Okay, I confess: I do not like throwing birthday parties for my kids.
I find it stressful for several reasons: I don't like having a bunch of people in my home, the mess, the cleaning, the coming-up with party games, the preparation of food to be served, the cake to be baked…and oh, the goodie bags I hate above all else. I can never come up with the right combo of items that parents won't disapprove of (i.e. candy, candy and more candy) or cheap toys or useless doo-dads that will promptly be lost, discarded, or choked upon by younger siblings.
I like to TALK about the party with my daughters, I like to THINK about the party, but when it comes down to preparation, I am definitely the hostess with the leastess, not mostess.
So, for Evie's fifth birthday it was all decided: We'd pay a small fortune to throw a fete at "The Little Gym" – everyone's answer to generic party fun. They give you the invites, they provide the pizza, and they entertain the kids with an hour of gymnastics and tumbling (before pizza, that is, so there is minimal puking to be had).
Big "however" here: I booked the party too late – and the only open slot remotely close to Evie's actual birth date was on Mother's Day! Yes, my most favorite of all Hallmark holidays. Taking a quick poll of friends I decided that Mother's Day would not be great timing for all, what with conflicting plans, brunches and corsages….so I was back to having the party at home.
I thought, Hey, I have loads of space at the Firehouse, we'll dance, have fun, and maybe we'll take all the kids over to the old preschool location just for old time's sake. I still have the keys to the yard and they can run around if it's a beautiful day.
Well, Saturday was indeed a beautiful day and I was ill-prepared for hosting a party, as usual. I stayed up late hanging with The Polyphonic Spree (it's true), woke up too early and still managed to procrastinate for a while. I had a cake to bake, frosting to make (yes, I'm fussy and make my own) decorations and balloons to string about ….plus I had to hide all my paperwork, magazines and other detritus that manage to gather in this or that corner.
Cutting to the chase, I got most of that stuff done when the kids started arriving two by two. "Ohmigod," I said to my friend, "I invited too many boys." They were all simultaneously going mental, running around like unruly simians and screaming at the top of their lungs the whole time. They climbed in the loft beds and threw down every last doll, book and harmonica they could find. The girls squealed in that irritating girlish way and the noise level was instantly raised to hair-tearing proportions.
Meanwhile, this age-specific party phenomenon was occurring that I had not anticipated. At a certain undetermined age, parents begin to DROP-OFF their children at birthday parties. And leave. Indeed, they can go food shopping, get their toenails painted, or lay in a hammock all afternoon while their child is busy pouring milk in his ears under someone else's watch.
Now I was stuck watching my home get wrecked and I had very few parents around to help reel in the escalating chaos. Finally, after pizza and cake I marched them all over to the old preschool which was just a block or two away. This was kind of a weird and desperate maneuver. The school had a wonderful garden, but we all got the heave-ho about six months ago. The old "pave paradise put up a parking lot" was the order here as two ambitious Jersey City developers purchased our preschool from the landowner (a corrupt church, actually) and told us, kindly and gently, that we had to move. It took almost two years for all the technicalities to be worked out, but finally in late 2006 the move happened.
So the beautiful preschool yard, with its many flowers, fruits and veggie stalks had all gone to seed. The grass was iridescent green and nearly a foot tall. The play equipment was starting to rot and we noticed nails protruding from the playhouse. Spiders, allergies, no bathrooms, nails, old rakes, fetid trash and a few moldy mats were just some of what we had to contend with that afternoon. Yet, in my mind, I preferred this over watching my house be torn apart by its seams.
By 4 pm parents began to pick up their kids. But only SOME parents. I had mentioned that the party had an "indefinite" end time – but I wasn't picturing dealing with kids all alone in that scenario. So, as the last parent left the party he looked around the yard and counted children.
"Um, Jayne," he said, frowning into the setting sun. "You are the only adult here. There are still seven kids left."
"Yeah…I'm aware of that."
"What are you going to do?"
"I'm not sure, but I'm tired, it's getting chilly, and the kids are completely filthy."
"Okay…I'll help you get them back to the Firehouse."
And so we walked them back, mindful of on-coming buses and the like, and set them loose once again in the house. This time they were covered in silt-like dirt from head to toe. I ushered several girls into the bath but not before they all grabbed the white shower curtain, leaving muddy paw prints all over it. Once in the bath something on their skin – dirt, the particles of grass, some errant allergen – made them scream with pain; pain of intense itching, that is. I don't know what it was, but it irritated the kids into a screaming fit and I quickly pulled each child out. Then I had about five naked girls running around taunting the boys by wagging their tushies in the breeze.
I think at that moment I simply gave up and started calling parents.
"Where are you? I'm losing it, you have to come here!"
"Um, you need to pick up Pauline, she's having an allergic reaction."
"Hi, can you get JJ? He just threw my cat off the roof."
Finally, every last child was picked up and no joke, reader, it was 7:40 pm. The marathon birthday party, sans borders, was over at last. Corralling my girls into brushing their teeth and crawling into bed was a piece of cake after all that. And speaking of which, I never even got to try my special black & white cake…but I heard it was delicious.
Man o man....never again. And I mean it!