Jun 23 2010

Birthday Courage

The party invitations pile in, Fêtez mon anniversaire! It feels like almost every weekend we’re taking one of our children here from 2-5, the other there from 3-6. The hardest part has been the confounding decision of what kind of present to buy for a young schoolmate (hoping always to avoid being the parent who adds more little pieces of plastic to the ever mounting pile that every mother hates) or the negotiation with De-facto about who delivers and who does the pick-up. Each time we arrive at an apartment that is tidied and decorated, snacks are set out in a neat line of little bowls, the arts & crafts table is prepared and poised to stimulate little imaginations. The parents are fresh and enthusiastic, calmly noting our portable phone numbers just in case. Smiles and see you in three hours. Or more. One party last month lasted from 1 until 6. Lord, that woman had courage.

When we return to retrieve whichever child we’d dropped off for the afternoon celebration, that same apartment is bouleversé with children scrambling around in a sugar-frenzy. Haggard parents open the door, patience tested, tempers suppressed. Our child is then thrust in our arms with a quick gift bag and thank-yous all around. Occasionally, a glass of wine or champagne is served as we come to reclaim our offspring; a celebration of the party’s end – or perhaps the methodology for endurance.

De-facto and I have long managed to avoid the party-with-a-dozen-friends racket. Short-pants’ July birthday always falls during the summer, when everyone is out of Paris and so are we, and Buddy-roo’s October birth date conveniently falls during the 2-week autumn school break, called Toussaints, another moment in the year when we leave the city to spend time at our country house.

We’ve still celebrated our children’s birthdays with a party, but it’s always been a small one, with just the four of us and an aunt or grandmother who might be handy, and the two neighbor kids who live on the farm down the road. Well, and just to make it pleasant, the four or five adults who live nearby. In truth: we’ve been throwing parties for us, adapted to include the birthday in question.

This year, Short-pants has more than hinted at her desire to have a full-on birthday party with her school friends – not just the convenient neighbors – and she is getting too old and too clever to accept “it’s summer vacation” as an excuse. We could no longer delay this parental duty. It’s been a good ride, we got away with being slackers on the birthday thing for a long time. But now it’s time to rise to the occasion.

Today, school lets out at noon (it’s Wednesday) and at two o’clock there will be twelve invited guests under the age of nine assembled together playfully in this rooftop apartment. Pray for good weather, so we can divide and conquer, move some kids down to the courtyard for games, rotate them around for different activities. (Some of our “workshop choreography” may come into play.)

De-facto, the guy who’s normally up for any kind of shake-up, keeps toning down the plans that Short-pants and I have dreamed up for the party. Last weekend she and I brainstormed a bunch of activities and games that might fit in with the theme she has selected for the party: mandalas. When we went to choose among all our ideas (one per post-it), De-facto weighed in heavily with simplicity as his primary criterion. I know he’s right. But the mandala-pizzas were such a good idea! And covering the entire floor with paper and drawing a mandala mural: Brilliant!

Have I mentioned how over the moon Short-pants is about her mandala birthday party?

About this I have mixed emotions. There is obvious delight that comes with witnessing her anticipation of the event. Each morning this week she rises smiling, counting the days until her party. She cannot contain her excitement, yesterday she was nearly jumping out of her skin. At the same time, I wonder, why do we make such a big fuss about birthdays? Is it appropriate to want to be pampered? Or do we just raise expectations that lead to later disappointment? Or else that’s just my story; I hope this is not something she inherits from me.

As much as I’m dreading it – having all these kids under foot at one time, anticipating the decibel level of 12+ sets of enthusiastic vocal cords, preparing for the inevitable re-arrangement of entire home – I know how much this means to her. She is everything an 8-year-old going on nine should be, her enchantment and excitement, leading up to the party, is worth every moment of pain and sacrifice we will endure.

And who knows, maybe we’ll even have fun?