Saturday, May 1, 2010
Why I'll Never "Forget" to RSVP Again
It had all the makings of a fun party. A roller-skating rink. Enough pizza for all the guests and their parents to enjoy. A cake elaborately decorated with horses, a fence dividing the artifically-colored farmyard so that M. had one end and S. had the other.
I knew something was amiss when we arrived late, as I told the mom we would be when I called to RSVP.
"Thank you so much for coming," the mom said.
"I'm really sorry we're late," I apologized. "I hope you got my message ....?"
She nodded. "Thank you," and still smiling for the benefit of her kids (in that way that we moms have been known to do) she added,
"You're the first to arrive."
We were nearly an hour late, arriving at 12:40 p.m. for a party that started at noon.
"Nobody's coming, Mom," sighed M., a smart-beyond-her 11 years kind of girl. Her 8 year old sister S., the one in Betty's class and among her specially selected guests, continued to wrap Betty in the world's longest hug.
"We're going to have a great day anyway," said the mom.
I nodded in agreement. "Absolutely! Betty was really looking forward to this." And that was true: she was thrilled to have been invited. S. is a friend from her class and her seatmate on the bus. Betty talks about S. all the time.
We laced up the girls' skates, watched them circle the rink while inching along the walls. Betty insisted that being 8 years old made her perfectly capable of skating unassisted, so I watched from afar, cringing every time she fell and cognizant of the symbolic let go, let them fall nuances of parenthood on full display in front of me.
It was a party long in the making, explained the girls' mother. Both have birthdays in February - different days and years, but close enough together that one party could easily suffice, especially when you're a single mom like she is, and dealing with the economic realities of this recession, like all of us.
But there wasn't time for a party in February - or March, or April - because the girls' grandmother had a stroke and they've been going on a several-hour drive every weekend to care for her. There wasn't time for girlfriends or cake or roller-skating or too many other extracurriculars that make up an 11 and 8 year old's weekend.
Until today. This weekend, the mom resolved, there would be a party. They would skate to the music of the Jonas Brothers, laughing with girlfriends. There would be pizza. There would be a horse cake. There would be, for a moment, a momentary lapse in the realities of their lives, a break from the long weekend drive to take care of an ailing mother and grandmother who had been fiercely independently just a few months ago.
They invited 10 kids.
We called to accept the invitation. Two others called to say they couldn't make it, said the mom, once her girls were out of earshot.
And once they were, the questions kept coming.
"Why didn't anybody else come to our party, Mommy?"
"I can't believe only one person came."
"Where do you think everyone else is?"
It was among the most heartbreaking two hours I have ever experienced. These girls noticed - oh, boy, did they notice - the empty places at their party, the other crepe-papered tables in the party zone filled with festive kids, the other parents squeezing a gaggle of pre-tweens into a photo.
We tried, half-heartedly, to offer reasons for the unexcused absences of their classmates, the ones who they thought were their friends.
"It's really nice outside," offered the girls' mother. She mentioned several outdoor festivals going on, some over an hour away from the party's location. "There's a lot going on this weekend."
"Or, maybe they forgot or didn't give their parents the invitation," I suggested. "You know, Betty didn't give me the invitation until Wednesday, can you believe that?"
M. lit up. "Maybe we needed to give them, like, a month's notice. Like keep reminding them, like every day!"
"That's a good idea," I said.
Maybe any of these was the reason, who knows? But here's what I do know: when you invite 10 people to your birthday party and only one shows up, that's more than a new math problem. In second grade, you've learned enough math to learn that those numbers make you the odd girl out, that your importance and your feelings have been subtracted from others' lives.
And that's a life lesson you never forget.
photo taken by me at my nephew's 1st birthday party, June 2009.
copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.