A few weeks ago, my youngest turned seven. Normally, I have a conniption before hosting birthday parties, but Josie had decided months in advance to have a cooking party. I had plenty of time to track down aprons, chef hats, and mini-rolling pins. I ordered cookie cutters, too, to flesh out the goodie bags. Even the menu was decided well in advance: pizza and chocolate soufflés. This shindig was going to be a breeze.
I asked my husband that morning, “Should I be worried about something? Because I’m not.” He just shrugged at me, confused. He doesn’t worry about kid parties.
Cherubic guests arrived, smiling shyly.
Suddenly I realized I had skipped lunch while cleaning house. There was no way my celiac-self would survive a house full of pizza without eating something. While the girls chatted politely, I rummaged in the freezer and found a chunk of a gluten-free pizza crust, about the size of a single, large slice. I topped it and tossed it in the oven. All was well.
Then we started cooking with the girls. Holy crap.
I have repressed most of that pizza-making extravaganza, but I do vaguely recall a boatload of whining and yelling and hogging cheese. Leon and I finally shoved the pizzas in the oven and began to deal with the aftermath left in the wake of ten small chefs.
Suddenly a new guest arrived. I got all of the ingredients out again and helped her make a pizza while Leon took care of criers and looked for bandaids. We sort of forgot about the pizzas in the oven.
“It’s burnt!” one child announced with disdain. I looked down at her pizza and had to admit it was pretty unappetizing. Man. I asked a few kids if they would share. As expected, they would not. I sighed and took the sullen child back to the kitchen. I got out all of the ingredients for a third time, and we made her another pizza. This time, I set two timers.
She moped at the table, so I got out extra tasty things to share around and keep her busy. The chorus of whining and yelling for drink, napkin, new cup, a different seat, went on relentlessly.
“Do you want to eat now?” my husband asked.
I laughed, a little maniacally. “Are you kidding?” I asked. “Now is the time to maintain vigilance.” I looked longingly at my little nub of gluten free pizza, though. Someday we would be united.
Finally, late girl and sullen girl’s pizzas were ready. They looked perfect. Late girl was full from snacking, though, and ran off to play. Sullen girl wanted the pieces cut a certain way. A fresh napkin. More to drink. Then she called me over. “I forgot I can’t eat pizza,” she said. I stared at her. I may have narrowed my eyes a little. I picked up her plate and inserted it directly into the compost while maintaining stern eye contact. “Go play,” I ordered. It was the nicest thing I could think of to say.
What followed was another round of herding cats in order to whip up the soufflés and get them in the oven.
I accidentally said yes when Josie asked to open a couple of presents. I really meant to wait until after dessert, but who knew when that would be done, anyway? The girls crowded around her and fought to see first, to grab card, to foist gift. I was losing track of who gave what. At this point, the party was actually supposed to be over, but who was going to leave before soufflé?
Parents started to arrive. Leon had quaffed our last two beers trying to survive the party, so he sent me to retrieve the magnum of scotch from the living room. Mostly to be funny, I think, but we got a few takers and then one of the dads went on a beer run. It was a mercy mission. The chaos continued.
I found myself completely overcome for a minute. I took a swig from a giant wine glass and stared blankly out the window until I realized a parent was standing directly on the other side of it, frowning at me and gesturing toward the door. I wonder how long she’d been there. By this time, it was so loud we couldn’t hear ourselves think, so no one had heard her pounding.
I wish this had been a parent I knew better. Instead, it was basically a stranger, eyeing the gigantic bottle of scotch on the kitchen counter, empty beer bottles, dirty dishes piled to oblivion. Feisty folks were talking smack about annoying children and teetering marriages. I felt like the whole scene was a neon sign reading: “We’d have looked after your kid if we weren’t so busy getting soused.”
In the living room, things were much worse. Inappropriate songs–think ‘Teenage Dreams’ and ‘Love Game’–were blaring while my oldest was sashaying around in what looked like hot pants, a bra, and thigh high black boots. It was actually her swim suit and a pair of my boots, I swear, but it looked terribly risqué. To add to the effect, she was sporting Jackie O-type sunglasses and an eight-foot stuffed snake wrapped around her like a boa. I don’t know where she learned her moves, either, but I was glad all of the dads were in the kitchen. Meanwhile, a critical mass of the younger girls had shoved all of the furniture out of the way and were beating each other to a pulp with every single pillow in the house. Half were screaming in delirium, half pain, with a couple of criers here and there.
The unknown mom sank onto the stairs while I hunted around for her kid and her belongings. “I know she’s here somewhere,” I reassured her. When I finally got them out the door, I turned to the folks in the kitchen and gestured toward the living room. “Don’t even think of going in there,” I advised firmly, refilling my glass.
“Party’s over!” Leon yelled. “If your parents aren’t here, you can wait on the curb.”
No one paid any mind–except the adult guests, who laughed. Frankly, I was only 50% sure that Leon was joking.
About this time, I decided I absolutely must eat before becoming completely delirious. I looked at the stovetop, from which my pizza had beckoned all evening. Empty. I looked at Leon. “Where’s my pizza?”
He shrugged. “Where’d you put it?” So helpful.
Then I noticed the dish towel over his arm. I turned to look at the sink and saw a tower of dirty dishes under the running faucet, and three or four levels down I found my pizza slice, literally swimming in the run off. I took a long swig from my glass. I punched Leon half-heartedly and stared at the soggy remains. Then I reached in, shook it off, and put it back in the oven to dry.
An hour or two later, when we finally had a moment of silence, I ate that thing, too. It wasn’t so bad. Next year we’ll order out, though. Happy Birthday, Josie!