This is what happens when you leave Stella unattended. It almost made the holiday card. Almost.
We had two birthday parties a couple weeks ago, and both of them were challenging. I've been meaning to share this with you ever since it happened but the holidays came a-crashing.
The first party was at a place called BOUNCE U, nestled in a labyrinthine business complex behind a store called The Dump. BOUNCE U is a moon-bounce filled warehouse space with glossy cinder-block walls and fifty-foot ceilings lit by LED pendants the size of Mack Truck tires. It pipes in all the greatest teen hits of the day loud enough for your bones to rattle. Stella hated almost every minute of it, until I literally hauled her onto the moon slide. Then she had about fifteen minutes of fun climbing and bouncing and sliding until it was time for pizza, which she suddenly didn't like anymore (argh!), and cake, which spawned spasms of tears since she didn't get to keep the Cinderella cake topper. Oh yeah, it was a Disney princess party. Fucking exhausting is what is was.
The party the following day was held at one of Hamish's favorite school friend's houses. I was so sure we'd all have a great time that I even blew-dry my hair. And that's something I never do. Okay, it was cold that day too and I didn't want clanking icicle hair. Anyway, so we get to the party, ring the bell, the door opens, Hamish and Stella peer inside and see a bunch of faces they don't know and decide there and then that they are not coming in. I thought, oh here he goes again, my kid with his inner turmoil, his agonizing shyness around strangers or in groups, his possibly diagnosable social anxiety disorder that I should empathize with, that I should try to soften to, that I should know how to handle in a way that validates his feeling without indulging it, so that it doesn't make us both crazy. Instead, I said, oh, come in! It's cold out there! You can sit on my lap! I thought, of course they won't stand out there in the cold when they could come inside and eat crackers and decorate foam cowboy hats. I took off my coat I was so sure. But still they stayed outside. In the cold.
Other guests and their kids arrived and went inside like it was the easiest thing. My kids shivered but remained resolute. The dad host brought popcorn outside to them. Other moms tried not to stare at me. Were they thinking I didn't care about my kids catching pneumonia? Were they thinking I couldn't "control" my kids? I fell apart immediately, teeth clenched, shoulders hunched, my mind dropping into its default belief in its innate and utter defectiveness. Why are all the other kids able to come in and my kids refuse? What the fuck is wrong with us? And why must this be a public spectacle? A boy whose name I shall not share, dressed as a pirate, warned me repeatedly that the kids would be stolen if they stayed out there. I snapped at him that they would not be stolen. Whose kid was this anyway? I was beyond civil, too stressed to make nice with someone else's kid. I could hardly handle my own.
After about fifteen minutes of cajoling and a handful of threats to leave if they didn't come in, I finally went to get our coats and as soon as I opened my mouth to explain to the mom host, my friend who I love and who gets it, I was sobbing. I sobbed up the stairs as parents admonished their kids to get out of our way! (they knew we needed space) and I sobbed all the way to the car with the kids wailing behind me that "Now I'm ready Mommy!" (Hamish) and "I wanted to get a cookie!" (Stella) but it was too late. Mommy was a wet curdled mess and there was no way we were staying.
The interesting thing is that Hamish calmed down immediately. He was truly glad to leave, citing that he would rather celebrate his friend's birthday with a private playdate, which I totally get! I'm the same way! You'd think I'd have more sympathy! But in the moment I'd turned into a writhing stress case.
Later that day when we relayed the story to some friends they had some good advice which for once didn't make me bristle. Usually I just want to vent and be validated with sympathetically curving eyebrows. They told us that next time we should arrive first, which made complete sense. Hamish will feel ownership, control, and not be overwhelmed the second he walks in the door. We even got a chance to try it out Saturday and it worked.