Last night I was out with a group of friends. Great, loving, supportive friends. Strong, powerful, women, group of friends. Mothers all. We enjoyed dinner, and drinks, and ease of conversation. And we laughed. Hard and long. We discussed current challenges, highlights, travel adventures and toasted to hopes and dreams.
We are all at this point in our lives when our children are all launched, or two months shy of complete acceleration, 10, 9, 8, 7.....3, 2, 1, Blast off! Undoubtedly our kids come up in conversations, the struggles, conflicts, celebrations, achievements, and everything in between.
Somehow we started discussing Chuck E. Cheese and early birthday mayhem. A communal experience of our time as parents in the trenches, of our children’s ages, of life in the suburban sprawl of ordinariness and shared childhood experience. We, on the other hand all had transistor radios, Click-clacks, Barbie and banana seats on our bikes. Our birthday parties meant a few friends came over and had cake and maybe pizza or tacos. If we were going for upscale, it might have meant fondue, or finger foods. Frozen egg rolls, piggy’s in the blanket, maybe ordering Chinese food. Long before strip mall plazas featured structured environments of chaos or birthday events that began to set up the expectation of second mortgaged bar mitzvahs, or sweet sixteen events that rivaled reality shows that produced Hilton’s and Kardashian’s, and Osbourne’s. How did this happen and why did we all go along with it? Maybe the same reason we all had mood rings or pet rocks, or crushes on Donny Osmond, David Cassidy, Davey Jones, Bobby Sherman or Rex Smith. That collective generational experience and need for belonging.
I admitted one of my children's first birthday was celebrated at Chuck E. Cheese. The invitation promised small children a good time, and parents were promised beer. That wellspring of birthday joy. Needless to say my one year old had no need of a birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, or anywhere outside the purview of our home. I, on the other hand, was recently divorced, forging my way forward, in need of some semblance of family, or stand-in’s that could fill the void created by the recent divorce. It worked, for me. It worked for her older brother, 3 ½. It worked for the parents who liked the free beer and tolerated the bad pizza, it worked for their children. My one year old laughed and smiled and was adored by all.
I haven’t second mortgaged any parties along the way. I have gotten close for college payments, car insurance, tux rentals, and gas expenses in a mini-van made especially for emphasizing drudgery and domestic disdain. I have however, suffered a few serious unpleasantries at Discovery Zone. That was the place with the room full of balls and chutes and ladders that children drowned in, cried in, were stepped on in, and got lost in. For reasons I can’t fathom, or forgive, on the two occasions I went because my children were invited to someone else’s birthday parties, disaster struck. These were the kind of parties that 40 other children are invited to. The precursor to Facebook friend lists of 598 and counting. Honestly, who has 40 close friends at 5 or 6 or 7? I don’t have that many now, or at 35, or 40, or 45. And let me tell you something else, on those two occasions that my children were part of some en masse birthday devastation, they didn’t have 40 close friends either. This is where the bubonic plague game was being developed, like some Jurassic Park sequel. The place had to be shut down, while a small child caused the clearing of the ball pit due to terrorist germ warfare tactics or loose bowels. Who was that kid? Were they the 41st child that didn’t make the cut? A junior rendition of Carrie?
These are the times that we can now, en masse, look back on, raise our drinks and laugh loudly knowing we made it through. How many of us haven’t been forced up the chute to retrieve one of our children, screaming in terror, willfully blocking other children from entering, or staring us down and refusing to leave? I have a few unpleasant memories of wanting to go a wee bit postal in these communal pits of disaster and diarrhea enhancing ditches.
I wish now I was a bit more grounded in myself back then to simply look at my children when they approached me with these invites and smiled through my white lying teeth, saying “Ooooohhhhh, sorry Momma’s little sugar, we have plans that night to test drive the van into the lake and see which one of you plums is the very best swimmer in the family”. Maybe I could have said, “Oh Momma’s got a migraine that will last through your 25th birthdays. Let’s see that puts us well into 2020, when did you say the party was? Oooh sugars, go pull the shades, I feel the migraine aura coming on.” I didn’t always say no when I knew better, I thought I could somehow remain calm and grounded in the feeding grounds of pandemic reaching disease sharing. Or numerous other events that left me frazzled and foul feeling and even acting. These precious children of mine didn’t always understand that I was somehow attempting, albeit misguidedly, to offer them opportunities for fun and friendship and overall happiness. Instead I may have left them a little scarred and road wary and confused.
I suppose, I didn’t appreciate or understand a great many things my parents did on my behalf or in seeming direct opposition to. We try our best. Sometimes we make the mark. The lavender sugared pansy cupcakes are still talked about. I hand dipped each pansy, while humming happily. There were probably 24 cupcakes in all. Enough for seconds, and for a brother or two. At that sleepover no one had to be showered by HAZMAT officials. And I didn’t scream once.
I’m not alone in this. I have several, strong, powerful, beautiful friends that are laughing themselves off their bar stools as we look back at the things we’ve done for love, when we were much better off doing them for sanity and self-preservation or out right selfishness. I have a few stories from sporting events, and nightmare prom photo-shoots that rival the red carpet on Oscar night. But honestly, it’s all behind me, and at some point my children will have children and realize I was perhaps really crazy, but not anymore so then they will be as they rescue their own precious loves from some diarrhea pit of parenting. And by then I will be able to hug my very own grandbabies and give them handfuls of sugar. And wave bye-bye as their bowels start to loosen from a days worth of cookies and fruit juice and maybe a couple of bowls of guilt free spoiling and anxiety free loving.