Eleven is a transition age – the automatic magic inherent in birthdays, that has the girls excited even when it’s someone else’s birthday, has worn off for our son. His birthday fell on a Monday this year, with a long day of school and for the first time ever we decided to hold his party on a different day, so that he could have a sleepover party with just a few of his friends on the weekend. A rather restrained and grown-up present and cake ceremony celebrated the day itself and then he had unlimited time on the new upgraded computer that was his present from us and Granny. He said it felt like we were just celebrating a normal day - he didn't feel any different. A pang of regret for childhood passing clutched at me!
We then had to postpone the party as one of his friends was sick and another couldn’t stay the night, reducing the number of sleepover guests to two. We watched the perfect sunny autumn Saturday pass with a sigh of regret, but he was philosophical and decided that he would rather have all of his friends there than go ahead without some of them.
We watched the weather forecasts with trepidation as the next weekend approached. Everyone was relatively healthy, but a major storm was predicted for the Saturday night. Our son steadily maintained that the weathermen were often wrong and he was sure it would be fine. We told everyone to come anyway. Come rain or shine the party would go on.
We’d planned for a braai, followed by a treasure hunt in the dark with torches and the new, birthday-present, walkie talkie. Our son wanted codes and cryptic messages. As the cold front rolled in on Friday and the rain fell in buckets we were perhaps a little half-hearted in thinking up clues and working out how to do it. Visions of soaking-wet kids lost in the darkness and falling in puddles had us planning a shorter route than usual. Over a grown-up dinner celebrating my SIL’s birthday on the Friday night we came up with a few ideas, before the red wine, rich chocolate cake and orange sorbet put paid to any more brain activity and we procrastinated on ironing out the details.
Saturday dawned wet. Windguru became my online obsession. I checked in with it neurotically every couple of hours to see if the wind and rain predicted for the treasure hunt time slot had decreased at all. Outside a heavy shower would drum on the roof and then clear tantalizingly, before another blast blew through. Every now and then our son would look at the sky and say determinedly, ‘I think all the clouds have gone through now, those ones only look light grey’.
After lunch we resolutely banished our lack of faith in the friendly weather gods and sat down to work out the nitty gritty of the clues and the hunt, my husband in partnership with me this time. Time pressures and anticipation of a wet evening curtailed our grander plans for elaborately coded clues – best if we got them round quickly and back undercover to solve a Morse code message, which would take them to the treasure somewhere dry.
I waited for a break in the showers and ran around the property to hide the clues, sheltering under the swimming pool shelter from the worst of the downpour that caught me halfway. By now friends were arriving at the gate, mildly surprised to see me exiting the chicken house in the rain and then doubling back on my tracks, so as not to give the clue position away to potential watchers in the house.
The assembled guests zoomed round the house on scooters in ever decreasing circles, or invented weird creatures on Spore, practised talking on the walkie talkie and made intricate Lego vehicles.
At six o’clock our tin roof drummed once more with slanting rain. We fed the children boerewors (cooked in the oven) rolls and racked the positive thinking up a notch.
At seven it was dark and damp outside, but the tin roof was quiet. A sudden flurry of activity took place. Finding fleeces and rain jackets for woefully inadequately dressed children, looking for spare torches and borrowing more from the other houses. I fretted that our rain free window was passing by, my stress levels rose, but I kept a calm façade and persuaded a boy to accept a borrowed jacket, even it if was a girls’ one.
A minor hiccup occurred, when we found our son had switched off his computer, and the first clue to start off the treasure hunt had been skyped to it, but it delayed us only another couple of minutes and then two teams of four surged out into the dark night, torches held high, to forge through the restios and bush. The clues turned out to be all too easy, but the two way communication on the walkie talkie was a hit.
Where are you? over!
Nearly at the hut. over
Have you found the clue yet. over
Here it is. over….
The clues were designed so that each team had to tell the other team where to go to find their next clue, meaning constant chat on the walkie talkie. We had an adult with each team, just in case, but they were fine. I split off at a designated spot into my sister-in-law's house and had to wrestle with sending a vital Morse code message for the first time in my life. It’s a lot harder than you’d think, getting dots and dashes evenly spaced! Trying to read my crib notes in the dark was also interesting. I had to memorize the next bit by the light of the dashes as I signalled! I also had to repeat it about 10 times, as it turned out to be even trickier for the observers on our stoep to de-code, especially as I got a couple of letters wrong the first time round!
If the clue complexity wasn’t quite what our son had ordered, the treasure went down well. The stink bombs that my husband had encouraged me to get were let off outside on the lawn, thank goodness – they were seriously stinky! – then there were flashing light spinning tops and sparklers. By now the rain had started again in earnest and after the sparklers were finished, the kids all came in and had hot chocolate and toasted marshmallows by the fire.
A great movie, Bridge to Terabithia, enthralled all of them, from six year old Youngest to the nearly twelve year old friend. They finished watching it the next morning, when they all woke up horribly early, despite having kept each other awake till late.
I blearily watched the rest of the movie with them, then as they revved up the scooters and chased each other round the house, managed to crown my temporary supermom status by making buttermilk pancakes and fruit salad for breakfast, after which it all went mercifully quiet, as they all took to the computer to play Spore.
How could a few extra children to stay be so exhausting? We were all ragged round the edges by the end of Sunday, not least our son, whose grumpiness turned out to be because he was sickening for something. He came back from school with a temperature on Monday, but is already better this afternoon, and the sun is now shining outside as I write, as if butter wouldn’t melt.
Middle Daughter asked if she could have a sleepover for her birthday. She took a quick look at my face which must have said it all.
“When I’m older” she answered herself resignedly.