Monday, August 18, 2008

The Party's Over . . .

by Julia Buckley
Graham's lava lamp

Aaaaaaah. I am at my computer after hours and hours on my feet. Today was my son’s tenth birthday party. He had a wonderful time with friends and family and is now happily ensconced in a beanbag chair, chewing bubblegum and playing X-box.

His mother, on the other hand, is ready for bed. It is 5:42 PM. :)

I am one of those parents who should never, ever throw a birthday party. I am far too highly strung and paranoid that visitors will see some unsightly part of our house. (In my defense, I do have family members who will point out the dust or dirt that they see: family members who are, in fact, my mother). Therefore, the cleaning starts two days in advance (much to my sons’ misery). I de-clutter, dust, vacuum, polish, sort, move furniture, and aerobicize with various other household chores.

This morning I woke up to find my sons creeping into their old habits: tossing pillows on the floor, leaving action figures on all flat surfaces, eating in the living room, letting the dog on the couch. I unleashed what I call Military Mother: the one who barks orders and issues stern punishments.

We all suffered through several hours of Military Mother, whose voice grew more and more stentorian as party time approached. I also became Spending Mother—-the one who fears she will be judged harshly if she doesn’t put out lavish appetizers and a hearty main course. So Spending Mother exceeded her birthday budget getting all the foodstuffs and lugging them home in the heat. She splurged on two bottles of wine and a specialty beer for the family members who like to imbibe.

And then, finally, they came. There were less of them than we expected. One person had to stay home with the baby. Another (my nephew) had to work. And those who came had surprisingly small appetites.

There was much party talk, however. My brother told me about an idea he had for a mystery novel. (Everyone tells me these). My mother asked how my diet was going—-never a popular question with me. My father looked at the sapling in my yard and spent twenty minutes of the party pruning it, tying it with a cloth, and replacing my wood dowel with a metal one. He is the family horticulturalist. Everyone looked at my son Graham’s wasp sting, angrier and redder now than it was a week ago when he actually received it. None of them liked the look of it, so I ended up calling the pediatrician, who told me to keep a compress on it. If Graham develops a fever or if the red circle grows larger, I must bring him in tomorrow.

Graham received all sorts of generous gifts, including a lava lamp, which we plugged in so that we could all stare at it. I’m not sure what it says about my family (or my party-giving skills) that for many of us, this was the highlight of the party.

At the end of it all, a mere two or three hours of fun after three solid days of preparation, the food had to be packed into plastic bags—-what seemed like thousands of them—-and my two party-size pizzas, which were the size of card tables, looked barely touched when the crowd departed. No one drank the wine. Not a soul touched the specialty beer.

It really doesn’t seem worth it, all this work for so little payoff. Except that the birthday boy always feels so special, no matter how small the crowd, and he sits in the window for an hour watching for the cars that will pull up to the curb and emit his loud and boisterous family. They come, every year, with love and gifts and bear hugs and inevitable teasing, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

So, unprepared as I may feel to be the creator of birthday magic, I must remember that my children find that magic in unexpected places. It’s not the food or the clean house or the strict rules. It’s the love that fills the room when everyone comes together.

Please remind me of that next year before Military Mother has a chance to emerge.

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