The months of September and April are particularly filled with date triggers, both good and bad. Most of my April ones are bad. September is a mixed bag, really.
Most importantly, September means both Monkey's birthday, and her Big Sister's. They are ten days shy of being exactly four years apart.
That's even more noteworthy when you consider they have different moms.
This year, our amazing miracle Monkey just turned SIX. We held her party the weekend before her actual birthday this time, since we had other plans for the weekend after it. I also decided, for the first time, NOT to take her birthday off from work; instead, I thought it would be good for her to go to school on the actual day and experience being in school for the "BIG DAY."
Admittedly, this is somewhat due to my desire to live a little vicariously through my girl...as one of those unfortunate souls with midsummer birthdays, I never, EVER got to experience being in school for my birthday. My parties, when I had them, were always small gatherings of neighborhood and/or family friends. Hardly ever any school friends, since we were not in school and clearly that meant there were no phones or communication of any kind outside of spending the school year with such people. In hindsight, it is very odd to me that we never invited school friends for my parties... Maybe I didn't have any. What the hell?? Anyway, I digress...
This year, we have a new school, new house and neighborhood, and therefore were breaking all new ground in party planning. We have previously been very limited in inviting school friends. It's kind of easy because her birthday comes so soon into the school year.
Her very first school-time birthday (turning 3) came just a week and a half into her first year at part-time preschool. We didn't know anyone, so none of the classmates were invited. I had ZERO intention of bringing 20 kids between the ages of 2.5 and 3 to my home when potty training was not yet mandated and I didn't know the little petrie dishes. HAIL NO.
It was her "rock star" party-- I went all nutso with the theme and craft and games and singalong stuff set up in the garage...and it rained, and no one left the actual house to go to the garage until the very end of the party.
Monkey did top off the end of the party with an epic, Courtney-Love-worthy rock star diva tantrum though, complete with peeing her pants and passing out while our departing guests were still in the driveway. That. Was. AWESOME.
Turning four, she was attending the second preschool, at my work. Again, the event came very soon into the school year at a new place, new rules. Their deal was that you could drop party invitations in the kids' cubbies, as long as you invited the WHOLE class. Again, too soon, too young (that class ranged from ages 3-5), and too many kids-- plus we lived half an hour away from the school and uh, just...no.
So her 4th birthday had a few kids from the prior preschool, our family friends, and that was it. We also kept the theme to the invitations and cake, and rented a bounce house for the back yard of our rented house. Gambling on the weather, I chose more energy exertion and less craft supply cleanup. I was hit with a migraine the night before, but soldiered on and it all worked out great.
Turning five, we did the bounce house again, but went a different route on the invitations: we invited some--not all-- of the preschool class. The party was kind of like "Fight Club"-- the first rule of Monkey's party is: no talking about Monkey's party. We got around the "all or none" invitation drop-off rule by mailing invitations. By that time, we knew who the total brats were, and I was not about to have any of them purposely in my presence on a Saturday. Again--HAIL NO! My parents were here and contributed greatly to the Tinkerbell theme.
Note: I had a fabulous post written commemorating her fifth birthday, but Blogger ATE the damn thing right before I hit "publish." I've been harboring a grudge ever since, and never did go back to rewrite it. I should have learned my lesson by now and write things elsewhere to cut/paste here, but look at me, daring to risk all yet again by composing directly on the site...
I swear, if Blogger eats this post, I am going to find someone to kick right square in the jewels. Not kidding.
This year, with the new school and neighborhood, we had some choices to make. Her elementary school posted classroom roster lists on the main doors just before school started. We took pictures of that. Based on prior experience, I figured we'd get a class list with names/phone numbers, like the preschool did.
It's October and we don't have that list yet, so I am really glad we took that pic and didn't try to wait for an actual list. We opted to just invite the WHOLE class this time. Being new, we figured it would give us a chance to meet some parents. I am sorely lacking in that department, since MDD drops Monkey off at school each morning. Other than the kids we know from our street and church, I had no clue who any of the kids are.
MDD's task was to get all the invitations handed to the kids in line before school started. This turned out to be a much bigger fiasco than any of us anticipated. Do you REALIZE how many people bring their kindergarteners to school late??? More than I knew, that's for sure. MDD was stressing a bit because the process took a couple of days, trying to catch them all.
At one point, a kid who's always late wound up playing next to Monkey. She told him we were going to invite him to her party but he wasn't there on time all week. FACEPALM.
