Birthday Battles

Hiding behind a piece of cake

By Renee Phile

Most of my life I have struggled with social events, but birthday parties are the worst. I admire people who can go to them, smile politely and enjoy themselves, which must include just about everyone. But me? My heart falls when one of my boys brings home a birthday party invitation accompanied with eager pleas of, “Can we go?” Sometimes, I’d try to hide it in the junk mail pile and hope they would forget about it.  No chance. I got the occasional reprieve if I could claim a work conflict but, most of the time, there was no excuse other than anxious-mom-who-thinks-talking-to-new-people-is-the-scariest-thing-ever.  So I went. Most of the time I’d try to hide in a corner, a bathroom or even my car, usually behind a piece of cake. Anytime someone talked to me, my sorry attempts at conversation would be something along the lines of, “I like bread. Bread is good.”

It was the best I could do.

I’ve been working on this, and have gotten better, although most birthday parties are still handled strategically with a plan and an escape route.

A few summers ago I was at a birthday party that I couldn’t avoid. Kevin had gotten the invitation three weeks prior and marked the birthday party on his calendar with a drawing of a big blue cake. Every day, usually multiple times a day, he would remind me of this event and that we should start preparing. If anyone mentioned doing anything else anytime near the party, Kevin would immediately shoot down the idea. “We can’t because we have a birthday party that day,” he’d say. I tried to keep my feelings on the back burner since 1) I was getting better; 2) Kevin was obsessed; 3) the whole family was invited; and 4) the party was within walking distance. The perfect storm.

So, that particular morning around 8 a.m. Kevin started reminding us about the 1 o’clock party. The reminding continued like a cuckoo clock. The presents were wrapped. The card was signed. We were ready. It was 1:04 p.m. We were still at the house. Kevin said with a bit of hysteria, “I feel like you all are acting like the party hasn’t already started!”  

So much for fashionably late.

We walked there. Water games, a bouncy house, a Slip ‘N Slide. Kids with drippy green and blue popsicles were scattered around the yard.  I told myself I did not have to stay, but I chose to. A few minutes in, I thought to myself, “This party will go down in the books as the first one I didn’t have to hide somewhere.”

The birthday fun was exploding through the yard.  Older brother David was standing beside me, and a dad and his kid arrived.  The kid, who I will call Jake, was a friend of Kevin’s at school. So, Jake and his dad walked up to David and me. Jake’s dad introduced himself as Jake’s dad and stuck out his hand. I froze. A few seconds passed and I finally said, “I’m Kevin’s dad.” He looked at me, but just nodded. “Nice to meet you,” he said. 

When Jake’s dad walked away, I realized what I had said. I turned to David. “Did I just introduce myself as Kevin’s dad?”

David laughed and said no, that he is pretty sure I hadn’t, because that would be funny and he would have remembered that, but he admitted he wasn’t really paying attention.

“Are you sure?”

“Yeah, about 75 percent sure.”

Great. I had a 1-in-4 chance of being a moron.

Maybe Jake’s dad didn’t notice. Of course, he did. He looked at you weird. David said you didn’t say “dad.” No, he said he wasn’t sure. You’re an idiot. You can’t even survive a child’s birthday party. Most people aren’t like this.

The birthday revelry continued. I watched the kids play, and ate some cake with fondant icing that tasted like plastic. I rebounded enough to have a semi-normal conversation with someone  that wasn’t about liking bread.

To make matters worse, David was invited to a birthday party that evening. Two birthday parties in one day. At the time David was 12, so my attendance was not required. Fine with me. As I was driving him to his friend’s house, he said, “Mom?” 

“Yep?”

“The more I think about it, the more I think you did say ‘dad.’ In fact, I know you did, but I said you didn’t because I didn’t want you to worry about it.”

Mom got a present that day, too. PS

Renee Phile loves being a mom, even if it doesn’t show at certain moments.

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