05 November, 2006

Surviving Birthday

Emotion? Did I say Avery's birthday party would be filled with emotion?? HA! Try frosting on the floor, vagabond maribou feathers under all the furniture, jelly beans and garden dirt crushed into the carpet, about 3,000 presents strewn about the living room. And that was after they LEFT. It was an invading army, and it had weapons. 21 foot soldiers armed with costumes that bled beads and sequins, makeup that left its trailing fingers all over every flat surface, an eating method that involved projectile motion, and that was when they agreed to eat. Then there was the renegade section of the army who rejected on any possible principle anything that was offered to eat. "Don't you remember, Mrs Curran, I don't like apple juice?" "I don't eat the kind of pizza that had red stuff on it." Then when it turned out to be pizza without tomato sauce, there popped up "I don't eat cheese." "Couldn't you make some pasta, with just butter on it?" "I don't eat butter, except on popcorn."

So I was saved from an embarrassing flood of tears, or even a moment's feeling of affection for my child, or nostalgia, by an overwhelming desire to get them out of my house. But not until we waded through the endless festivities.

It all started at school, where an arcane game was played called "who is riding with whom." Next time (there will never be a next time, is my mantra) I don't care how much it costs, I'm hiring a London double-decker bus if I have to and printing the fact on the birthday party invitations, so as to avoid the mind-bending complications of getting these children packed into vehicles and to the party. Not to mention the poor mothers who all had to drop whatever they were doing and gather up their own children plus three or four others who weren't sure if their mothers or nannies or drivers or butlers were coming to pick them up or not. My saintly friends Becky and Susan all put hands on deck and joined up with John in Emmy (the only participant who looked like he was having fun) and got them all to the house. I myself packed up two children and we were off. Once home, we waded through the passageway filled with (per child) backpacks, gym bags and costume bags, and started getting everyone into finery and with proper makeup on. Then we herded them to the dining room table where I had laid out stickers, markers, little silver stars and glue sticks, for their white paper treat bags. That was trouble-free and they enjoyed personalizing their bags, ready for candy. Which I had strewn around the garden and given to the one neighbor out there who agreed to be available, plus upstairs at our neighbor Andrew's house. Within seconds they had plundered the lot, and rushed indoors again for the pizza which... didn't materialize because the shop didn't answer its phone. John went manfully out into the dark to bring it home, and then ensued the food queries and objections. Closeted with mother friends in the kitchen, we debated if little-girl-party rules allowed for the judicious strangling of one or two guests? Just a couple. No? OK, then, onward to the movie, "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown," which unfortunately dislodged Keechie from both the chair she had hidden under AND her precarious Valium-induced calm, and she skidded first upstairs, and then encountering more girls coming down, raced downstairs again, to be trapped in the guest room where she peed on the comforter. Ah well, the price one pays for birthday mayhem.

The movie lasted the precise 21 minutes it took to remove bag-decorating detritus from the table and replace it with plates and forks and napkins, and they trooped upstairs and sat down for candle lighting and singing. The cake was a revelation, apparently! Lemon cream with chocolate cake and white chocolate icing. Even the parents who began to arrive scarfed it down. Finally the three or so little girls who were left batted around the black and orange balloons John had blown up, dancing and prancing around the room surrounded by wrapping paper, piles of plates containing the crumbs of cake, forgotten bits of costume. "Yes, it's proving the adage that the cheapest thing, the thing you put the least effort into at a child's party, is the thing she will enjoy the most," I said with chagrin, remember the 50-pence bags of duck food on our Cotswolds weekend.

Finally everyone had gone. I brushed my teeth and washed my face and immediately felt like a new woman, which was further helped by a lovely Absolut Citron on ice with a slice of lemon. Then the presents were unwrapped, such a booty! Sylvanians like you wouldn't believe, from my sister and brother-in-law and Baby Jane, and American Girl bounty from John's parents, and beautiful hats, scarves, board games, more Sylvanians from school chums. Finally the three of us collapsed at the kitchen table with baked ham and scalloped potatoes, the perfect post-party comfort dinner. It's official: Avery is ten.

Scalloped Potatoes
(serves six, or three tonight and three for leftovers)

6 medium potatoes, peeled and thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup single cream (or half and half mixed with heavy cream)
1 cup whole milk
4 tbsps butter
salt and pepper

Mix the creams and milk in a cup with a spout. Then, all important, spray a 9x9 dish with Pam. It will make cleanup a breeze instead of a miserable nightmare, it's just that simple. Layer about half of the potato slices in the pan and pour over about half of the creamy liquid. Scatter the minced garlic over and generously salt and pepper. Then layer the remaining potatoes and pour over the remaining creamy liquid, salt and pepper again and dot with butter. Cover with plastic wrap, laying it right on the surface of the creamy potatoes so as to keep them from browning, if you plan to leave it in the fridge while you try to survive your daughter's birthday party. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees and bake potatoes for an hour, stirring occasionally. This will put some starch back into your spine.

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