She TOLD us she had said this... we reminded her we WERE inviting the ENTIRE class, and to please tell that little boy we had an invitation for him! Ironically, though, he must have said something to his parents because he WAS on time the next day.
Next came the RSVP period. Admittedly, I forgot to put a date for that, so bad on me...But still. As adults who have a five-year-old, by now you would think they've held (or attended) SOME kind of party sometime in their lives. It's just courtesy to let people know if you're going to be there or not.
For this party, since it was at our house, the actual count wasn't too crucial. If we were having it somewhere you pay per kid (and/or per parent), that's different. My main fear was making sure we had enough cake and goody bags so no one cried.
The theme this year was, of course, "Frozen." Monkey got a new Elsa shirt and we rented a pink/purple bounce house from a different company. The invitations were
Monkey's big deal was asking MDD to set up something so she could sing for her guests. "Let It Go" is pretty much her power anthem. Since we are a musical family and have enough equipment for at least two bands, meeting this request was certainly feasible.
The weather forecast was iffy. Each day I watched it, willing the predicted rain to shift either earlier or later. Someone somewhere heard me, because it was chilly and raining the night before the party...and Saturday dawned warmer, sunny, and dry. The new bounce house company showed up early and had the thing set up inside of five minutes.
Overcome with excitement, Monkey asked to test it out while I was finishing dishes and food prep.
I am SO glad I told her "yes." Sometimes, that is really hard for me, because I am beyond uber-pragmatic and can usually think of ten reasons to say "no" to something for every one reason to say "yes." But I needed her outside anyway, so I told her to go for it.
And she did. One of the most beatific things I have seen in quite a long time:
The sunshine breaking through the clouds, and the vibrant pink/purple/teal blue of the castle bounce house, as my super-excited girl scrambles to scootch into the entryway...and bounced and bounced, her hair flying around all crazy.
She bounced in purest joy, and sang to herself, some made-up song about the best day there could ever be, and about being the princess in her purple castle, under the sunshine and shade from the tree leaves, under the bluest sky I can remember seeing...
I should add at this point: I had been on steroids all week for a nasty allergy flare-up, so everything of any emotional impact became HUGE all week, good and bad alike. This moment though, was all good.
Thus, all pumped up on the 'roids, I watched her sing to herself, and I cried.
After the year our family has had, it was a palpable reminder of the JOY in our hearts. Hers, especially. I stopped my rabid preparations and grabbed my phone to call Bunny and Papi. I know it bothered them they couldn't come to her party this year-- he is better, but still not cleared to fly-- and I just had to talk to my mom right then. I knew she would understand.
I explained to my mother what I was seeing. She could hear Monkey singing from the front yard. I watched the sun hitting her happy little face and I just melted. Unbearable gratitude bowled me over.
My mom understood. She reminded me to breathe it in, and hold onto it, because God knows we need a little more of that in our lives. I could hear in her trembling voice just how much she understood.
Then MDD came back from Big Sister's counseling appointment. I don't know what they discussed, but Big Sis seemed a bit agitated. She demanded to get in the bounce house too. Only fair, I figured, and so she got in there...but instead of the peaceful, joyful singing there was now all this shrieking and yelling.
Our neighbors a few houses down have twin five-year-old kids who are both in Monkey's class. They saw Monkey and Big Sis in the bouncer and begged to come in, too. I said OK, as long as everyone kept the screaming down. No wrestling, no sitting on the ramp/entryway space, and no roughhousing.
I resumed my cleaning until the yelling got loud again. I poked my head out the door and reminded Big Sis, who was sitting on the entryway ramp, that I had JUST told them not to sit there. Against the safety rules-- move it. I saw some jostling and hands grabbing at people, and reminded them all this was hands-off, or they'd come out. Then I went back inside.
About a minute later, Big Sis came sprinting into the house with Monkey's small shoes smooshed onto her much-larger feet. I pointed at them, said NO, and told her to get her own. She ran back out.
Then Monkey came running in herself, holding her head.
"Big Sis GRABBED me and made me fall on my head!"
I thought bad words. Several.
I got Monkey an icepack and told Big Sis to get in the house. She looked at me, grabbed her gym shoes, and ran around the house to the back yard instead. The neighbor kids were somehow running around in Monkey's room. I told them they needed to go back to their house until the party actually started.
