Thursday, June 2, 2016

Remembering childhood birthday parties

     It simply wasn’t fair. I threw a fit every year like clockwork. My birthday came the day after my best friend’s and there was no way to change matters.
     Two separate parties. Same set of classmates. My fete was like an encore, or repeat performance. I stomped my feet in protest.
     It’s a wonder my mother didn’t get mad at me – I was an annoying complainer - and give up putting on her one-of-a kind themed party extravaganza.

     Of course, enthusiasm was dampened on the second party go round. Kids showed up antsy from too much sugary food from the day before, and also, they were lacking in desire to see each other so soon. They’d go through the motions, but were their hearts in it?
     Well, that’s the way my young mind perceived the situation. Those insecure gremlins were holding on to me fiercely. I had one nagging personality trait, too: I was a competitive kid.  
     Fortunately my mother was creative. She had a couple tricks up her sleeve. We had the crowd pleasers – hide and go seek and candy hunts – and kid foods to keep things mixed up culminating with a gala cake befitting royalty.
     You see, our house was a big roomy older home, and perfect for parties with such games. We had the nooks and crannies, and a big upstairs, too. A dozen girls storming up and down the stairs didn’t make that much noise.

     On the other hand, my friend’s house was a ranch home and party antics had to be contained. Funny thing, of the two of us, she was much more boisterous.
     Then again, kids at my friend’s house were well behaved without being told by their mothers before they left the car. Her dad was our elementary school principal, and he knew every single one of us by name. Most of the time our principal stayed out of the way on party day, anyhow, except for scooping out the ice cream.
    I loved our principal a lot, although I had the necessary standoffishness. I didn’t want to take any chances outside of school.
     Kids never realize that parents talk to each other, and often work together to make the best of a situation. My friend’s party might include lunch, and mine would be an ice cream and cake affair. It varied from year to year thanks to our moms on the phone together.
     Pin the Tail on the Donkey was a favorite game and it could be played all the time. I don’t know what was so magical to a young child about having a blindfold put on and encouraged to roam around a room groping for the paper cut out of a donkey to stab with a pin while the party goers screamed in delight.
     There was always a poor soul who never could even remotely get in the right direction, and would attack our best lampshade. We would hoot and holler until finally she gave up.
     I was a born organizer – and teacher, too – getting right into the plans for what should, or should not, happen at the party. I would tell my mother which child that I had coming might be a slight problem – a high- maintenance type is the term I would use today.
     Also, I was a little different from my friend in that I always invited one or two girls on the fringes of our social group. It made me feel better to include everyone in my classroom. Often my mother would have to rush out to pick up a girl that didn’t have a ride, and take her back home after the party was over. No one ever knew.
     What made it worse in my childish mind was that my birthday was seven days before Christmas. A birthday party had to be sandwiched in between school, Girl Scouts and church events. Kids and adults alike were partied to death, and one more birthday became a drudge. At least, that was the feeling I got when I handed out my invitations at school.
     I often thought how much luckier the kids were that had birthdays in the summer time until someone told me how hard it was to round up a few not on family vacations.
    My friend and I decided when was the right day to deliver the invites, and she went first and I waited until after lunch, or the next day. I believe, if I am correct, that we checked that we didn’t use the same invitations, too. How confusing that would be.
     Too often relatives would hang on to my birthday present and give it to me Christmas, although in most cases, it did have the appropriate birthday paper. Thus my birthday stretched out over the holidays.
     December is the month of colds and flu bugs, and I never knew if the kid showing up to my friend’s party perfectly healthy would be down with a stomachache and not appear at mine. Thus the guest list could diminish greatly in twenty-four hours. Moms rolled with the punches.
     There was one and only year that my friend and I did combine birthdays, and it was a last minute endeavor. A snowstorm cancelled her big day, and we all met at my house to share two little girls’ happy days.
     By junior high, birthday parties were no big deal anymore. My elementary school friend and I outgrew each other and traveled in different circles anyhow.
     Looking back, I realize that parties are special when you are young, and our mothers wisely kept our celebrations separate.