Warning: parenting issues ahoy!
So I took Jackson to a birthday party yesterday for one of his best friends who was turning five. We hadn't seen this friend for awhile because we moved away and Jackson changed schools, so it was a welcome chance for the two little pals to reconnect. I, however, was looking forward to a little errand-running time, so after we arrived at the party and exchanged greetings with many familiar faces, I asked Birthday Dad if it would be all right if I left Jackson and came back in an hour or so.
This, my friends, is when, as Jack's grandma might have said, "The wind blew, the shit flew, and there stood Mrs. Kennedy."
There was shock, and consternation, and the words "common courtesy" were bandied about by both Birthday Dad and Mom. Apparently I had crossed an invisible Line of Expectations, on one side of which are responsible parents who bring their children to children's parties and continue to watch over them and get them juice and take them to the bathroom, and on the other side are somewhat neglectful and selfish parents who drop off their children and expect others to provide for and entertain them.
I then got a harried explanation that they were concerned for Jackson because "no one [is] really watching the kids and something might happen." I looked around. Fifteen or twenty adults were milling about the yard. I looked at the yard: was there a cliff somewhere? A drowning pool? But I just wasn't getting it: the Birthday Parents believed that they were responsible for the party as a whole, not for individual children at the party; guest children continued to be the job of guest parents, for whom there was an Igloo full of beer.
So I stood there awkwardly for a minute until I saw a mom I knew who was standing by herself. I was a little upset by the reaction I'd provoked by doing something I thought was completely normal, something I'd seen parents do at other birthday parties we'd been to, something other parents had done to me and to which I'd replied, "Yes! Leave your child! They will have fun and we will take care of them and I won't require you to sign a waiver absolving me of responsibility should they take a header off the balcony or choke on a potato chip."
I thought I might ask this other mom if she thought I was insane when Birthday Mom came by and said to her, "So, you're you staying?" "I'm staying!" said Other Mom quickly, and I realized that Birthday Mom had been primed for me by poor Other Mom wanting to do the same thing, leave her child to have fun while she went and did whatever.
That shut me up for another minute until Birthday Mom came by again and said, "You've made me feel really weird, that you just expected you could leave Jackson. Other parents called ahead of time to ask if it was okay, and that's fine, but just your expectation, and then your reaction when I objected . . ."
"It's fine. I'll stay. I'm sorry. I just assumed," I said rather weakly, feeling slightly queasy. The sun had come out and I was trapped in a turtleneck, and part of my plan had been to take the time to go to Ross and look for some clothes that didn't totally suck.
"No, go. It's okay," said Birthday Mom. "It's fine, really, you'll make me feel even weirder if you stay."
"Uh," I said boldly and decisively. I mean, really, what the hell are you supposed to do when someone says something like that to you? I felt like we were breaking up or something.
"Really?" I asked.
"Go," she said.
So I said goodbye to Jackson and told him not to climb the fence and fall down the hill or run out into the street and get hit by a truck, and then I went to my car and sat there wondering what the fuck I was going to do. I certainly didn't feel like shopping at that moment, so I just started my car and drove randomly around Santa Barbara's west side until I ended up downtown.
Nordstrom! I thought, grasping at but somehow not quite achieving a feeling of relief. I'll be able to look at stuff there! And perhaps leave this awkwardness behind in a haze of impulse purchases.
Instead I called Jack from my cell and explained the whole stupid thing while I stood in front of women's shoes.
"Fuck it. Buy me some slippers," said Jack, thus giving me a welcome sense of direction. Slippers! I need some, too! So I focused on slippers for awhile, and bought us both a new pair (scuffs for me). And then I looked at my watch and thought, Fuck, for it was time to go back to the scene of my disdain.
When I returned, all the children were sitting in a half-circle in the back yard while a young man entertained them with two hand puppets and a voice that didn't seem to have been affected at all by puberty. Birthday Mom was videotaping, Jackson was sitting next to Birthday Boy and, to my surprise, everyone was watching the children.
I got a bottle of water and sat down with some parents and whiled away the rest of the party baking in the December sun. Birthday Dad was totally nice to me from there on out. Birthday Mom, I saw, was still kind of stressed, and as we were leaving I thanked her and apologized again for my assumptions and I said I hoped we were cool because Jackson loves her son and wanted to have a play date as soon as humanly possible. She gave us a goodie bag and reiterated her point about her needing to take care of the party, not my child.
Which no doubt means that she will not be one of those moms who drops her kid off to play with mine while I do laundry and update my blog, but who stays the whole time, and what? Expects me to entertain her?