their extended family on their birthday.

On the kids’ birthdays, we always have Grandma, Grandpa and two sets of aunties and uncles round for tea – or as many of them that can make it.

The kids always have a party with their friends too. We’ve had parties at home, village halls, soft play and cinema trips. We’ve had two friends, we’ve had 30 friends. We’ve had a lot of good parties, and a couple of pretty disastrous ones.

The two parties are always on separate days. It’s nice for the kids to stretch their birthdays out a bit and it’s nice for me not to have all the pressure on one day! This means they need two birthday cakes. Every year without fail, my husband questions this and points out that he never had two cakes for his birthday. Well, nor did I, but two cakes makes life easier and nicer for the kids. We couldn’t really drag out half a cake to sing happy birthday, could we?

Unlike his older brother, my boy likes toys and clothes. And unlike his older brother, he doesn’t get a bike for his birthday every other year (because of course he inherits them!). So every year he seems to have a mountain of small presents. A quick count suggests he has more presents than I got cards on my birthday.

Well, you’re only 8 once, so I don’t begrudge him those presents. I know that he will be thrilled by every single one of them. When my boy really loves something, he REALLY loves it and it’s a joy to see his happiness.

Happy birthday.

Author: Sarah Mummy

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