How Ella's big surprise birthday bash will go down

"Mom, Nina said I must go to hers for a play date tomorrow for Ella's birthday party!"

I have just picked up my eldest from school – the big Grade 1 – and she's bristling with excitement. But I, being an adult, have questions.

"That's great liefste... who is Ella?"

"Mammaaa!" 

She's incredulous. My mind is racing. I'm concentrating on the road and scanning through recent history. Not getting anything.

"I can't remember who Ella is, sweetness."

"It's Nina's little dog, mom, remember? And she's turning 1 tomorrow!" She gives a big gummy grin. My heart. 

"Did Nina's mom invite you over?"

"They're having a party and Nina's grandma and grandpa are coming too! And it's a surprise!"

That wasn't my question. But she's so enthralled with the idea of a surprise birthday bash, I promise to message Nina's mom and ask if they can have a play date the next day.

She continues telling me about the Plan, because it's All Worked Out.

"So we're all going to be in the living room, but with all the curtains closed and it will be dark. Then Nina will come in, holding Ella, like this. Mom? Like this. [I glance in the mirror.] And THEN! Someone will pull the little rope and the lights will go on and everyone will shout SURPRISE!"

"O wow!" The poor little Schnauzer.

"Why are you laughing, mamma?"

We stop at the shops for a quick run to the pharmacy. She perks up when we walk past the two pet shops in the centre. (Yes two).

"You know what, mom? I can't go to Ella's party without a present!"

That's entirely true. I look into those beautiful two brown eyes and say, "Even if you DON'T get an invite [meaningful glance], you can still give Ella's gift to Nina at school tomorrow."

We stop by the first pet store, a nicely designed, upmarket one.

Do you know how expensive squeaky dog toys and balls are? I do. Because we looked at every toy in the store. After I set a price limit of R25, she strolls reluctantly over to the doggy treats. I try to entice her with liver biltong, liver sticks, chicken sticks, all neatly packaged. But she remains unconvinced.

"Can we go to the other store, mom?"

"I'm pretty sure they'll have the same stuff, love." I try to be diplomatic, not wanting to offend the hovering sales assistant.

But I relent and we go to the other store, which has more of a, let's say, basement feel to it. We're at the unrefrigerated nibbles rack again. Real bones with meat on them (smoked, I hear the assistant say), hooves and more. While I slowly recoil, my oldest is suddenly interested. She found it.

A hollow bone stuffed with liver and – the clincher – peanut butter, wrapped in cling film. 

"Shouldn't we get one for the other two doggies too?" I want to know.

"No mom, it's okay. Really. They'll understand. And if they don't, that's how they'll learn that you only get presents on your birthday."

I can only nod. 

At home, she decorates the bone with a ribbon, lots of neon pink star stickers and a name card. I convince her to store the bone in the freezer.

"Mom, what is a dog's favourite colour?"

"Hm, I guess every dog is different. What do you think Ella likes best?"

She makes Ella a big pink birthday card, but after much deliberation, says she'll give it to Nina instead. Because Ella likes to chew stuff.

With sparkling eyes she says, "I can't WAIT for the party, mamma. Because Ella is not going to EXPECT this AT ALL!" 

Do you celebrate your pets birthdays in any special way? Send your stories (and pictures!) to chatback@parent24.com and we may publish them.

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