I am not a party planner.
I have held various job titles in my life: preparer of sub sandwiches, country club lifeguard, discount store sales associate, AmeriCorps volunteer, middle school teacher. Event planning? No.
It’s not that I dislike parties. I enjoy a good themed soiree. Ugly Christmas sweaters? Saturday Night Fever?
Pimps and Hos? Sign me up! Granted, my curfew is a bit earlier than it was before I had kids, but I’m still up for an 8-9:30 p.m. shindig every now and then.
Kids birthday parties, though, are a different story. They’re in the same category as baby showers. They’re nice for the person they’re being thrown for, but the RSVP options should say “Unable to attend” and “Do I have to? Oh. Okay. I guess I’ll be there.”
For my daughters’ first and second birthdays we stuck with small gatherings at home with family and close friends. No decorations. No invitations. I knew everyone in attendance well enough to subject them to my attempts at homemade cupcakes and frosting, which meant that I also subjected them to the high my sugar-deprived children experienced after eating said cupcakes.
When Maggie, my oldest, turned three, we decided that it was time to have a “real” party. This meant scoping out locations, deciding on a guest list, trying to find an acceptable date based on the college football schedule, and ordering enough food and cake for all of the people who didn’t RSVP but might show up anyway. Oh, and did I mention that I am not predisposed to party planning?
The anxiety I felt surrounding this three-year-old birthday party was tremendous. What if none of her friends came and she was disappointed? What if the people I was inviting thought my fill-in-the-blank Party City invitations were tacky? What if I left someone out that I should have included? What if we didn’t have enough food? What if I was a terrible hostess and everyone realized how socially awkward I really am? Why was I even putting myself through this? I was fully aware of how idiotic my worries were, but it didn’t stop them from giving me heart palpitations.
The party came and went, and it was fine. Nothing to write home about, but my three-year-old and her little friends had fun experimenting with decibel levels in the Chick-fil-A playground area and eating only the top layer of frosting off of the cake I had spent so much time picking out. Also I survived, so I think we can call it an overall success.
You’d think that I would have learned from that experience that there was no reason to stress out, that the whole party thing wasn’t a big deal after all. You would think that, but each year is the same. What if no one comes? What if too many people come? What if all the other parents are silently judging my choice of location or snack food, or I don’t manage the flow of party events like a well-trained circus ringmaster? Is this the only way I can show my daughter that I’m happy she was born? What is it all FOR?
This past weekend we celebrated Maggie’s fifth birthday with a bowling party. and making labels featuring clever puns for all the refreshments: Han Rolos, Seven-Leia Dip, Luke Skywater, Vader-ade. It was for her, but she doesn’t know how to read. So obviously, in some way, it was for me, too.
I had never been in the bowling alley before. The drop-ceilings in the closet-sized party room were in rough shape and looked like they might have been moved aside at some point so a body could be shoved into the space above. The bass from a lewd current rap hit gave the place a Saturday-night club atmosphere, but it was Sunday afternoon. For a moment, my arms full of pink and black decorations, I thought that I had made a horrible mistake. Bowling sounded fun in theory, but faced with the prospect of organizing fourteen children of varying ages and ensuring no appendages were crushed, I hesitated.
I’m not a party planner. Some people love this stuff; it just isn’t my calling. My calling, right now, is to be a full-time mom. Turns out, party planning is part of it. It’s one of those parts of parenthood that you don’t think about beforehand, like trimming three other people’s toenails or trying to figure out how to get a crusty booger off the wall without taking off any paint. It’s something you learn to do, even if you don’t love it.
Standing there in the bowling alley, feeling crushed by my own expectations, I made a decision. I decided, like a good ringmaster, that the show must go on. Was it pretty? Oh, no. The chaos was monumental, and there certainly might have been some silent judgment from my fellow pre-school parents, all of whom could have done a better job putting on this party than I did. But honestly, I didn’t even notice.
I was too busy watching my oldest daughter flit from friend to friend, offering them pretzel rods trussed up as light sabers. She was wearing a sweatshirt with a picture of C3PO and the word “Golden”. Every so often she pranced up to stand at the line and launch a six-pound ball down the lane. She waited until it completed its long, erratic journey from bumper to bumper and back again, and it didn’t matter how many pins she knocked down – she was happy. And would you believe it? Even after “Jabba the Hummus” and “Jedi Mind Twix”, I had one more pun in me: I was bowled over. Seeing the look on her face, I knew I couldn’t have planned it any better.