Willingly Throwing A Child’s Birthday Party Is A Sign of Insanity… Or, How I’ve Thrown A Party Every Year For Caroline
Ever since the stork left an 18-month old girl on my doorstep, I have had the dilemma of what to do for her birthday. I have helped her celebrate 6 of them so far. Today—September 25th—she turns 7, and the party was yesterday. Every damn time has been some kind of problem.
I decided to host the first party in my home, and after that I said, “no more, I’m not cleaning for days before and after something that only lasts an hour.” (It’s generally also how I feel about sex as I get older, except it’s an hour of cleaning for something that only lasts 5 minutes.) So the second time I rented out a room at a place called Monkey Joe’s. Well that also turned out to be kinda stressful to arrange, AND I had to fork out a bunch of money. So the third time I decided to go back to the home idea, except I was dating the Queen of Pinterest at the time, and she decided for both of us it was going to be an extravaganza never to be forgotten. I really had no say in it. The theme (because of course there was a theme) was “Pirates and Princesses” and the invitations were hand-painted on scrolls and distributed in little shipwrecked bottles. There was a bouncy castle the size of my back yard and balloons everywhere and a room full of food and a temporary tattoo station and dress-up games and like a hundred people. It did not save me money. And I cleaned for days. And it was very stressful. It was ALL the things.
But it WAS forgotten. By Caroline. The next week. Because she was 4. And because she forgets EVERYTHING. Until just a few weeks ago, she couldn’t even tell you what day her birthday is on. I could’ve just lied to her for 5 years that September hasn’t come yet.
So the next time I decided screw it, if I’m gonna be stressed and have to pay money anyway, I’ll do it outside of home. There is a great place for kids in St. Louis called The Magic House, and we hosted the party there, and… well actually that one went pretty well. Her entire preschool class was invited, and most of them came.
But apparently I had started a trend that was going to continue indefinitely—you know, this home-away-home-away thing—so the following year Caroline decided she wanted a birthday sleepover. Hmmm, a sleepover. On the one hand that sounded easy. On the other hand, LOL! I NOW know that I’d rather spend the night with a pack of rabid feral cats than try to get several 5-year old girls hopped up on sugar out of their princess dresses and into bed at any reasonable hour. I was picking popcorn out of couch cushions for months.
Which brings us to this year. And this year’s particular set of problems. To begin with, Caroline was 6 going on 13 and wanted a salon/spa day at Sweet-n-Sassy. So you don’t have to google what that is, just know the tagline reads, “Treat your daughter to a day of relaxation and fantasy.” Oh good lord. Because HER life is so stressful. They offer several overpriced birthday packages for little girls (or I suppose fabulous little boys) which basically involve updo’s, dressup, and mani/pedi’s. Caroline loves getting a manicure, and she loves telling you all about them. Except that she doesn’t know how to pronounce it, so to the average stranger it sounds like she’s discussing Medicare. It’s very confusing for the neighbors when she launches into a gushing speech about loving Medicare and wishing she could go get some Medicare right now. Because Medicare is awesome and you feel great afterward. I don’t correct her because I’m a terrible parent.
Now, being the stereotypical gay aunt that I am, this birthday idea made me squirm. I could think of nothing I wanted to do less than be the host of a bunch of little girls and their moms in a big group makeup sesh. Gross. I just couldn’t stop thinking about the ways we set up girls for future failure with unrealistic and arbitrary Western beauty standards. But Caroline really wanted it, so I manned up and booked the “Fashion Runway” show because it was cheaper than “Perfect Princess” or “Pop Star Premiere.” And because I’m a complete pushover.
I began realizing I’d made a huge Donald-Trump-sized mistake almost immediately. This birthday party was a very regimented thing. Unlike many of the other parties I’ve discussed, this one had EXACTLY 8 slots for 8 little girls. Also unlike the others, this was the first one in which Caroline attended public school. She’s usually the first one in her class to have a birthday, making me a reluctant trendsetter. Anyway, school just started a few weeks ago, so I didn’t know many of the students’ names. When I first queried Caroline about who she wanted to come to the party, she said, “NOT Stacey.” Okay, then, not Stacey. I guessed she and Stacey had some kinda bad blood there, like Taylor Swift and Katy Perry.
Pretty quickly we came up with a few names we regularly include over the years, but there were still four slots left. Fine, no problemo, I’d just send Caroline with some invitations to school. “Wait, can I do that?” I thought. “I don’t think I can do that,” I concluded. I vaguely remembered something about it in the student handbook. I decided to email the teacher, Mrs. Codswallop (I have changed names for anonymity). Mrs. Codswallop had already pulled me aside on the second day of school and reprimanded me for forgetting to pack a snack for Caroline on the very first day. So I hadn’t exactly started off on the right foot with this woman.
