We were invited to a birthday party for our young neighbor, Quintin, who was turning one. It was our first children’s birthday party, and we were excited, even though we’d only met Quintin and his parents once, at a yard sale we had about four months ago. Our baby, Eddie, doesn’t have a lot of friends right now. In fact he doesn’t have any friends, aside from us, a stuffed bear we acquired on our honeymoon, and a sock monkey. Bruce has been concerned about the lack of children in our small town from the outset – so much so that he wanted me to have another child just to assure Eddie would have a companion. Needless to say, we were delighted to be invited to a children’s party – not just so Eddie could meet the other babies in town but so my husband, Bruce, and I could meet their parents.
The party was at a local park along a river and was slated to run from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. It seemed like an awfully long time to spend with people we didn’t know so we decided to arrive around 3.30 p.m. But as we walked out the door, I realized we didn’t have a gift, and it was too late to buy one. I ran upstairs and fished through Eddie’s toy box looking for a gift we’d received but hadn’t yet taken out of its package. There was a set of beautiful blocks that went with a Mother Goose book, but I wanted to keep them. I also found a set of Sesame Street characters for the bath, appropriate for children 18 months to four years, according to the box. Perfect, I thought. I felt a momentary pang of guilt thinking someone had picked the present out especially for Eddie, and now we were giving it away, until it occurred to me that the people who gave it to us may themselves have received the bath set as a gift and simply re-wrapped it to give to us (the guilty mind can rationalize anything).
We arrived at the park at around 4 p.m. The parking lot was filled with SUVs. I felt part of a team – the “new parents” team — and these were my people. We didn’t yet have the SUV, but we were supposed to test drive one this weekend. We had the children’s gift in the children’s gift bag with fancy yellow tissue paper – next time I’ll actually buy one — and most of all, we had the child. We got out of the car and headed toward the pavilion, where the party was to be held, to join up with the rest of our team.
The pavilion was filled with long picnic tables. Young, hip parents were sitting on the benches in little clusters of four or five. Each cluster had a little child standing nearby. At least that’s how it looked from the parking lot. As we got closer, I could see that everyone seated there was in their sixties and seventies, and there was not a child in sight. I sifted through the sea of faces trying to find the birthday boy and his parents, trying to remember what they looked like. No one looked familiar.
Off in the distance, I could see a group of about a dozen people standing at the edge of the water on a small pebbly beach. There were two kayaks in the water and a child wading in the water not far from shore.
“There they are!” I said to Bruce.
We headed toward the water. It made more sense that young parents with children would be by the water playing with boats and doing aquatic sports. I thought I spotted Quintin’s parents and headed toward them, but again as we got closer, I realized it wasn’t them.
“Do you think we’re in the right place?” I asked Bruce.
“I don’t know,” he said.
I looked at the directions I’d jotted down from an email I’d received from Quintin’s mother, Kim. We were definitely at the right place. As we headed back toward the pavilion, we passed elderly gentlemen playing Bocce.
“Is this Quintin’s birthday party?” Bruce asked.
“This is the Lomax Family Picnic,” said the shorter of the two gentlemen.
As we headed back toward the car, we stopped at an empty picnic bench near the parking lot, and I called Kim.
“We’re at the park. Where are you guys?” I asked.
“The party’s tomorrow!” Kim said.
I’m rarely early, but if I’m going to be, it’s usually by about 24 hours.
We left the park and drove to a nearby bar. I was starving, having saved my appetite for a juicy char-broiled hamburger. We sat at the bar, wedging the baby’s car seat between the back of the bar stool and the edge of the bar, and ordered two pints of beer and chicken wings.
On our way home, we stopped to buy Quintin a proper gift. We bought him a wet suit onesie, according to the package. It was a top and bottom that were attached and had padding in the front, presumably so he could go skidding across the surface of the sand without fear of rubbing the skin off his chest. There was a decal of a shark on the front of the shirt, an unfortunate reminder for a mother like myself, who fears the blackness of the ocean and the creatures that hide within.
The following afternoon, we planned to arrive at the party little earlier, but we had visitors staying with us, and we wound up having a late breakfast. When we got back to the house, our guests played with Eddie, and I put Quintin’s birthday present into the gift bag with the yellow tissue paper and placed it by the front door. I then joined Bruce, who was out on the front porch reading the newspaper. It was a cool gray day, and Bruce was relaxing in a chair with his legs up on an ottoman. I lay down on the couch that was next to him. Before long, we were both asleep and didn’t awake until about 3.30 p.m. At that point, the sky was dark, and it looked like it was about to rain. The weather report said a big storm was headed our way. We went into the house, and I brought Quintin’s birthday present back upstairs, and I vowed to do better next time.