I found Big Sis hiding out, watching the side door of the house. I yelled at her to get inside. She asked where Dad was. I repeated, "GET INSIDE. Now." She started "explaining" that the little kids had hold of her arm...
Seriously, I lost it a little. She's twice their size. And I had *JUST TOLD HER* not to do exactly what she JUST did.
"GET. YOUR. BUTT. IN. THE. HOUSE. NOW!!!!!"
She again started arguing...I put up one hand and asked if I looked like I wanted to hear her argue right now. I am quite sure I looked crazy because her eyes went wide when she said, "no."
MDD had been in the garage, getting some things set up, and had missed most of what happened. He came in the side door when he heard me yelling and asked what was going on. I told him to ask his firstborn...who immediately blamed the five-year-olds for roughhousing. I stopped her and explained to MDD that I had JUST told Big Sis NOT to do EXACTLY what she then continued to do...which resulted in Monkey getting pulled out of the bouncer and landing on her head on the ground.
Related note: We had big issues with Big Sis last year at Monkey's 5th birthday party. So much so that MDD and I had some terse words in planning out this year's deal, to make sure that there would not be a repeat. Big Sis has a hard time seeing Monkey get attention without demanding some for herself. Often, that comes out in ways we'd really rather she not pursue. It's an ongoing struggle.
The kicker is that Monkey's birthday (and therefore, party) falls earlier in the month than Big Sis' does. So every year, there's the struggle for her to watch the festivities and wait another week or two for her own. Waiting is not easy for her, and there are lots of other dynamics at play.
Last year, Big Sis' mom was present at Monkey's party. Her role was supposed to be to supervise her own kid, just like any other parent was doing. That did not go well last year, and after the big scene Big Sis had made, MDD and his ex wound up taking an enormous chunk of time in the middle of the party MDD AND I WERE HOSTING to sit with Big Sis and deal with *her* issues, while I was left to manage the party alone.
Right when party guests were leaving, and Monkey was crying because her sister had been mean to her publicly, and there were goody bags to hand out, and lots of awkwardness, and it was all just not good. Seriously, SO VERY MUCH, NOT GOOD. There was ugly aftermath that was just... yeah.
This year, Big Sis' mom was again slated to appear. Oddly enough, she loves Monkey, which is rather unexpected. But I felt very, VERY strongly that she needed to be better attuned to her own daughter's needs and situation in order to be willing and able to step in MUCH more quickly-- to either diffuse whatever arose, or get Big Sis the hell outta there, so Monkey did not have to fear her sister would make a big scene and embarrass her. Again.
As I have mentioned before, the dynamics of step-parenthood are not for the feint of heart.
My take on the situation: I would never allow my daughter to make a giant fuss at ANYONE else's birthday party. Period. I would damn well pull her fussy little ass right outta the party if she did.
IMHO: No kid deserves to be humiliated at their own birthday party, FFS! Deliberately embarrassing the birthday girl in front of her friends is like, "scarred for life" territory. No, no, NO-- I would not allow my child to do that. Not that there's much chance of her even thinking about it, but if she did? Just, NO.
MDD and I discussed this at length. It is very clear to all involved that my threshold of acceptable behavior is far less tolerant than MDD's or his ex-wife's. But I hold my own child to that same expectation-- and while she's four years younger, I know she is fully capable of complying, most of the time.
Knowing how strongly I feel about the situation, MDD had the excruciatingly uncomfortable task of explaining it to the ex. We arranged she would arrive slightly before the scheduled party time, to get Big Sis' stuff transitioned to her car in case a hasty exit was required. There would be NO repeat of forty-five minutes of MDD in seclusion trying to diffuse his older child's outbursts. She would be removed from the party, quickly and quietly, and without the drama payoff such behavior seeks.
Funny...just the concept of us agreeing to that, and having the three parental figures explain to Big Sis that this was being done, seemed to plant in her head the general knowledge that anything like last year's shenanigans was not going to be well-received.
She didn't even try. I count that as win-win for all involved. United we stand, and all that jazz.
Monkey's gymnastics class also falls on Saturdays, and we had debated what to do about the timing. I had thought we should skip that week, but she was already going to miss the next week when we'd be out of town. So, with as much prepped as I could, I got her in the car and off we went...
