My house was a bit fuller than usual this weekend. The final head count at the triple birthday party was thirty-three people, six dogs, and zero pigs. I trapped Gilly and Luna outside in the yard with temporary fencing in a clear case of species discrimination. They stayed there until it got dark, at which point they broke through the temporary fence and snuggled into their normal spot in the house. No barrier on earth can get between them and their bedtime routine. If you’re standing near their favorite pile of torn-up blankets at 7:30 p.m., watch out.
It was a challenge to accommodate all the mammals who weren’t banished outside all day. I managed to squeeze twenty-four chairs around three tables in our dining room. Our house was built in an age when people wanted tiny kitchens with separate but massive eating areas because all food was prepared by unseen indentured elves. It’s a shame they finally got rights because I’d like to exploit a few. They sound way more helpful than children. We managed to pull off the party without the assistance of magical creatures, but barely. No one died, nothing got broken, and the only dog that caused major problems was my own. From a liability perspective, the party was a smashing success only because nothing got smashed. It helped that so many people fell asleep. I’m sure they were simply overwhelmed by all the fun.
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Sudden group narcolepsy is a hallmark of most family gatherings these days. Usually, the first to go are my dad and father-in-law. Past a certain age, you discover that complex social situations are easier to handle when unconscious. Both my father and father-in-law can fall asleep while sitting fully upright in uncomfortable chairs. If they could figure out how to lock their knees, I have no doubt they could nap standing like horses. This time, my siblings joined in the fun. Attendance at the triple birthday party hit record highs this year because, purely by coincidence, that’s when my brother Harry was able to get leave from the Air Force. It had been years since some of us had seen him, so he drew in the bulk of the family. Once they got to my house, it was my job to keep their attention. I failed spectacularly. There were too many people to play games, which is my one and only party move. Deprived of entertainment, my siblings could be found snoozing hard on various couches. In the defense of some of them, they had a long drive. My two sisters made a ten-hour round trip in one day with two small kids and three dogs in the car. After that, I would have slept for a week. The smaller the child, the more energy it takes for parents to keep them alive. My kids are big enough for me to safely ignore. Not that that matters. I definitely still ignored them when it wasn’t safe. I like to live dangerously, but only when that means less work for me.
That was the biggest revelation from this weekend. Apparently I’ve forgotten what it’s like to raise small kids. That selective amnesia is my greatest skill as a parent. I live in the moment, not because of some sort of Zen-like self-awareness, but because I’m afraid to look forward or back. For years, I had two kids in diapers at once. Now, I couldn’t tell you how to change one. I’d have to Google instructions. I think the Pampers go on the stinky end. Decide for yourself if that’s the top or the bottom. My wife and I finished having kids before any of our siblings even started. Now, family gatherings are flooded with small children, and I have no idea how to deal with them. My brothers and sisters aren’t interested in playing hidden traitor games or slamming beers because they’re too busy making sure their toddlers don’t do a swan dive off a loft bed. They have their priorities all wrong.
My own kids were far too amped up to fall asleep. When they weren’t helping keep their younger cousins alive, they were excited to partake in the rich bounty that capitalism had to offer. They received enough Lego bricks to build an actual house. Given current construction prices, that might not be a bad option. They also received dozens of arts and crafts projects involving plastic beads, rubber bands, and sand. Basically, our house now has an extra trillion little bits of things to pick up off the floor. Clearly, everyone in my family hates me. Not wanting anything else to clean up, I went in the complete opposite direction and bought the kids a digital copy of the new Harry Potter Xbox title. I thought I’d kick off the summer with a single player game the four of them can fight over. The only bonding activity in this house is war. My friend Greg gave my eight-year-old, Lucy, a Squishmallow Pikachu that’s bigger than her. When it comes to stuffed animals, size does matter. Lucy is still eight since her birthday isn’t for another two weeks. She gets her presents early every year while her two older sisters get them late. Waffle gets gifts, too, even though her birthday is on the other half of the calendar. People feel bad for leaving one of my children out, and she reaps the benefits. Feelings are just a weakness for children to exploit.
There were plenty of other gifts, too. Betsy got a full-size mirror because she’s a teenager now and needs to check every morning to make sure she’s not a vampire. Mae got a giant organizer with a thousand compartments that will stay in pristine condition on top of her dresser because all of her art supplies will forever be on the floor. Lucy got an entire bag of sour cream chips just for her. Don’t believe the propaganda of the Christmas industrial complex. The greatest gift of all is not sharing.
