Before I get into the details of this weekend, it’s important to understand the massive pile of guilt from under which I was trying to emerge.
One year ago this month, the chaos began. The endless lines of people rifling through our home in an endless stream had already been going on for seven months, but one year ago was when we agreed, from exhaustion more than anything else, to sell the home. All for the promise of a better education for the kids, which necessitated a move out of the district. We set our sights north.
While we looked, we took on a stint in an apartment while we found a new home in the Powerful Terrific Superawesome District (PTSD), the best school district in the county, for the three months it took to find a home. Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas in a cramped apartment with no decorations, which are kind of a big deal when you are six and eight. The kids were troopers; “I promise it will be worth it,” I said, and they believed me.
Emperor Palpatine and the Powerful Terrific Superawesome District
When we moved into the PTSD, I dutifully went into the office at our local AmazingAwesome school and said I would like to enroll my children.
The secretary laughed.
“You’ll be eighth on the waitlist,” she said. “I wouldn’t hold your breath. You can go to whatever school in the region we can find space in, though.” Which sounded kind of not great, so I decided to drive the kids back and forth to their old school 45 minutes away for the duration of the school year, one of the reasons you found me posting less this year.
“Hang tight,” I said to the kids, “it will be worth it. I promise.” That was right before Kekoa died, which only soured the mood, really.
When May rolled around, I again returned to the office at AmazingAwesomeschool for fall open enrollment, a time where all the new people submit their paperwork to give the PTSD bigwigs time to plan for the new enrollees in the fall.
I got a call from the secretary two weeks later.
“The good news,” she said, “is that your son can enroll.” Pause. “Your daughter is on the waitlist and can go to School Down the Road.”
I waited all summer for this to change, for some kids to move away so I wouldn’t have to explain to my daughter why she was going to some random school where none of the other neighborhood kids were going. The week before school started, the phone rang. It was School Down the Road. I answered, excited to hear that they had found a spot for my daughter at my home school.
But what they told me instead was, “We are full as well, sorry. Your daughter will be enrolled at School Even Further Down the Road. Don’t worry, it’s great.”
No one seemed to get that this was not the point. Confused, I attended a meeting of the PTSD school board, a farce more fitting a Joseph Heller novel than an actual functioning governmental entity, attempting to figure out how this happened. The third highest paid superintendent in the state of California sat up there folding his fingers under his chin like Emperor Palpatine and told the gathered parents how silly our concerns were and that we should be grateful they found a spot for us anywhere at all. You, he intimated, have No Idea How We Important People Do Things.
I am but a humble veterinarian, but even I knew this reeked of rotten anal glands. As we sat there openmouthed at the idea that a man with a PhD in education couldn’t figure out why we were upset at this arrangement, the president of the PTSD – Salacious Crumb, if you you must picture something- guffawed and shrugged his shoulders. We were dismissed.
This school year began with me trying to explain to my daughter that being bounced down the street like an unwanted kickball was no big deal, that it was for the best, and this move was really a good idea. She didn’t believe me, of course. I didn’t either.
Happy Birthday to You
September rolled around, with my daughter struggling to acclimate to fourth grade classroom sizes of 35 in a foreign neighborhood. “Your birthday is at the end of the month,” I told her. “What do you want?” I owed her, at the very least, a fantastic birthday. A weekend trip to Disneyland, perhaps. Or Universal Studios.
“No,” she said. “I want a party. At our house.”
Considering all the kids we knew resided a minimum of 5 miles away, I decided under no circumstances would I allow this event to be the latest disappointment in her life, so I committed in all my Type A splendor to Make This Party Awesome, a can’t miss event.
“Let’s do a mystery party,” I suggested, and she agreed. Mustaches! And mystery! I’ll photoshop a steampunk invitation! “Can we make it a sleepover?” she asked. “Sure!” I said, unable to say no to such a simple request.
I looked up pre-made mystery party themes, looking for something age appropriate. “A ha!” I exclaimed. “The Missing Kitty Kaper!” Most excellent. “How many kids can I invite?” my daughter asked, and I said, “However many you want,” because as you all know usually half of them have other plans anyway. 6 kids? No problem.
She invited 12 kids.
12 responded yes.
It was about this time that I started to mildly panic, but what are you going to do. If I can handle vet school, I reasoned, I can handle anything.
A couple of days later, while I was sobbing into my pillow about the loss of my beloved cat, a small but insistent voice barged in to remind me that the Missing Kitty Kaper was now short an Actual Kitty, and this was probably going to be a problem.
The Decapitated Brody Cake
There was time, not much, but enough, to get a different mystery party theme ready. This was survivable. With the big things out of the way, I asked my daughter what kind of cake she wanted for her birthday.
“A dog cake,” she said. Of course.
“OK,” I replied. “Let’s go to Baskin Robbins tomorrow and pick one out.”
“Oh, I was hoping you would make one,” she said. “One shaped like an actual dog. One you made with your own hands, Mommy.”