Only to be stopped by a stalled freight train on the tracks leading to the gym. Which had never happened before. We were already going to be pulling her out of class early to get home in time for the party, and now were looking to be 15 minutes late to boot. I called MDD with that panicky, freaky-laughter voice, and he agreed we should just skip it and head home.
So we did, and got a much less rushed lunch in everyone, and finished the setup. MDD was getting the sound system rigged for the big debut. I was dealing with the food and decorations. The ex showed up right on time and Big Sis transferred her stuff to mom's car and off we went.
I am learning new birthday etiquette. Apparently you're supposed to indicate on the invitation whether or not the party is "drop off" or if you expect parents to stay. I had not done so, because we're dealing with 25 kids aged 5-6 at a bounce house...um, let's do some math. There were a couple parents who had schedule conflicts, and had talked to me ahead of time about a brief drop-off period, to be followed by the parent's return.
A couple others stayed about ten to fifteen minutes, then talked with me about leaving once they knew their kiddos were comfortable and apt to follow the rules. I took their cell numbers and advised if they and their children were OK, I would be, too.
The moral of all this being: if you are leaving your child at a party when you barely know the parents, please make sure you leave your cell phone number. And like, your NAME, or something? At the least.
Because...there was one boy from her class -- let's call him Jacob-- whose dad also brought his toddler sister. Not a big deal, given the nature of the party. As long as she can hang and Daddy's going to watch her, have some Cheetos and party on, little girl. We're good.
EXCEPT when said dad goes MIA in the middle of the party. Without notice. Or a phone number.
The party was supposed to be done at 4:30. All the "drop-off" parents returned about 4:20 or so, and we were handing out goody bags and all was grand. Several of the parents commented that since this was the first birthday party of the year, they were watching how we did things so they'd have an idea what to do when it was their turn.
Funny- I had told MDD that EXACT thing and he was incredulous that moms would actually DO that stuff. I was like, are you kidding? Hell YES they do- we ALL do it. Watch and learn, baby. Hers is probably the first party of the school year, so all eyes will be on how we handle it. He thought I was over-exaggerating... HA! Verbatim confirmation!!! Ok, I feel better.
The plan was to get all the "school friends" off with their parents, leaving just our closest friends to watch Monkey open her presents. We were going to all go grab dinner after that, since the party food was just snacks.
Which was a great plan...except when we gathered everyone inside for presents, and here's this, uh, "extra" little boy, one of the school friends. Yep-- "Jacob."
No dad. No sister. Just Jacob, who is remarkably also barefoot and now has no idea where his socks went. Or his dad.
I did not want to panic the kid. I nonchalantly asked him if he knew his phone number. "Nope! We're still working on that!!" Big smiles.
Fake smile from me, as I ask if he knew his address. "Nope! That, too! Hey-- I get to stay LATE!! Can we go bounce more?"
Me: "Uh, no, buddy, Monkey is opening her presents." And then we're supposed to LEAVE but what the fresh hell are we supposed to do with YOU??
For what it's worth, Jacob was a model guest (minus the missing socks). There were a lot of concerned adults making eye contact over his head and more than a few mouthed "WTF"s going on. I confirmed Jacob's dad hadn't said anything to MDD or me.
Then the ex piped up with, "Well, he said he was going to take the little girl home for a nap..."
So...he said something to HER but she didn't get a phone number or let MDD or me know, apparently?? Faboo.
Jacob has a rather common last name, which did not help. My dear friend and I were frantically Googling the name on our phones, trying to match it with an address within the same elementary school district that could possibly be his house. I had received the RSVP from Jacob's mom via email, but she hadn't given me her phone number. Her first name was also a very common one, and we did not know dad's first name. I didn't want to get her husband in trouble, but at this point it was a full HOUR past pickup time, and we weren't sure what else to do. Plus, we were hungry.
I replied to her email from my phone, ever-so-politely pointing out that we hadn't heard from Jacob's dad, and did she know when he'd be coming to get him? Because the party was sort of, uh, over, and he's still hanging out in my front room...
The remaining kids (our two girls, and the five kids of our close friends) asked to go back out and bounce. I said sure, because the bounce house was going to be taken down in the next half hour or so. They all tumbled out and in and around again, hopped up on cake.**
**Important plot point, there.
My friend and I were trying to figure out what to do with Jacob when his dad finally pulled up in front of the house. It was 5:50, a full hour and twenty minutes after the official end of the party. Instinctively, the remaining grownups backed up from me as he approached our front yard.
