The other day Benji was lying on top of me and V said: “He’s almost as big as you.” This is not exactly true, but yeah, he’s a tall kid and he’s gaining on me and last week he turned four.

(I still cradle him in my arms sometimes and we pretend he’s a baby. Not that often, but more than Mimi would ever let me.)

We had decided that we wouldn’t do a big deal for his birthday, but as the date drew nearer, a plan started taking shape in my mind. We had planned to take Benji and Mimi to a nearby indoor playground (the kind with a jungle gym of slides and those balls to crash into) as a treat, so I decided to invite the two kids Benji has been having playdates with. The playroom is the mall near their school and there’s a pizza hut there, so we could have lunch together. I asked the mums and they were game for it.

It was the simplest and most effective celebration. I didn’t really do a thing, not even make a booking, which resulted in mild panic on the day itself. But it was fine. While heading to pick up Benji from school, I went up to the playroom and bought entry tickets for all of us (small heart attack when I saw the playroom was super crowded – I think a kindergarten had booked it for the morning) and reserved a table at Pizza Hut. This made me a tad late in picking up the kids, but that turned out to be a good thing because I was stressing about this one kid that we hadn’t invited, and by the time our kids got their shoes on, most of the others had left.

Pizza Hut lunch was a good choice as it’s easy to get something to suit everyone. The kids were fairly orderly till the end, and anyway the restaurant wasn’t super crowded.

The kids had a ball in the play area afterwards, though the mums were flagging. Mimi overextended herself had had a meltdown, which was the only false note. I had picked up some books at a sale, which I used as giveaways along with stickers.

Benji’s school allows us to send a cake to be shared with the class, and I had planned to do that, although it was proving hard to locate a nut-free one. In the interim, Benji started saying he didn’t want me to send a cake to school. I was concerned that this was an exhibition of not being willing to share, and while there might have been an element of that, underneath it all I detected a reluctance to be the centre of attention.

After trying to convince him and getting scolded by V, I finally explained the situation to the school. Benji’s teacher later told me that Benji didn’t want to talk about his birthday much but they did sing for him. I witnessed a mum wishing him and him going: “Why is everyone wishing me?” with a sheepish look.

I see myself in him. It was only when I was twenty-something that I looked back on my childhood birthday parties, the ones my mum took so much trouble over, and realised I had not enjoyed them all that much. I was stressed out, and the only lucky thing is that my sister and I shared a party. I think I enjoyed the later celebrations which were something casual like a movie or a sleepover with a smaller group much better. In my twenties, my boyfriend would harangue me into having a combined big do for our birthdays and the final straw came on my 20th, a party that was according to me in my self-consciousness and stress, a disaster. Now looking back, I don’t think why I felt my life was unraveling because people refused to dance, but that’s the thing about me, I’m hypersensitive on my birthday and an anxious host and these two things are not a good combination.

But this is not about me. Rather, because I can understand a person not wanting to be the centre of attention, I can see the telltale signs of stress in my child. I noticed it last year before his big party, though he had a good time in the end. Benji’s school principal told me her oldest son was the same and she hadn’t realised until much later that he did not enjoy the big dos.

So I did this one thing right I think. My son will have the birthdays he wants, which thankfully are within our purview to arrange. He had a lovely time playing with his besties, and opening his presents and cutting a cake at home later. We sang happy birthday to him three times because I couldn’t get the video recording right. We skyped with the grandparents. The weekend before V’s brothers-in-law Benji’s uncles landed up in HK as part of a boy’s trip and they showered the kids with attention and presents before they left. So he was surrounded by cars and transformers and superheroes.

He was happy.