My youngest son is now four. We held a party for him on Sunday and as far as these things go, it appeared to be a great success. It lasted for two hours, which seems to be the unspoken rule for how long a party for young children should last.
I'm not sure how this consensus emerged. Perhaps it's the maximum amount of time that anyone can bear, or maybe the children start crying and wanting to use the potty after the chime of the second hour. Either way, I'm not complaining.
I was very well behaved. I was under instructions not to offer wine to the adults or play any Gary Glitter tracks, so I helpfully brewed cups of Fairtrade coffee and changed the CBeebies compilation CDs every 45 minutes.
It started off very well. The children and mothers went up to my son's bedroom, while I remained downstairs, reading the Sunday papers. Unfortunately, halfway into a review of The White Ribbon, they all piled into the dining room and I felt obliged to be sociable.
My presence was completely superfluous. I wasn't able to contribute anything to the conversation about the merits of different playgroups and stood leaning against the wall, smiling inanely, making an occasional platitudinous contribution to the discussion.
My wife said that she could see the agony on my face.
It's not as if I'm not the sort of person who is happiest talking sport with the boys. I feel equally comfortable (or uncomfortable) talking to men or women and the three mothers who attended the party were all likeable, interesting, highly accomplished people. But I couldn't get rid of the feeling that I was a spare part.
I shall have to invent a pressing DIY task next year.
Birthdays are bittersweet occasions. On the one hand, I felt elated that the strange little blue creature who almost died four years ago (from having an umbilical cord wrapped around his neck) is now a healthy, happy, bright little boy with a wonderful sense of humour. On the other, I feel sad that it won't be that long before the innocence and endearing malapropisms are replaced with talk of PS3s and Wii games.
At the moment, thanks to a diet of Ladybird books, my son is convinced that it is 1961. He's in for a terrible shock when he goes to school.