My wife Lola once again outdid herself with the cakes. Lucy wanted a Poké Ball; Mae requested a baked replica of her Squishmallow chinchilla; and Betsy asked for an elegant cake with hand-drawn roses. Lola was up past midnight on the eve of the party finishing off her master work. I have a theory that women generally outlive men because they spend an extra one-third of their lives sleeping. Lola’s preferred bedtime is two hours ago, regardless of the time of day. Staying up that late nearly killed her, but she did it anyway in the name of art and child appeasement. She pulled off an achievement that will stand the test of time, but only in these pictures because we devoured those cakes right away. True art belongs not in the Louvre, but in the human digestive tract.
Overeating dessert was the easy part. The hard part was socializing. With so many people traveling so far to be here, I did my best to make the rounds, but I missed some guests. It’s not a real party unless I have to make heartfelt apologies the morning after. I used to say I was sorry for drinking too much or being too loud. Now I have to apologize for not exhausting every avenue of small talk with all of the nearly three dozen people in my house. There were so many branching paths of mandatory conversation left unexplored. The irony of hosting a party is that you don’t have time to actually party. Not that partying now means what it used to. Partying like an adult is just eating too much and falling asleep early. I’d say that keeps you out of trouble, but that’s not true anymore. Now there’s heartburn.
My kids loved the big crowd. More guests meant more presents. That wasn’t their only motivation, though. They were also excited to see Harry, who has been on the other side of the country—and sometimes the world—for most of their lives. It’s wild to observe him as a parent. He has always been a man of extremes. In his younger days, he decided he was going to run barefoot. I don’t mean he planned to gradually incorporate shoeless running into his workout routine. I mean that one day he was suddenly done with athletic footwear at all times in all circumstances. One frigid winter day, he ran for miles on icy pavement. He froze off the skin on the bottom of his feet. Our mom was afraid he would lose his toes. Of course he didn’t go to the doctor. He didn’t miss work, either. At the time, he had an office job while waiting for his Air Force paperwork to go through. He couldn’t walk, so he crawled to his desk at work. Everyone gave him strange looks. He explained himself to no one and went about his day. That’s the Harry I know and love. He’s not as stubborn as a mule; he’s as stubborn as a teenager.
True to form, when Harry became a dad, he was the daddest dad who ever dadded. He now has two kids under the age of two. He never leaves their side. This decorated pilot, with a hundred combat sorties and four thousand hours of military flight time, wears a fanny pack with a built-in baby perch on the side. His youngest kid is an absolute unit, and Harry is afraid he can’t carry him all day without hurting his back. That’s why he props him up on the dorkiest utility belt ever created.
Harry showed up to my house Saturday with an entire truck bed full of baby gear. The Allies stormed the beaches of Normandy with less equipment. I have to say I enjoy this new paternal side of Harry. It’s good for his kids, but it’s even better for me. I’m no longer the lamest dad in the family. I bequeath to Harry my vast collection of cargo shorts. May it keep his knees well ventilated as he raises his next six kids.
Hanging out with Harry these days is a lot different than it used to be. His extremes extend to all situations. In our twenties, a party wasn’t a party until Harry walked in. He made bad decisions worse in the best possible way. This weekend, he had one beer over two days, and I don’t even think he finished it. He’s definitely in a different place, and it’s much healthier. Not that it makes a difference in his case. He is and will forever remain too stubborn to die. The key to immortality is total obstinance. Looks like my kids will live forever, too.
To everyone who came this weekend, thanks for making this triple birthday party a memorable one. We enjoyed having you, even if you were only here for one particular sibling and not the party itself. I’m not sure who we’ll have next year for a surprise celebrity guest. Maybe there’s some long lost cousin I’ve forgotten about.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Catch you next time.
First, those cakes are amazing. I made a Pokeball cake once so I know how tedious decorating them can be. Same with the Squishmallow. My shoulder basically locked from being in one position long enough to do the decorating.
Second, if you need a surprise guest next year try 23 and Me. I've found an aunt I never knew about (Grandpa believed in spreading the love if you get my meaning) and a cousin I haven't seen in 40 years. It could add some drama to next year's party.
Wow LOLA! Those cakes are amazing