Until now, we’ve opted for fairly simple birthday parties at home (once at the park) without formal entertainment, and an emphasis on children who are friends just quality spending time together. These don’t end up being all that simple in the end, because we handmake decorations, food, cake, loot bags, and a pinata. But you get the idea – we try to produce the party more than purchase it.
This year, my son opted for a small party. At first I thought this would make things easier, but it didn’t: suddenly it was really important that each invitee attend. Working around the schedules of several kids was complicated, and the only available day was Saturday, when my husband works and would miss the first half the party (and all of its preparation).
Attendance got more complicated when I realized that I’d invited everyone over for Sunday May 31, which will exist in 2015 but not 2014. This confused one parent, and after much conversation, I was grateful that at least he could come for the last hour, along with two cousins we’d never met.
May and June are so busy for parents and children everywhere, and I was on the haggard side going into the party. But I got into it with the kids, and apart from a few stressy moments, we were quite ready when our guests arrived.
It started soon after. The only boy who didn’t go to my son’s school was straggling behind the others, would he have a good time? My middle son who was sleeping through the party – was he sick? I started to fret.
Then I was making a dairy-free pizza from scratch for one child with a food sensitivity when his mother told me the grated dairy-free cheese I was using (bought specially at the natural food store after carefully reading every dairy-free label in the store) doesn’t melt. I pointed to the bubble on the front of the package that says “Melts and Stretches Like Real Cheese” and said that’s why I chose it. I got a shake of the head.
We ate. Some kids were fine, but others weren’t. Demands – not requests – for food and drinks, including ones we didn’t have. I had four kinds of juice, which was received by one child with: I want blue Gatorade! Another shouted he wanted grape Gatorade. When I said I didn’t have Gatorade, they started chanting, at the top of their lungs, for Gatorade. Not knowing what to do, next to a mom not saying anything to her son about his chanting (is it just me?), I left the room.
There was so. much. noise. Nothing productive or contextual, just random shouting around the table, the pack joining in, for no other reason than to be loud. It was like a premonition of a bad frosh week. When I was serving the cake, my son screamed next to me out of nowhere. I was completely rattled. Who was he?
I called my husband over and over again: Where are you on the road? You’re not going to detour are you, please come straight home. I need help. And he did finally arrive and help, and he is way better at kid fun than I am. But even he couldn’t turn down the noise or re-channel the energy.
The party couldn’t end soon enough. When one mom picked up her kids, she looked around and said, “I admire you for hosting the birthday party at home”. I thought of her son’s party a week before – an hour in a party room for pizza and cake, followed by a movie at the theatre, the end. I rarely feel this, but here it was plain as day: envy.
The moment the door shut behind the last child, I beelined for the couch. I would lie there in and out of sleep until my husband would kick me upstairs so he could clean the kitchen (and I would continue to sleep until morning). Before I lost consciousness, my birthday boy walked over.
“How did you like the party?” he asked.
“It was pretty wild,” I replied.
“Yeah. Next year I want something more calm. A lot calmer.”
I regarded my son. I didn’t know whether he meant what he was saying or was mirroring what he knew I felt. It didn’t really matter: he was back. He got on the couch and spread his body alongside mine.
My five year old put on a record of Robert Munsch reading his stories. All three boys arranged themselves on or next to me, at my head, middle and feet, and listened in silence. I remember thinking that they looked three scoops in a boy sundae, and I’d be the banana encasing them at the base. And then I fell asleep.