Saturday, April 4, 2009

Home Alone

I was feeling rather full of myself. Not only had I purchased the birthday gift two days in advance, but it was an educational outer space toy to match the party theme. Even though my husband was out of town for work, I was keeping it all together. It was Saturday and all four of my children had schedules that would overlap at some point in the day. (The baby's "schedule" being a nap.) No worries though; I had everything under control. After the "morning marathon" (getting everyone fed and ready to go out the door) I would take my eight year old son and baby with me to the preschooler's outer space party. (Families were invited.) My 11 year old daughter wasn't thrilled about attending a party for four year olds so I planned to leave her at home for a short time with the usual injunction not to answer the phone or the door and a reminder that I would be in touch by cell phone. Shortly after noon I would leave my preschooler at her party for about 30 minutes with one of the gazillion mothers she knows and take my son to his friend's house for a play date and pick up my oldest daughter at home. She had her own birthday party to attend at 1pm and after dropping her off I would quickly swing back to the outer space party with the baby for the last hour. (Okay, so I hadn't figured out where the nap would fit in. I was definitely playing it by ear on that one.) At five after ten my blood pressure was starting to rise as we finally made it out the door and headed to the party. The house had the usual bouquet of balloons out front to help everyone identify the party, but it was the mile long line of cars parked on the street that got my attention. We would definitely need the stroller for this one. 15 minutes later, with considerable sweat developing on my forehead, I lumbered through the white picket fence with my stroller, purse, gift and three children into the immaculately clean and stylish home that hosted the outer space party. The mother of the birthday boy was a vision of calm serenity with her entourage of helpers. I had already given everyone the "mind your manners" talk in the car but my kids could hardly help themselves when they saw the huge bounce house in the back yard and went running through the family room with a whoop and out into the back yard. All the parents were gathered in small groups around the deck and backyard visiting while the children knocked themselves out in the bounce house. I slipped into one of the groups while the baby clung to me. I have long since gotten used to moms talking about how crazy and busy their lives are even when I know they only have two kids, a nanny and a husband who is actually home by dinner. I was biting my tongue a bit during this sort of conversation when the inevitable happened again: someone addressed me with a look of sympathetic incredulousness and said, "I don't know how you do it!" I don't either is my standard reply. After this sort of conversation and with just enough time to get my oldest daughter to her party, I made arrangements with several of the moms to keep an eye on my daughter while I was gone. I called my daughter over and told her who she could go to if she needed anything and that I would be gone for a few minutes to take her brother and sister somewhere. And then she did something totally out of character for her that she has never done before: she started to whimper and said she wanted to stay with me. I told her that's fine, she could come with me but she would most likely miss the birthday cake if she did. She did NOT want to miss the birthday cake and she did NOT want me to leave. As I tried to reason with my four year old I was feeling the anxiety of my oldest daughter who was now surely wondering if she would be late to her own friend's party. We went back and forth for awhile until I found myself leaving the party with all three kids, my four year old in tears clinging to my side. The moms with nannies and helpers looked on in horror. As I started to maneuver my personal carnival down the driveway and faced the mile long line of cars knowing how long it would take me to get to my own car with a crying four old clinging to my side as I tried to push the stroller, I turned back around and gently commandeered her back to the party hedging my bets that she would be fine once I walked out the door. She was. I was exhausted at this point but trying to keep on my happy mom face when I got back home and my 11 year old pointed out that the gift card we purchased for her friend just yesterday was missing. How was that possible? I specifically left it in the car so we wouldn't lose it before the party! I felt moisture gathering in my eyes at this point. All my efforts to keep it together and under control seemed to be unraveling before me. Deep breaths. Lots of people survive cancer and war, you can survive a weekend alone with your children I tell myself. I sent her into the party with an apology and permission to blame me and made a mental note to get another gift card before the day is over. (When would I do that?) The baby fell asleep in the car on the way back to the outer space party but of course I hade to park a mile away to pick up my daughter so I woke her up to go in. I arrived just as they are singing "happy birthday" and saw my daughter loving every minute of it as she eyed the cake anxiously. I was starving by now and quickly shoveled down a piece of cold, slimy pizza before inhaling some of the designer birthday cake. After all the parties and play dates were over and we were all home again, I let the digital babysitter take a turn while I hid out in my room for about an hour. Then it was off to an art show at the coffee house where my oldest daughter had a painting on display. It was extremely crowded and my daughter's painting was on the opposite end of the bookstore. After squeezing through the crowds and oohing and aahing over her truly gorgeous snowy white owl, I found myself mindlessly purchasing books that my children were handing me along with a replacement gift card for my daughter's friend. I had no energy to deflect any of their requests with my usual "put it on your birthday list". I think they sensed that and were taking advantage of me. They were books after all. It's not like I was buying a bunch of candy or junk toys from Wal-mart I rationalized. We left the bookstore shortly after sundown to a cool and balmy southern California evening. Something about the smell of the air and the sound of adult conversation behind me caused me to go into a temporary trance as I envisioned myself going on a grown up date with my husband. "Mom, I'm hungry!" says one of the kids and I quickly snap out of it. Panda for dinner again.

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