Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Forgotten Birthday

Ever since Murphy entered pre-school, the weeks from Halloween to Christmas have become a gauntlet of multi-leveled hell that Pat and I charge through with such ferocity that we end up kicking Murphy’s birthday aside. At the top level are all the costumes, winter performances, potlucks, glitter projects tossing their sparkly sparkleness over everything, and wrapping paper drives at two different schools.  Below that level there are the cash outlays:  presents for teachers, soccer coaches, business contacts, and hostess gifts.  Below that are the travel plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  And at the very bottom, under the post office runs, is Murphy’s birthday on December tenth.  By the time Pat and I hurl ourselves into January we are broke, exhausted, and barely speaking to each other. 
            During the holiday gauntlet we do daily triage.  Which is more important today?  Selling more wrapping paper or bathing? And as we tackle the most pressing tasks, Murphy’s birthday party gets bumped and bumped and bumped and bumped and bumped until it’s an afterthought, a postscript -- a distant shadowy presence.  Historically, one of us suddenly remembers and we get cracking on the invitations a week before the designated party day.  Murphy excitedly lists his dream guests and we bump the invitational calls and e-mails another two days in favor of nailing a house sitter for our vacation, locating everyone’s winter coats, volunteering for one school’s book fair, buying groceries, paying bills, driving to soccer practices, and bathing. By the time we contact Murphy’s friends only one is available, but he’s allergic to cats. We promise to lock up the cat, vacuum the whole house, turn the beds, and open the windows.  Then we start calling the outliers -- random kids, ones with head lice and pink eye, ANYONE between the ages of one and sixteen.  We could go as high as eighteen and as low as six months.  Gender is not important.
Last year a couple of kids got sick on the day of the party leaving us with the allergic kid and an exchange student from Spain who I met in the elevator.  Pat hopped on the phone and I ran downstairs to the home of a friend with a young daughter. 
“I need Laura in an hour for Murphy’s birthday party,” I demanded.
“She’s got a rash and we don’t have a present,” my friend said.
“I’ll take her,” I yelled, running to catch the elevator and zip across the street to Safeway for a cake.
A couple of years ago, I remembered that we needed party favors a half-hour before the party.  I dashed to the local mall and searched frantically through the only store that wasn’t for clothing -- Sur La Table.  I rifled through cooking utensils, looking for small, inexpensive items that would pass and was thrilled to find mini snow globes in cute boxes.  I snapped up ten, raced home, and -- smiling with the victory of having come through for my son -- threw the bag at Pat. Mission Accomplished.
Minutes later he came into the living room as I was emptying some chips into an Easter basket. 
“Did you know that these snow globes are wine corks?” he asked.
“Oh no,” I said. “The boxes covered up the cork part.” 
“And they’re glass,” he said.
“Geez. That’s really bad, huh?”
 “It’s questionable.  The kids are only four, except for the mail carrier’s son and the exotic dancer from next door.  But I was more concerned about them being actual wine corks. What message are we sending here?”
Sad to say, we didn’t have any more appropriate options (although Pat suggested giving each kid a baby carrot and a marble) and I persisted in passing out the snow globes. By the end of the party I had had a Bloody Mary to calm my nerves. 
“Remember your wine corks,” I reminded a couple of four-year-olds as they scooted out the door.
This year another level of hell has been added to the Holiday gauntlet – the preparation required for travel abroad.  All this has been even further complicated by the fact that Pat has been acting in a show and does matinees on the weekends.   This morning, we started narrowing in on Murphy’s party which has to happen before we leave for India in twelve days.  Working around the matinees, school, and soccer games, we struggled to find a three-hour block of time.
Pat stared at our schedule on the computer, “Can we have the party on Sunday at seven in the morning?”
“Absolutely not,” I said.
“It’s either that or an eight-o’clock cocktail party tomorrow.”
“For six-year-olds?” I said.
“You’re the wine cork lady.”
“Pat.  Come on.  There’s got to be something better.”
Pat leaned back in his chair, “OK.  Can we pull it together by this afternoon?”
God help me, we considered it. 
Murphy's Birthday with some kids


  1. holiday chaos so aptly described
    I bet the kids' parents appreciated the wine corks :)
    Love your blog - can't wait to

  2. You sound like a terrible parent. You really put selling wrapping paper above a birthday party for your kid. Wow! Shame on you!

  3. Just discovered your blog, and I can NOT stop reading it. Wonderful, so funny and true. And I don't usually comment, but I have to after reading Ms. Childless and Anonymous' snarky, humor-free 'observation'. Write on.

  4. It's a wonderful riot of seasonal un-bliss. And I'll bet one happy boy just loved it - a triumph of form over substance.