Celebrate with a makeover party for tweens!

When her daughter turns 12, Stephanie Legg-England decides that some pampering is in order.

It’s not easy to run a birthday party for children if you are shy, or if your mother and sisters live too far away to help, or if you want a personal kind of party where someone actually looks into the guests’ eyes and the kids aren’t just put on a conveyor belt where they can be frankfurted, pass-the-parcelled, and lolly-bagged.

For the past 10 years, I have experienced all of these difficulties – for all of 20 birthday parties. But this year, when it came to planning a party for my youngest child, I had a helper: her older sister who was able to think about parties from both a child’s point of view and an adult’s point of view – and she was ready to roll up her sleeves.

Between the two of us, and drawing inspiration from the terms ‘girls’ night’ and ‘nail polish’, we came up with a winning formula for my youngest daughter’s 12th birthday party: we would invite four of my daughter’s girlfriends and four of my adult girlfriends for a makeover party.

The essentials, we decided, were a stack of nail polish, a few wigs borrowed from a friend who had chemo last year, a couple of clothes racks dripping with the most interesting items from several ladies’ wardrobes (including, importantly, some ritzy jackets, sleek dresses, berets, gloves and sunglasses), and a corner of the lounge room draped in purple and navy rugs and sheets – the backdrop for a glamour photo shoot.

As people arrived at the party, we started with the unwrapping of presents, a few ‘before’ photos, and a delivery of pizza.

Then, it was time to wash hands and have a turn at the nail polish station. After that, each of the adults took a child under her wing and helped her to get dressed up.

I think my girlfriends enjoyed this as much as the younger guests. We added wigs (we wore bits of stockings on our heads to keep our own hair in place – along with any possible head lice), and it was time to recline on the purple and blue drapery, looking very glamorous indeed.

By the end of the second hour, the kids were tired of makeovers, and it was time for the birthday cake. Then, while the kids watched movies, my girlfriends and I gossiped over a cup of tea in the kitchen.

“You’re brave,” one mother had said to me early on, “having a party run for three hours instead of two.” And it’s true that I couldn’t feel my feet most of the time, my fingers trembled and I was on the verge of a migraine from start to finish. But the kids had a great time, and so did my girlfriends.

We sent them all home, young and old, with a little gift bag – emphatically not a lolly bag, but one of the smallest gift bags you can get from the bargain shop, holding a small number of wrapped chocolates, some mini toiletries and hair clips. My older daughter and I didn’t forget to make gift bags for ourselves, too, to give ourselves a pat on the back at the end of the evening. I was especially keen to give her a pat, as it was she who was our photographer and makeover consultant throughout.

Sometimes, you hit upon a formula that works. And I think we also tapped into a much bigger truth: that when you turn up at a party, it really is nice to get some individual attention and be made to feel special.

Illustrations by Shane McGowan