Sunday, June 23, 2013

Turning four, ice cream no more

“This is our last time saying good-night to a three-year-old Evan,” I told my son on the eve of his fourth birthday, holding him out toward his mommy for a good-night kiss.

Evan dodged the kiss, looking distraught.

“Are you still going to do my bedtime routine when I’m four?” he squealed, worried that his impending graduation out of the totally-cool-if-you-go-to-the-bathroom-in-your-pants demographic might somehow derail the nightly carnival of stalling and misdirection that passes for a bedtime routine in our house. 

“Aw, buddy, of course we’re still going to do your routine.  Nothing’s going to change when you turn four tomorrow,” Kara replied, stroking his hair.

“Except four-year-olds aren’t allowed to have ice cream,” I said.

Before Kara could say, “No, that’s not true,” Evan’s face scrunched into a look of agony.  He buried his face in Kara’s shoulder and began to cry.

“Aw, buddy, I was just kidding.  You can still have ice cream,” I said over his wails.  Daddy’s sense of humor is an acquired taste, one that apparently takes longer than four years to acquire.
The next day, with some trepidation, we arrived at the gym we’d rented for Evan’s birthday party.  We’d tried to steer him toward the place in the mall that lets kids bring teddy bears to life by performing Civil-War-era surgery on the poor beasts, but Evan had his heart set on the gym.  The vast indoor basketball court must have seemed the perfect canvas upon which to paint chaos.   

“You need a minimum of ten kids for a birthday party to really work here,” the gym’s scheduler had explained to us.

This was the first party we’d attempted to host with Evan’s friends from daycare, rather than our own family friends and relatives.  We knew the other parents only as the other harried adults who staggered around the daycare parking lot under the weight of children, diaper bags and coolers.  Communicating with the other parents primarily via messages left in our kids’ cubbies, like spies afraid of using a compromised network, we received the bare minimum of responses to not cancel the party.

Ten minutes into the event, only Evan and his friend De’nae were there.  They sat at a folding table, coloring.

“We have four pizzas coming.  I hope De’nae’s hungry,” I whispered.

”I know it’s pathetic, but this is my worst nightmare,” Kara replied.

I knew what she meant.  If you are going to be the kind of person who can’t cobble together enough friends to have a birthday party, you shouldn’t have to face this cruel reality at the tender age of four.  You should find out in the seventh grade, like the rest of us.

The problem is that we were depending on people with small children, who are the most unreliable people in the world.  Even if they have the best of intentions, and the family is eating breakfast together, talking about how much fun they’re going to have at your party, there’s still an 80% chance that one of them will come down with an ear infection before noon.

“I’m done coloring!” De’nae reported.

“Why don’t you sign your name?” her mom suggested, buying us another minute.

The silence swelled and filled the room, pushing me into the hallway, which is where I saw another family from daycare headed towards us.  And then another.  And another.  I would have leapt into their arms, if I’d known their names.

“That was stressful,” Kara sighed ten minutes later, as beautiful pandemonium ensued in the gym.

On the drive home, Evan was all sweat and smiles, cake crumbs still embedded in his face.  He looked so content, I decided not to ruin it by explaining the rules about five-year-olds and cake.  That can wait for next year.
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