The only thing I was planning on making with my own hands at this point was my signature on a credit card receipt at a bakery, given that I was speaking at ACES International the two days leading up to the party and I had already spent the last three days driving around looking for glue on mustaches and making mustache lollipop molds and all of that stuff I don’t normally do. “I’m not sure I can find time for that, honey,” I said. “Can’t we buy something?”
My daughter looked at me with the same resigned expression she had when I told her about the apartment. And the fact that we weren’t getting new pets anytime soon. And that no one was able to get her a spot in the school we had moved here to be close to. “That’s OK, Mommy,” she said. “I understand.”
So this is why I was up at 1 am the night before the party cursing over a rubbery pile of fondant with an airbrush.
Brody sat patiently while I observed the curve of his haunches and attempted to recreate them with red velvet cake. Easier than a FHO, I’ll give you that. Cut the wrong thing off and you just stick it back on with frosting. All was done, except the head. That would not be made of cake.
I made the head out of styrofoam, but the dog had no snout. Taking a desperate gamble, I fashioned one out of clay, stuck some lollipop sticks in the neck, and plopped the head on. It looked, I had to admit, pretty good, albeit a tad off balance. Then I went to bed.
The next morning, the weight of the clay had dragged his front heavy head off the body, sadly, meekly, cradled in his arms like a post-guillotine Marie Antoinette. The hole in his neck was bleeding red velvet crumbs. It would be an unsurvivable injury, usually, but I had no option but to Frankenstein it back on. Nevermind that clay and fondant don’t mix (Why did Pinterest not teach me that, huh??) and his jowls were all too realistically dripping white goo down his chest, I had to go with it and do my best to patch his melting face back together before the twelve kids arrived.
The Secret Life of Bees
The head was settling down. We were going to make it, I thought, and because life isn’t a Stephen King novel I had no reason to believe there was going to be some sort of last minute climactic twist. There never is.
“I need ice,” I said to my mother, who had come over for moral support/backup. My husband had already spirited our son away for the evening. Time was running short, only two hours before the party, but I was feeling good. That feeling didn’t last. It was on the return from this grocery store run that I saw a strange motion out of the corner of my eyes, which as they focused like a magic eye puzzle resolved into a wriggling brown box. The green electrical box at the end of our driveway had been, this very morning, appropriated by a swarm of bees, a solid, swirling mass of stingers. Two hours before the party.
If there’s one thing swarms of bees like, so I’ve heard, it’s 12 screaming little girls. No one had mentioned that our new home was built on the ruins of an ancient cemetery, but I was beginning to harbor suspicions.
We came up with a contingency, a hastily scrawled BEES sign at the end of the driveway, the parents driving as far up as possible while I herded the kids directly inside. 1,5,7,12, all arrived without issue.
Then a thirteenth child appeared, apparated, really, on the doorstep. “Hi!” she chirped, this child I had never heard of through any of the multiple RSVP venues I had provided. “What’s my character for the mystery party?”
Thirteen children. This really was a Stephen King novel. The omens were everywhere.
My goal, at that moment, was survival. The next 12 hours were a bit of a blur, really. I remember it in impressions rather than paragraphs.
- did you know WETA recorded a nine year old’s slumber party to get the right sound for the Nazgul? There is no other explanation.
- When the lady at Claire’s tells you “Blindfold Makeover” is a great game for kids, don’t believe her.
- The amount of sticky sugar in a drink is directly proportional to its likelihood to be spilled.
- No matter how many options you provide for food, someone, somewhere is going to think it’s all gross.
- Even if they tell you they are fine watching you pop the head off a Golden Retriever cake and butcher the remnants into kid-sized bits, don’t believe them.
Want to know how crazy it was? Brody, a dog who never once misses the opportunity for love, asked to go outside- voluntarily- and refused to enter the house until midnight. He checked out of the Overlook Hotel, but as the caretaker I had no choice but to remain, listlessly scrawling REDRUM on the bathroom mirror while I waited for them to finally fall asleep. Which, by the way, they never did.
The kids went home the next morning, hungover on sugar, staggering out like a bunch of freshmen after their first frat party. I was incapable of movement. No one had died or required emergency services, which was about as much as I could have hoped for. Eventually it was just our family once again, surveying the wreckage littered across the savannah of my living room. I needed a nap, even more than I needed a drink.
Around 4 pm, when I was lying in bed starting blankly at the ceiling, I felt a nudge on my shoulder. I reached over, expecting Brody’s ever present head, but it was my daughter.
“Thank you,” she said, “for the best birthday party ever.”
I’ve been guilty of Pinvy, that slightly aggrieved feeling that comes over you when you see these insane events people with too much time on their hands put up on Pinterest. “Why,” I wondered, “must we insist on one upmanship all the time? Who cares? It’s a kid party.” And I believed that, until it was my kid who asked for this one special thing.
This was a party not for the world, but for one little girl. It was atonement, a sacrifice made of sleep and frosting. It was over the top. It was exhausting. It was, above all, worth it.