One Big Cake

>> Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Turns out, boys are pretty much the same at age 4 as they are at 24. Alone, they’re perfect gentlemen. They wait patiently. They’re polite. They allow girls to play, free from harassment. But add another boy to the mix and together they turn into mischievous devils that torture the cat and cause other children to cry.

Welcome to Elizabeth’s fourth birthday!

For the big event, Elizabeth requested to wear her hair down so she could adorn her birthday hat. (”I can’t wear my birthday hat over pigtails!” True enough.) To my surprise, she wore her hat all day and to bed that night. I soon learned that she wasn’t simply wearing a paper hat with her name on it. She was wearing a crown of entitlement.

Elizabeth took full emotional advantage of her birthday; pouting, throwing herself onto the couch in despair, running from the room. “It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to” is more about getting one’s rights (above and beyond one’s normal rights, mind you) than being wronged. I observed a growing sense of entitlement as her birthday approached. Of course it was entirely our fault. For weeks we promoted the upcoming birthday event, which only intensified during the final countdown. Only 5 more days until your birthday... only four... It’s no wonder she expected things to go her way 100%. She ran to her room no less than four times during the party for various reasons, mostly due to some perceived unfairness. Honestly, I can’t remember what her reasons were. But without a doubt, her reasons were her own.

The first guest to arrive was welcome, indeed. We’d heard a lot about The Big Guy from Elizabeth. He’s taught her so many wonderful things at daycare -- like how to call me Stupid Head and Poo-Poo, Pee-Pee Head. I hear he also likes to fight bad guys... or any guys, really. He’s the one Elizabeth wants to marry someday.

He was the first to arrive and I was impressed. OK, I know he can’t drive and his promptness was his Dad’s doing. But this is the kid Elizabeth wants to marry, and he was the first one at the party. How cool is that?! He was sweet, too. Despite his reputation, this shy person fussed with Elizabeth’s gift bag, making sure it wouldn’t fall over on the table. He played nicely with her, decorating balloons until the other guests arrived.

Pretty soon, Buzz Lightyear arrived. The Big Guy beamed with relief. No longer the lone male, the two of them took off through the backyard yelling, jumping and damaging the trees. As long as they’re not destroying my house, there’s something wonderful about male bonding. Boys become alive when they’re together. Their energy levels don’t merely double -- they quadruple in each other’s presence. Soon other girls arrived. Then other boys. Within half an hour, our party was fairly segregated with boys and girls passing one another briefly to make sure nothing interesting was happening on the other side.

I always forget that with every child we invite, they bring a parent or two, and possibly a sibling. Our house was filled with conversation, screaming children, toys crashing. Any other day, that would drive me to insanity. But this is how I measure a successful party. It’s one of the few times I relish disorder. Plus, I like playing hostess. I enjoy refilling the cheese tray, fetching more tortilla chips, and throwing away dirty paper plates. I like jumping in and out of conversations. I love the chaos.

When possible, we take a day off prior to a party to shop for plastic forks, clean the sandbox, dust the stereo, and locate party supplies. Some people actually prepare food. I think that’s pretty cute, but not for me. Since I have nothing to prove, homemaker-wise, I shop at Costco where fresh shrimp, over-sized sheet cakes, and giant party platters reign supreme.

Of course, we assembled party bags.

Yes, I know. Party bags and I don’t get along. But this is the age we live in, and since I’m fairly adaptable, we fulfilled our party bag duty. We filled them with a Curious George mask and puzzle, Pirates of the Caribbean telescope, a pack of M & M’s ... and a personalized CD of Elizabeth’s favorite songs with customized CD cover of Elizabeth in a red GT Mustang. I guess the reasoning is, if I have to do something I don't like, at least elevate it creatively.

Early in the festivities, an energetic Buzz Lightyear asked, “Where’s the piñata?” I smelled trouble. Sure, I know about piñatas. I’ve even whacked a few. But aren’t we all having a good time without beating a cardboard donkey and stuffing ourselves with candy? Look... I think the girls are playing in the sand box. That looks like fun. Now run along.

Silly me. I thought a piñata was mostly a colorful and clever mechanism for the distribution of candies. Clearly what I didn’t understand was the desire -- indeed the need -- for young boys to beat and destroy things. Without this necessary outlet, the need would go fulfilled elsewhere. Like our toilet.

It wasn’t until much later that I learned one of them had urinated on the bathroom floor (now it's a party!) and tried to stuff balloons down the toilet bowl. They also harassed the cat. I silently hoped Exene would deliver at least one good swipe. But even reasonable parents can become unpredictable at the sight of their own child’s blood. Fearing the consequences, I warned the children and took the cat away.

Which brings us to the lesson of the day: Provide organized activities. In the past, we never set out finger paints; we never hired a clown; we never organized a cake-eating contest. For me, food, drinks and people equal nice, wholesome, getting-to-know-you kind of fun -- my kind of fun. Apparently this is not four-year-old kind of fun.

Gone are the days when parents can chitchat while their toddlers push toy cars and rearrange stuffed animals. At four years of age, children can no longer be trusted. Left to their blooming creative devices, you risk losing valued objects and plant life. Your babies aren’t safe, and neither are your toilets. Which is why smart parents provide organized destruction. Don’t destroy my lamp! Here, have a baseball bat and beat this Dora piñata. Now I get it. (Remind me later to reflect upon the bizarre and disturbing messages received by children beating piñatas that look like small girls and other beloved cartoon characters...)

We had one organized activity up our sleeve, however: the birthday cake -- the Great Assembler of People. Elizabeth sat at the patio table surrounded by 20-30 guests, all singing Happy Birthday. Later she said it was "loud”. It was. Then, so many small hands reached, pointed and vied for their preferred piece of cake. The Big Guy wanted some of the rainbow. Elizabeth didn’t care as long as she was first. Samantha didn’t care as long as she got to eat her cake while sitting next to Elizabeth. I believe Buzz Lightyear’s allergies prevented his enjoyment of cake, but he was a gentleman and didn’t complain.

Finally, Elizabeth opened her presents with the help of her friends who often seemed more excited by her booty than she did. Buzz squealed the loudest when he saw her new pink leather baseball glove and ball. The Big Guy was right there when she opened his gift: a shiny new viewfinder. Everyone was excited by her new pair of roller skates. After that, I was simply bursting to give each child his or her own gift bag. Those darned smiles get me every time.

All in all there were more smiles than tears. As an added bonus, several people picked up after themselves on the way out, so cleanup was minimal. Wa-freakin-hoo! That night, Elizabeth went to bed exhausted and full of cake -- another bonus. The day is easily summarized by too many presents, too many people, and way too much cake.

In other words, total success!

(Happy birthday, sweet Elizabeth!)

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