Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why I'll Never "Forget" to RSVP Again

They'll remember this birthday for the rest of their lives.

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.


web said...

There is not one mom in my circle on online mom friends who hasn't experienced this particular form of child cruelty. I've read more sad posts on this subject than I can count. And have written my own. :-( It's like a social disease.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

You're so right ... and I'm so sorry you've had to experience this, too.

Niksmom said...

Oh, Melissa, when I saw your tweet about it earlier today, my heart sank. Reading this? It broke into a million little pieces for those children and their mom.

Megan said...

Aww. :(

Cindy said...

OMG that is so sad. My heart breaks for those two girls. Thankfully that hasn't happened yet to M. We only had one kid that never showed/called.

Honestly that is always my worst fear when planning M's party's.

I think its just plain cruel and insensitive not to call to RSVP even if you don't go.

K A B L O O E Y said...

Thank goodness you guys went. I hope that cements a special friendship tightly. As for all those other families that didn't even call to beg off, shame. God, this must have been heartbreaking for that poor kid, and maybe harder for her mom to watch, as I know it would have torn me to shreds.

Grete said...

Melissa -

My heart cries......


Trisha said...

I have to admit...I wish I had not read this post. That is so unbelievably depressing and heartbreaking. Honestly, I've never even heard of it happening. But I live in a small town with small schools.

Kelly said...

About eight years ago, we experienced a similar situation. It was a birthday party for three siblings, we were only casual aquaintances of the family. No one else showed up, it was awkward and heartbreaking. We have only seen them three or four times in the years since. Yesterday, at a local festival we ran into the dad and oldest daughter. She's 13 now and the dad asked if she remembered us. She said, "the only thing I remember is that you came to my birthday party and gave me my favorite doll ever".
Then this morning I read this post.
You are right, these kids (and their parents) remember.
I hope that mom was able to get a bit of encouragement from you and that Betty's friendship with the girls was solidified!

Minna said...

I am so moved and sad for all the little girls and boys who suffer so unnecessarily because of ignorance of adults who do and should know better. What are they teaching their children by not responding! I know I am preaching to the choir here, but cant' help it - I am so outraged for those two little girls.

JoAnn said...

This post just broke my heart. Why oh why can't parents just pick up the phone (or email, text, anything!) to RSVP? It's common courtesy...

Jessica said...

Ugh. I just posted about a similar experience we had. They have all my sympathy, I've been there and it's just awful. It's so wrong that adults do this to each other, and unforgivable that they treat young children this way - and yet they do it, repeatedly.

joemmama said...

This happened to my Granddaughter when they lived in Florida. I was in Colorado and when I heard about it I wanted to slap those parents silly. My daughter was living well below the poverty level and had gone to a great deal of trouble, not eating so she could give her kid a party. She got so mad she called up the missing kids, and even went and picked one up to attend, so there would be someone there. I wept for days.

April said...

This happened to my daughters. And I'm a single mom, too! Luckily, we had enough family around that they didn't notice as much, but it ended up being the last party I threw them because of it.

Callista said...

That's horrible! Poor kids.