Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Birthday Party

"Oh my," says Anna's friend's mother, standing in my front doorway, her eyes widening as she takes in the birthday-hat-wearing horde of seven-year-olds who are bounding over the furniture and chasing one another around the living room, squealing and giggling. "Aren't you brave!"

Here's a tip for any of you who are, or may someday become, the parents of young children: If your kid is popular at school, DO NOT INVITE THE WHOLE CLASS TO HER BIRTHDAY PARTY.

The birthday party drop-off is an awkward, but fairly precise pas de deux of etiquette. The guests' parents always offer to stay, realizing that, while the hosts probably didn't factor them into the cake and punch count, and might not relish having to make grown-up small talk in a 240 dB environment, a little additional crowd control would probably be helpful. But the hosts are obligated to give an offhand laugh and a carefree wave of the hand, saying, "Oh no - of course you're more than welcome, we'd love to have you; but if you'd like to drop him off and come back that's fine too!"

Pay no heed to the terror in their eyes, that look that says, please. Please, take me with you. You can't leave me like this.

At this point, 67.2% of birthday guest parents - after the mandatory "Are you quite sure it's all right to just leave her?" - will go ahead and leave, feeling slightly guilty, but heaving a huge internal sigh of relief that they don't have to sit through three hours of sugar-fueled Armageddon. The remaining 32.8% (I looked it up) will stay, compelled by social conscience, or concern for the well-being of their offspring - these are generally the parents of the shyer kids. Maybe they're worried that their children won't be able to handle a house full of rambunctious schoolmates. Or possibly they just have never imagined - who could? - quite how loud a small house crammed with second-graders can be.

Helpers are very good to have, preferably ones you know well. At my house there are two teenagers to assist with the festivities: talk about your forward thinking! Katie baked and decorated the birthday cake, to begin with. And she's great with the little kids, leading them in Duck-Duck-Goose, carrying plates and forks, serving punch, and ensuring that the destruction of the pinata doesn't result in massive head trauma. Well, for any of the party guests, at least. The pinata might not feel so great. Meanwhile, Eric chips in by making sure none of Anna's friends lack somebody to play with on her new Wii.

Still, you wouldn't believe how long just three hours can last. Last year, when Anna was in kindergarten, Katie volunteered to fill out the invitations. A born party girl, she filled in the time on several as "2pm - ???" before we caught and stopped her.

But the party was a grand success. Anna's eyes are shining and she declares this was the best birthday ever. And that alone makes it all worth it. Well, that, and that Katie plopped down next to me on the couch after the last party guest had left, and said, "You know, Mom, I'm not so sure I ever want kids."

Another triumphant moment in parenting!

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