I walk the short distance to school eagerly anticipating a few moments of conversation with fellow parents as we wait for our darlings. It’s a time to share a funny anecdote, to ask about our thyroids, to brag about domestic superpowers and discuss the latest neighborhood news.
One afternoon our conversation is abruptly interrupted by my firstborn’s joyful exclamation, “Mom! Look at this, can I go?”
It’s her first year at a new school and I am glad she has been included on the invitation list. I promise to look when we get home. Amidst the chaos of backpacks, shoes and papers (so many papers) scattered throughout the house, I read the invitation. The party will be held at a pick and paint store and I know my budding artist will especially enjoy this party. I write the time and address on the calendar and text the number on the card to repondez s’il vous plait. I thank her for the invite and tell her my daughter would love to go.
The day of the party arrives and I plan to take care of shopping for a gift the way I always do. In my typical fashion I rush to the closest store, frantically search for something remotely appealing for a child I don’t know, head to the check out without wrapping paper, get out of line to powerwalk to the gift wrap aisle, grab a bag, splurge on overpriced colored tissue paper, whiz by the wall of cards hoping my child produced a homemade card worthy of Hallmark and B line to the check out with 20 minutes to spare.
At least that’s what I envisioned, but Saturday morning proved that life doesn’t always go as planned.
I wake up early and head to the fridge to pack leftovers for my husband’s lunch. He works today, but it’s okay, I can handle a birthday party with three kids. I open the Tupperware lid and hear the familiar hum of his car turning the corner. Whoops. Well, I think they have food out in the world so I am guessing he will be okay.
I glance at my computer desk. Without a child awake to steal my spot, I am able to sit and type and write and think and work in the blissfully silent darkness. They will wake up soon but it’s Saturday so no need to find clean clothes and rush out the door. The sun comes through the curtains and the youngest two take their cue to seize the day.
I hear footsteps and tiny voices and give out hugs and kisses. After tossing nighttime diapers in the outside trash I wash my hands and serve a delicious helping of whole grain circles, complete with milk and a spoon. Our day is centered on the oldest child’s social engagement and she eventually joins us after sleeping in from a late night of reading.
I open the blinds and notice my daughter’s classmate walking two jacket clad dachshunds. My daughter opens the door and yells, “Are you going to the birthday party?” I watch as her friend nods and I realize a potential carpool can be arranged. Her parents are happy to help and I humbly accept their generosity. That means just one chore left on our list: shopping.
I get a phone call from my husband. He calls ahead to say he is on his way home to quickly change clothes for an unexpected ceremony and asks if I can find his blue shirt.
The time I would have spent buckling children into the car, carefully crossing several lanes of traffic, entering a store filled with brightly colored objects, finding the perfect piece of plastic toy and spending money on a shoe string budget was replaced by my husband’s beautiful blue eyes, finding his black socks and ironing his dress shirt. By the time he rushed out the door, I realize we only have forty minutes. The consequences of my early morning start to creep in on me and I hit a proverbial wall. I am not sure I can muster the strength to shop, especially with how little money there is for extras. I am worried, however, that if my daughter shows up to a party gift-less she will feel the same unease and embarrassment I felt as a child when I went to a slumber party without a gift because I didn’t know it was a birthday party too.
I ask my bright eyed beauty,
“How would you feel if you didn’t take a gift to the party?”
She shrugs and suggests, “How about I make a card?”
“Won’t you be embarrassed without a gift?”
“No,” she assures me.
A new idea comes to mind, “The drugstore is right around the corner, we can go there! Does she like Christmas socks?”
“It’s okay, Mom.”
I take a deep breath and reach for the phone. I text the mother of the birthday girl and gather the courage to type on the tiny screen, “So sorry, I didn’t have a chance to get a gift,” hoping she can explain in advance to her daughter. She quickly responds with “No problem at all! We are glad she will be there.” I forced myself to admit that I couldn’t get it together and let my daughter paint with her classmates on a Saturday without an unbearable feeling of indebtedness to the host family.
I braid her hair and wait on the doorstep, soaking in the unusually warm day. I watch as she walks to her friend’s car without thirty dollars’ worth of toys, gift wrap and tissue paper.
She comes home after a wonderful afternoon and I nervously ask if it was okay she didn’t have a present.
“Yeah,” she casually responds. “Not everyone had one.”
At that moment I begin to understand that no matter how hard I try to shield her from embarrassment I felt at her age, she is a different person and will react according to her personality. She’s cool, that little girl, and I am grateful for her assurance that everything will be okay.