“No,” said Mrs. Codswallop, “you cannot do that.” She went on to say I was allowed to send invitations to school with Caroline IF everyone in the class was invited, because nowadays we coddle children in little “blue-ribbon everyone’s-special” bubbles until they’re in their twenties and realize the real world will kick them in the balls, and by that time they have no coping mechanisms for failure or rejection, and that’s why they end up living with their parents in their thirties. She didn’t say that last bit. That’s mine.
It wasn’t MY fault I only had four slots. DAMN YOU SWEET-N-SASSY! Even if I didn’t have that restriction, 98% of the boys in her class wouldn’t be interested, and the 2% who WERE interested probably wouldn’t say so. Bottom line, I had no idea how to invite these kids to this party. The whole affair was becoming way more trouble than it was worth.
“Caroline!” I said desperately 12 days out from the party. “I need last names. I can figure out who to contact from Mrs. Codswallop’s emails if I have last names. Do you know anyone’s last name?” But Caroline didn’t even know everyone’s first names, because of course.
Mrs. Codswallop openly cc’d all the parents on her class emails, and I figured I could put 2 and 2 together with just a little more info, because I’m basically Nancy Drew. I never saw any other parents because I drop off Caroline early for extra reading help, and I don’t pick her up directly after school, I pick her up from aftercare.
“Caroline!” I said desperately 11 days out from the party. “I want you to get the girls to write down their names for you. Like on a piece of paper. That you bring home to me. Okay? Can you do that? It’s easy right?”
Caroline furrowed her brow. “I don’t wanna!” she yelled.
“Well, do you want a party?” I yelled back threateningly.
The cat meowed and threw up a hairball.
This thing was tearing our family apart.
Mrs. Codswallop emailed me that day. “It seems you need a class list, according to Caroline,” she said. She provided me with a list of names and made sure to tell me it all could have been easily accessed on the school’s website.
“God,” I thought. “Mrs. Codswallop hates me.” How was I supposed to know this information was out there? I’m just a gay aunt doing the best I can!
I matched names, sent out the email invites, and crossed my fingers. A day went by with no responses. What was wrong with these people!? Why didn’t they have my child’s birthday happiness as their central life goal!?
I realized I was going to have to get more aggressive, so I emailed again. This time I got some non-committed responses and redirects, kinda like when I ask someone to go out with me romantically. So you know, I was used to it, and knew just how to approach it. Have one glass of wine too many, cry myself to sleep, and the next day cast a wider net and lower my standards.
I called Sweet-N-Sassy. “Uhm, what if more than 8 girls show up?” I asked. They told me it was okay, but that I’d be charged $20 extra per girl. “Oh, good,” I thought, “I can just go bankrupt.” So I changed strategies and decided to invite a few more to make sure at least 8 came.
But there was one girl Caroline really wanted to attend, and I couldn’t figure out how to reach her. I’d gotten no response from the email and realized I was going to have to take matters into my own hands. I decided to do the obvious thing and stalk her. I knew when the class had recess outside on the playground and considered taking my lunch break then. I could swing by and beckon her over. That wouldn’t be creepy at all.
I think this was when my friends started to worry about me.
One week before the party, I ran into the girl before school started. She hadn’t gone in the building yet, so I figured it was okay to give her an invitation, which I’d been carrying around with me just in case. Because this was all completely normal. “Pssst, hey Mary!” I said, waving her over. “Put this in your backpack. Give it to your mom, okay?” Mary nodded her head.
That was on a Friday. On Monday morning when I dropped off Caroline for reading practice, Mrs. Codswallop called me over. “Uh oh,” I thought.
“We had a lot of tears on Friday,” she said. “Apparently, somehow Mary got an invitation to a party that Stacey is not invited to.”
I cast my gaze ashamedly toward the floor. “Uh, yeah sorry about that,” I said. “That’s my fault.”
Damn that Mary! All she had to do was give it to her mom. Ugh!
Mrs. Codswallop pulled out a crumpled up invitation and gave it to me. “They’re 6,” she said. She shook her head.
“NOOOOOOO!” I thought. “All this trouble and the invitation didn’t even go home with her!”
This was when I started wondering why God hates me. I mean other than because I’m an asshole who makes little girls cry. Besides that. But it wasn’t MY fault the party was gender-selective with limited space! DAMN YOU SWEET-N-SASSY!
I ended up figuring out how to contact Mary’s mother by going to the front office. I guess I should have done that in the first place, but I didn’t know I could until Mrs. Codswallop told me to. This parenting thing is hard. Mary’s mom said she’d love to come.
The party was yesterday. I really hate to admit this, but it was kinda the cutest thing ever. The sheer look of joy on Caroline’s face (and all the girls, really) was totally worth it.
But I’m still an asshole, and Mrs. Codswallop will shake her head every time she sees me. And Stacey cried. That’s something I have to learn to live with forever.
Even though I loved it, I’m never doing it again. Ever.
Next year we’re staying home.