Party Preselection

In the lead-up to her daughter’s fifth birthday party, Kylie Ladd discovers that politics isn’t just for grown-ups.

My daughter Cameron is a party animal—a political party animal—that is, always with her eye on the numbers, ever sensitive to the ebb and flow of support among her constituents, and prone to making promises in the heat of the moment that she has no intention of keeping.

Take Cameron’s fifth birthday party, for example. I wanted her to have a soft, pastel-hued party, something that was feminine, childlike and whimsical, possibly with a theme of butterflies or fairies or even butterfly fairies if I could swing it. I’d never been much of a girly-girl myself, and maybe I was overcompensating, but all I could think of was junior misses in party frocks with bows at the back and ribbons in their hair, all sitting happily around a table laden with pink popcorn and cupcakes. I presented this image to Cameron, who considered it for all of half a second. “No, Mummy,” she told me firmly, “I want a disco party with makeovers and karaoke and flashing lights. Besides,” she added, with all the sophistication available to someone who can’t yet tie their laces, “fairies are for four-year-olds.”

The disco-party precedent had been set by another little girl in her class, so I wasn’t entirely surprised. Nonetheless, I deliberated over the decision at length. Surely five was way too young for my baby to be up on stage holding a mike and working the crowd? Ultimately, however, Cameron’s campaign manager – my mother – prevailed. “You only have one daughter,” she told me, speaking like a true grandma, “and she’ll only turn five once. Give her what she dreams of.” How could I argue? It wasn’t until I’d booked the venue that Nanna added, “Besides, she’s been nagging me to talk you into it for weeks, and I can’t take any more.”

Having successfully manipulated her Cabinet, Cameron moved on to the sensitive issue of invitations. Her original plan was to invite all of her class, plus 10 or so friends from other circles. However, when the party Treasurer (my husband) got wind that the disco/karaoke/makeover extravaganza would cost $22 a head, he quickly threatened to become Leader of the Opposition. Seeking to avoid dissolution (of Cameron, into tears), I set the limit at 10: eight guests in addition to Cameron and her brother. Campaigning for seats began immediately.

Cameron’s first strategy was to bribe her brother not to attend, something he readily agreed to in return for her lolly bag and first dibs on any presents that looked interesting. I nixed the scheme as soon as I got wind of it, but Cameron wasn’t deterred. Two best friends from outside her class were definite starters. Having crunched the numbers with the Treasurer, Cameron promptly went to kindergarten and told the 10 girls in her class that there were now six places up for grabs, and they’d better start trying to earn them.

The weeks that followed saw more ins and outs than the manoeuvrings for preselection prior to a Federal election. “I’ve told Jessica that she can come to my party because she let me wear the princess dress-up today,” Cameron would report, climbing into the car after pick-up, arranging her skirts over the booster seat as if she were on a throne. Two days later, though, Jessica would be out because Marla had shared her biscuits with Cameron at snack time or because Jessica had failed to acquiesce to Cameron’s command that “We’re all playing Mummies And Daddies and you have to be the baby who eats dirt”. I made a list, crossed it out and made another. Then Marla would be ejected, and Tania would be in, simply because she’d told Cameron that she liked her shoes.

Of course, I should have just taken control and done the list myself, but given that Cameron’s birthday fell only five weeks after the school year began, I was powerless. At that point, I still couldn’t tell Ella from Stella or Zoë from Chloe and was foolishly relying on Madam Birthday Girl to sort it out herself. Besides, it was all too difficult from afar to offset the influence of my daughter, who seemed to spend each session at school whispering promises of cake and dancing and make-up into impressionable ears. As a last stab at authority over the guest list, I asked Cameron’s teacher who her best friends were. She considered the question thoughtfully, then answered, “Hmm – she bosses them all around pretty equally”. Not helpful.

In the end, the Treasurer stepped in and became the Minister for Difficult Decisions. Bored to tears with one of Cameron’s regular dinnertime monologues itemising the virtues of Daisy versus Maisy, he strode to the fridge, pulled off the class list and randomly read out six names, declaring that they would be the guests. I held my breath, waiting for the howls of protest. None came. Maybe Cameron was bored with it all, too.  More to the point, maybe she recognised just who held the party purse strings. It was dirty politics but a bloodless coup.

Now, if only I could say the same regarding the negotiations over what went into the lolly bags…

Illustrations by Shane McGowan