Monday, January 08, 2007
Isabelle, my niece, was turning three. My brother and sister-in-law hosted a small, scaled-down, fete in honor of this milestone. There was pizza, homemade cake dripping with blue icing, presents, and family – everything needed for commemorating her official promotion to “big girl”. My own four kids made up the bulk of the guests but Isabelle’s neighbor, six-year old Lexi, was also invited to join us. Lexi, like my Priscilla, goes to afternoon kindergarten. Although they have different teachers, I thought Priscilla might recognize her since a sliding divider is all that separates the two classrooms. “Hey,” said Priscilla, matter-of-factly, before we left for the party, “I know Kelsey.”
“You mean Lexi,” I corrected her.
“Oh …yeah, Lexi.”
We pulled up to Bobby and Paige’s and unloaded the van. Our kids rushed in, carrying the present that Priscilla had wrapped but had not necessarily wanted to give. For fifteen minutes we had a discussion in our kitchen as to why we couldn’t run back to the same store and pick up a second doll that transforms into a cupcake so that Priscilla and Isabelle could have matching ones. “We can’t afford … blah, blah, blah …not your birthday … blah, blah, blah …next year’s Christmas list…” was the by-the-book lecture that I blandly doled out to my disappointed daughter only to have Troy, looking for ways to connect with the mystery that is his five-year-old girl, enter the room and announce, “Wow, what a cool doll! I wish we could have one of those at our house!”
Once inside, the kids screamed and scattered with enthusiasm. Elijah ran for uncle Bobby’s Playstation, Priscilla and Lexi squealed and embraced like long lost relatives, Benjamin took off for the toys, and Mary commenced the two-hour battle between me, her, and the staircase. Isabelle, her three-year-old face gleaming and spectacular curls bouncing, ricocheted from one end of the house to the other, short-circuiting from the stimulation of so many potential playmates, gifts, and electric blue treats dotted with rainbow sprinkles. For the adults, sitting down was not really much of an option.
The social lives of children are raw with emotions unfiltered by age, experience, or etiquette. Their unchecked passion can evoke much squirming in the parents trying to reign in either their over-the-top adoration or unsystematically cruel tendencies. I, for example, was a bit uncomfortable with the Christmas card Elijah wrote to his teacher saying, “Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, My love has gone too far for you!” He was so proud of his poem, I didn’t have the heart to question his word choice, so instead I just grinned nervously and taped it to the gift, mentally working out the explanation I would give to the school social worker if she called me concerned about my second grader’s fanaticism.
At the party, we hushed angered tones. “Don’t follow us Isabelle!” said Lexi and Priscilla, dampening my spirit, just a little, with the reality that grade school girls (myself, at that age, included) can be as vicious as soap opera vixens, plotting the destruction of a nemesis. We lunged at tiny hands gripping, pulling, and pushing with frustration. “Don’t grab now, we have to share.” We sighed at the screams, the hectic pace, and the mess. But mostly, we laughed. Tired of our own worn-out agendas and adult preoccupations, we held out our hearts toward the six adolescent firecrackers exploding with jaw dropping vividness, hoping to catch a spark and ignite a little fire of our own. The children more than satisfied our hunger for wonder with their unadulterated exuberance for delivery pizza, paper streamers, lit candles on a cake, and the singing of “Happy Birthday”.
Around 7:00 pm sleepy eyes and tired cries launched a half-hour search for shoes, jackets, and a misplaced pacifier. “Happy Birthday Isabelle! We offered once more, “We love you!” Later that evening, after the kids were tucked away under their covers, I said to Troy, while unloading the dishwasher, “Can you believe that you and I spawned four complete people?” He agreed that it was somewhat mind blowing. Before falling into bed myself, I kissed the faces of our miraculous progeny, eerily still with exhaustion. When I wrapped my arms around Priscilla, she pushed me away while mumbling, “no, Lexi, no.”
“It’s just me, sweetheart,” I assured her.
“Was today really Isabelle’s birthday?”
“It sure was, honey.”
“Was Lexi really there?”
“Yes, Lexi was really at the party.”
And with that, she drifted off again, dreaming of new friends and quite possibly, of the cupcake doll that would be hers when we all gathered here in July to celebrate her own milestone of another year passing.