As I'm sure you all know by now because I only talk about him all the time, I love my little boy like nothing else on Earth. I love how excited he is about turning five, and I love that he knows what he wants and has no problem with letting his mommy and daddy know. Which is why his party will be at
(Chuck E. Cheese, for those of you blessed enough to never have heard of it, is an indoor kid's pizza restaurant/arcade/midway thing where children gorge themselves on pizza and pop and run around like maniacs from ride to ride and game to game. It's loud, expensive, bright and chaotic, and I can't think of too many places I'd rather not spend two hours of my life with twenty screaming kids, but there you go.)
I love my kid and I'm very, very happy that I'm able to give him the exact birthday he wants. But I still hate them.
This has nothing to do with my son, but everything to do with my childhood and where I'm living now. I did have good birthdays when I was a child--my memory is terrible, but I can definitely remember at least four where I had a lot of fun. But there were also a lot of them where my parents would fight and the day would end with my dad storming off. For years I didn't want to have any birthdays at all.
But now I'm all grown up and I have a child of my own and I can't avoid birthdays anymore. As soon as Jav was old enough to know what a party was we started having them. Which meant I had to organize them. And attend them. And invite people.
Now, it's not that I'm just a socially reclusive geek--because I am--but it's also that there are certain standards, here in this small city in the middle of Texas. You don't just casually ask people to bring their kids to your party, or just throw out an email. You send out proper invitations. In the mail, not by asking the teacher to put them in the lunchboxes. And half the time they're made by local printing companies, the same kind that do wedding invitations.
The parties aren't just in someone's back yard, not unless the back yard is enormous and includes zip lines and trampolines. They're at Chuck E. Cheese, or the local, super-expensive indoor playground, or the local, super-expensive kiddie sport complex, or at the local riding school, or at McDonald's at the very least if you're going downmarket. There are always, always loot bags, often made by hand. And while it's acceptable to have the venue make the cake if they do that kind of thing, it's more common to bring the cake from some ritzy bakery in Houston or bake it yourself, resplendent with fondant sculptures and entire landscapes created out of decorative icing.
You also go back to that same printing company to get the thank you cards to send out a week after the party, with a personalized note mentioning each child guest by name and the specific present they brought.
At this point it might make a bit more sense why I'm grateful that I only have one child so I only have to freak the fuck out about this stuff once a year. You see, all of this: the mailed invitations, the loot bags, the thank you cards...none of this is me. I'm the casual invitation email girl, I'm the 'are you sure you don't want your party at McDonald's again this year, sweetie?' girl. I'm the one who used to think that loot bags were optional and thank you cards were only for weddings. I could probably make a decent-looking icing mud puddle, but a scenic landscape? Not so much.
So doing all this shit terrifies me. I feel like a fraud trying to pretend I'm like one of these Southern US Suburban women who have perfect hair and makeup and always, always, always look pulled together and like they know what they're doing and things like birthday parties are easy for them. Hell, I am a fraud. I'm a shy geek who's worn makeup maybe six times in her whole life. My wardrobe consists of jeans and tee-shirts and dresses I never wear. I collect action figures. I almost never brush my son's hair in the morning and worry more about whether he's had his vitamins than whether his pants match his shirt.
I don't belong here, and it's never so obvious to me as it is when it's birthday time.
But I'm still going to keep organizing the kind of parties everyone expects the other parents to throw until we can finally get out of this place. Because no matter how much it stresses me out, I'm not going to have my kid feel like he doesn't belong just because I do. No way in hell. I can't be the kind of mom who dresses beautifully or who puts on makeup or always looks pulled together. I can't be the kind of mom who buys collared shirts for picture days or always notices if my son has strawberry juice on his face when he goes to preschool. But I can give him a party enough like everyone else gets that he never feels weird, or awkward, or left out.
And because of that, I've already baked two different batches of cupcakes this week to find out which ones taste the best. And I've got a great recipe for buttercream frosting. And this Friday I'm going to be stuffing loot bags and baking three dozen cupcakes (to be on the safe side) and probably quietly freaking out the whole time. And I can't wait until 2:00 PM on Saturday when this can all be over again for another year. Except for those damn thank you cards.