Me: Uh...HI!! We were kind of wondering, uh, where you were?? Because things were kind of over, like, an hour ago.
Jacob's Dad: WHAT?? I...I thought it was 6:00?
Me: Nope. 4:30, actually... Yeah.
JD: Oh my God. I am SO SORRY... I just... (pulls out phone) I had it in my phone as going until 6:00.
Me: Yeah, no. Two to four-thirty. But he's fine, just needs his socks and--
(CUE INSANE SCREAMING FROM THE BOUNCE HOUSE)
The oldest, "big kid" there: Monkey, I'm sorry!! OHMAHGAWD I am SO SORRY!
Me: WHAT HAPPENED? GET HER OUT! Bring her OUT here, please!
The "big kid" of the group gingerly brought out my screaming, sobbing, purple-faced birthday girl.
Apparently, she collided with him on a bad fall, catching the top of his head right, square in the face.
Right in the eye-- and bridge of her wee little nose, to be exact.
Massive chaos ensued.
Jacob and his dad decided that was probably a REALLY good time to get the hell outta there. My friend, who is studying to be a nurse, took control-- ice pack, Motrin, check for her ability to track a moving finger with that eye. No blown pupils, good. No blood-- scratch that, confirmed, we do have blood from the nose. We wiped it without letting Monkey see that was what it was.
The "big kid" was absolutely beside himself. He looked like he was going to vomit. We assured him it was an accident.
Watching your kid scream in pain is brutal. Not being able to do anything about it is worse. Even the ice pack hurt. She grabbed her brand-new Olaf doll for comfort.
Did you know Olaf is frosty, snowy white? Yep. Well, hers is now frosty-snowy white with some red specks. Look, kids: Bio-Hazard Olaf!! Yayyy!!
She didn't black out and her eye itself looked OK, but it was clear she was gearing up for one holy hell of a shiner. Nothing appeared to be broken and there was just the one trickle of blood.
We held and rocked her and got her Motrin. In the blur, the bounce house company came to take it down. Someone got everyone's shoes off the tarp and brought them in. My friend, her boyfriend, and their kids left. Somewhere in there, Big Sis and the ex also left.
My phone went off- email message: Jacob's mom, FREAKING OUT. She was out of town for a funeral and just got my email and had no idea where her husband was or why he hadn't been back to get Jacob or why he even left and OMG here's her number.
I called her back to let her know her offspring was safely back with his dad.
MDD's response: Holy CRAP, I would NOT want to be that guy right now.
Mine: Oh, hell no. She's going to freaking KILL HIM. Twice, maybe.
MDD: Most definitely. <shudder>
We did finally go grab dinner and later, iced the shiner again. Monkey was totally exhausted and passed out cold.
Stumbling into bed, MDD and I had a fun conversation.
Me: You know what? Jacob didn't get a goody bag.
MDD: Pretty sure that's the least of their worries right now.
Me: YEAH. I mean...who DOES THAT?
MDD: Apparently, him.
Me: Clearly, yes. But... the ex seemed to know where he went.
MDD: <groaning> Yeah... we shall need to talk about that.
Me: At least the only kid who got hurt in the bounce house was OURS. You know, we're not renters anymore. That could've ended badly.
MDD: Uh, it kinda did.
Me: Ohhhh. OH, no!!!
Me: Dude... she is going to have this big black eye...
Me: Yeah? Well, school pictures are this Wednesday.
MDD: ...There'll be a retake day.
Me: ...or, we see how good their Photoshop skills are.
MDD: Or both.
Me: Yeah...probably both.
Footnote: Monkey did get to sing her "Let It Go" anthem to her guests. She got shy at the beginning because everyone stopped playing and came over to watch her sing. Weirdly enough, it was the first time I have ever seen her nervous about singing. It was also the quietest rendition of that song she's ever delivered. The sound system MDD rigged worked perfectly, though.
When I asked her later why she was so nervous and quiet, she said she had thought they would just be playing. Not ACTUALLY. WATCHING. Her.
One other note: Another classmate's mom and big sister stayed for the party, though they had originally planned not to hang out. I was SO VERY GLAD they stayed. That big sister saved us from a total mess in Monkey's room. A bunch of the kids wound up playing in there, and made a mess- but Momma Kid made them clean it all up before she let them leave the room. That girl is welcome in my home annnnnnnny time!