I'm not one to turn down a party. Unless that party is for 20 children under the age of 10.
One of the rules for birthday parties at the kid's school is that if you invite one classmate to your big bash, you have to invite them all. No joke. We were told this at kindergarten orientation and people actually stick with this program. I've long been hoping for a revolt, but the closest I got was last year when one of Ainsley's BFFs invited just the girls in the class over for birthday princess makeovers. Apparently, this ticked off the boys (and even some of the boys' parents) because birthday parties are supposed to be "fair" and no one is supposed to feel left out.
You know what I say? Suck it up, kids. Life ain't fair. Get used to being left out now because the teenage years don't make you feel any more popular. And if it's your birthday, you should get to choose who comes over to your house and eats cake. If you don't want that weird kid who sits behind you in class and sneezes all over your ponytail to come sit behind you in your house and sneeze all over your ice cream cup, that's your right.
Even though Ainsley's class has dwindled some in number, inviting all her classmates to a birthday party for her would mean having the pitter-patter of about 18 pairs of 'tween feet in my little home. No amount of drugs could ever make that seem like a good idea, so I have put off the big class birthday party.
But we belong to a pool, and that means we can do a relatively affordable birthday party for a large crowd there. And by relatively affordable, I mean we only had to refinance the house once. It's not everyday your only child turns 8, though, and she's one of the last in her class to have a classmates party in the three years she's been in school, so we decided to take the plunge (literally) and have the big birthday bash at the pool.
Even though I didn't have to do any decorating, and the food, paper products, goodie bags, and entertainment were all taken care of, I found myself at the end of the two-hour affair breathless, harried, and exhausted. How do elementary-school teachers do it? You get well over a dozen kids together, throw in some sugar and a few waterslides, and anyone over the age of 17 is going to get really tired, really quickly.
The party-planning packet I received from our recreation center advertised that a birthday party there creates "memories that last a lifetime." We probably did give Ainsley a day she'll never forget, but that may have more to do with the fall she took on the diving board ladder in the last 10 minutes of the party than the festivities themselves. Nothing kills a good party's buzz quite like the guest of honor saying her goodbyes through tears while blood trickles down her knee.
What I'll remember, though (aside from the fact that the boys didn't want to sit with the girls at pizza time; gosh, that starts early) is how tight-knit Ainsley's class is. So tight-knit that it's borderline intrusive; everybody wants to get in everybody else's business.
When you have a small class like that, a class that's been pretty intact going into their fourth year of school together, the kids know each other almost too well. Everyone's presents for Ainsley were pretty much spot-on; they showed that they know she loves to read, loves to be a girly-girl, loves to color, loves her Webkinz. Listening to their little conversations, though, you realize they're all about being up in each other's business. It's like Gossip Girl, elementary edition.
Everybody wants to know who's sliding with who, and who's talking to who at the diving board, and who's parents are doing playdates afterward, and who didn't finish their cupcake, and who all Ainsley's adults are, and on and on and on. When it was time to open presents the kids were inordinately interested in who got her what and what did they write on the card and so on--that just isn't normal. The gift-opening is supposed to be the least interesting part of the party for everybody but the birthday kid and the poor parent who's trying to keep track of it all.
It all adds up to this scary fact--these kids are going to be together, with perhaps just a few withdrawals and additions, all the way through 8th grade. Eventually the girls are going to see the boys in a new light and the boys are going to actually want to sit at the same table as the girls, and everyone is so wrapped up in everyone else that there's bound to be endless drama. Soap operas may be dying, but in about 3 years there will be such a daily saga at that school between the hours of 8 and 3 that anyone who still misses As The World Turns can totally get their fix.
Until then, I've at least given Ainsley that party to remember with friends she'll never forget...and yet another scar on her knee.