The summer after sixth grade, my best friend, Eileen, threw me a surprise party because our family was moving away. The party was in her backyard, and she invited our whole class, including our teacher and Steven Mitchell, a boy with blonde curls and big front teeth, like a beaver, on whom I had a crush. When Eileen and I entered her yard, my classmates shouted, “Surprise,” and I fell backwards onto my ass as if the wind had blown me down. I then got up and ran out of the backyard, and Eileen had to chase me down and bring me back to the party. My entrance has become part of my family folklore because it was captured in a home movie that’s been played so many times, it’s like a recurring pattern on wallpaper. I enter the yard, I fall down, I run out of the camera shot, and moments later, I’m escorted back by Eileen. I enter the yard, I fall down, I run out of the camera shot, and moments later, I’m escorted back by Eileen.
Thankfully, my son, Eddie, has a bit more social grace. We just threw him a party for his first birthday, and while none of the attendees were his close friends – he doesn’t yet have any — he moved through the party with the ease and warmth of a seasoned politician.
He was actually taking his nap for the first hour of the party, but the second he woke up, he uttered a small, audible cry, which could be heard over the baby monitor in the middle of the party. Three women ran up the stairs to his nursery (I was not one of them), and moments later, he was ferried down the stairs by my brother’s new girlfriend, followed by a small procession of my mother and some other woman, whose name I can’t recall.
Eddie was wearing his new red onesie, which has a decal of gold buttons and tassels across the chest, making him look like a member of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. As he emerged into a room full of people staring at him and calling out his name, my son flashed a huge smile and I’m not sure from where he picked this up, but he raised both arms high in the air as if to say, “I have arrived.” (I later realized he does this, in part, because every time he achieved something, I would lift his arms up in the air and sing the chorus to, “We Are the Champions.” He now lifts his arms up for successes as large as walking and as small as finishing his breakfast).
For the next two hours, everyone wanted a piece of him. Our friend, Hank, said he was holding Eddie for about five minutes when he could feel the pressure of the crowd bearing down on him, waiting for him to pass the baby along.
“I felt guilty,” he said. “I knew there were five other people wanting to hold him, and they’re just looking at me thinking, ‘Who’s this clown?’ “
Eddie took it all in stride, smiling, throwing his head back in exaggerated enthusiasm, making everyone feel special.
It amazes me how much he’s grown in the last year. He walks, he talks – though its gibberish – and he can turn on the television with the remote. When I dress him now, he puts his arms through the sleeves, himself. I used to have to put my hand up the sleeve and fish around for his, pulling it through and out the cuff, like threading a needle.
He’s also begun to express his opinions. I’ll put a hat on his head, and he’ll take it off. I’ll put it back on, and he’ll take it off again. If he doesn’t want to go somewhere, he’ll do that loose-arm thing I’ve seen children in Wal-Mart do, where they make their arms limp like water, making it impossible to lift them. My husband, Bruce, and I refer to it as, “He’s on strike.”
When it was time for birthday cake, everyone piled into the kitchen. I pulled out a box of candles and started to stick several of them into the cake when I realized I needed only one. I lit the candle and held Eddie up in front of the cake and waited for him to blow the candle out. He just looked at it. I blew out the candle and took his finger and stuck it into the frosting to smear his name, which was written across the top of the cake in blue icing. My friend, Patti, said she wondered whether I would serve that piece or cut around it. I served it.
We gave Eddie a small slice of birthday cake, which was a chocolate double-layer cake with butter cream icing. I also gave him a small pink cupcake with a little football on it that was a gift from the woman who works in the local bakery. I handed Eddie a spoon, and he used it a little more than usual, a feat I attributed to the sugar content. The spoon enabled him to shovel in more food, faster, though after a while, he found his hands gave him a more ample serving. We’d already detected he had a taste for sugar around Christmas, when we threw a party and someone brought a box of Krispy Kreme donuts. We left the box by the front door to remind us to take it out for recycling, and Eddie apparently knocked over the box, dislodging the remaining glaze that had been stuck to it. When we found him, he was lying face down licking the bits of glaze off the floor.
After about 10 minutes, the pace with which he was eating the cake began to slow down, and his eyes, which peered out above a beard of chocolate frosting were beginning to glaze over. With cake now in his nose, his hair, and all over his hands, his belly protruding like a Buddha, he had reached his limit.
I pulled him out of the high chair and sent him off into the living room to open his presents. He sat on the floor surrounded by his newfound cousins, who he’d only just met at the party, and they helped him open his gifts, sometimes before he could even get to them. After about six gifts, I thought it was probably getting tedious for the other guests. I told everyone we would open the rest of the presents after the party. I received a long, persuasive, well-thought-out argument from Eddie’s four-year-old cousin, Connor, about the virtues of opening the rest of the gifts now and not later and how Eddie would really prefer it that way and that it really is the best way to go regarding these matters. I let Eddie open one more gift.
The last of the guests left around 6 p.m., and Eddie was so wired from the excitement, he never had an afternoon nap. We usually put him to bed for the night at around 9 p.m., and it’s sometimes a struggle. Tonight, he fell asleep easily around 8 p.m. without a pacifier, the chocolate frosting still lodged under his fingernails.