I've been reading Barbara Ehrenreich's "Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America", her calling-out of the utterly unrealistic belief that our optimism and positive energy can save the day. Loving this book for it's refreshingly objective (not negative) approach to the times in which we fool ourselves into believing something is better than it realistically is, I can now say with no shame the following statement:
I really, really don't want to take my kid to your kid's birthday party.
It's nothing personal. I like your kid. Really, I do. It's my kid I'm concerned about.
We have recently been invited to a party at a place I have never, even for a heartbeat, wanted to go.* A place I would rather my son never knew about because he might want to go there again and I will have to be Evil Mom and say "no way in hell, honey" and he will think I'm a Big Party Pooper, and he will be right. My kid is the kid who needs to be within sight lines. He is four, and I've been wiping noses for too long to think that an unsupervised four year old is a good idea. I do not want to have to crawl through myriad tunnels made for lithe munchkins, not middle-aged women who had their kids too late in life and whose knees and back do not easily forgive. I believe my feelings on this are worth a little empathy. And I know that the people planning this party didn't decide to do it at this new kid-mecca because they were out to torment me, but because their kid does like this stuff, and it is their kid's birthday. I'm cool with that. But it is one (small) reason we will RSVP with regrets.
I am the Party Pooper Mom who kindly doesn't go to your kid's party, because I know I'm going to feel like an On the Clock Bundle of Nerves until it's over. Being a preschool teacher for so long, it's my nature to 'read the room', and I will be watching my kid, for sure. But I will also be watching everyone else's kids, in part because when I am in a room of kids, that is my brain's default setting. Twenty years of work is a lot to undo for one party. And also because there will be other parents not watching their kids. They will assume that all the parents of the party are "watching the kids", and so when I see a kid I don't know doing something questionable, I'm going to look around for their parent. When that child doesn't seem to have a parent (because no one is watching them), I will then be consumed with the dilemma, "do I correct what's happening, or wait until an injury occurs?", which will cause my stomach to knot up like macrame. I will have to make some choice, and either might easily be the wrong one. I hate this sort of pressure. No fun.
However, the biggest reason I'm not taking my son to your kid's birthday party is this: Two hours of fun for Kiddo does not justify the four-plus hours of torment on my end. Kiddo can be pretty hard at birthdays; the last one he went to, he was playing fine, and then he was on the floor with another child, crying, a huge bruise forming by his eye by the time he got home. Inconsolable, my husband told me. (My aversion to these events is nothing new, thank goodness my husband is more socially daring than I am.) Kiddo gets so excited he has a hard time getting his feet on the ground and not acting totally goofy. And then, there's the sugar. Who am I to tell others "Please, in the name of all that is good and wonderful, do not serve my kid candy, cake and ice cream." when this is practically the American Standard? Maybe your child doesn't get totally freaked out on sugar, but mine does. I have seen this happen, and it is not pretty. My kid coming down off sugar is like your college girlfriend after making friends with a keg. You know, the one you didn't like to take to parties because without that beer in her hand, she was a sane human being, but one red party cup later and look out, here comes some loud-mouthed, attention-seeking trouble. That's my boy, right there, only preschool style, alternately climbing us and running around like a crazy person. It's all cute, until it isn't. And then we are left with a Quivering Mass that looks like my son, but is hard to recognize because he won't show his face. But he will wipe his nose on your shoulder, so that it gets in your hair.
So, when you invite my son to a party, know that I appreciate your remembering him. He'll come, someday. At some point, he's going to outgrow the freak-out that comes with all the novelty and excitement. His body will be more able to deal with the sugar, or we'll be more able to contain the fallout from the sweets and excitement. In the meantime, we'll be keeping these sorts of things as low-key as possible, knowing that there's plenty of time for him to enjoy Big Kid birthday parties.... when he's actually a bigger kid.
*All children's parties, unless hosted at the family home or a public park, are held at Places I Never Want to Go.