by Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya
“If the party gets too crowded, I will take the cake and eat it in the office.” My husband’s declaration reverberated in my head the morning of our son’s and my joint birthday party in Spring 2022. It was the first “big event” in our new apartment after two years of quarantine. The previous event, a funeral repast for my father-in-law in the fall of 2019, was now a pleasant, but distant memory.
I was expecting four families – my parents Marianna and Vladimir, Holly and her daughter Lizzy from church, Luanne and her daughter Susanna from Caleb’s new preschool, and Luisa and her son Fernando from the local playground. Fernando was a slightly older boy who really connected with Caleb and his love of playing with toy cars and basketball.
I set up our living room with lots of sports activities – ball and net, soccer tent, and bouncy peanut – thinking that these objects will keep both Caleb and Fernando occupied, while the girls would play house or kitchen. Caleb would then join the kids as he sees fit, or get occupied with toys that were coming in as gifts. Caleb has been learning to share his toys, but it was still a work in progress.
It sounded all quite simple in theory, yet I completely forgot how to enjoy a party. In the spring of last year, I went to a barbeque gathering of our Bible Study group from church, and it was difficult to connect to other adult members while also supervising a very curious toddler. I even asked Holly if she had any ideas for small talk. Her reply was “the playgrounds have been open for a while, and all moms have had experience making small talk to new people on them.”
The morning of the party, I woke up jittery and excited. I opened the refrigerator door and looked at the blueberry cake from our favorite gourmet shop. Yet, as minutes dragged on, I could no longer handle the excitement. My husband, Jerry, went on with his usual morning routine, and powered up the computer in his home office. With half an hour to spare, I took Caleb and walked over to Luanne’s porch. I told Caleb we were going to check on Susanna’s cat. Luanne was very surprised to see us, but she understood my jitters.
As we walked back, we saw Holly and Lizzy in front of our apartment. I looked at my phone, and there was a text from Luisa: she was suffering from allergies, so she and Fernando would celebrate with Caleb at the playground another day. I texted back that I understand, and wished her to feel better soon. The party was ready to begin.
As my parents were running late, I decided to wait on refreshments and start with toys. Susanna was happy roaming all over the living room exploring the active toys, while Lizzy was happy looking at a toy piano and the books with her mom. Jerry said he will stay at the party and just wear the mask.
The first present that we opened was a gift from Holly and Lizzy – a set of Daniel Tiger toys with a trolley. Caleb loves the Daniel Tiger show, and I like how Caleb can sometimes apply the lessons and songs to challenging social scenarios. Caleb recognized all the figures right away, but what attracted him even more was opening and closing the trolley and pushing buttons to hear familiar tunes.
Next, I said it was time to serve “drinks”. I got a lot of laughs from moms about “drinks”. But it was just cold spring water and ginger ale. Jerry and Luanne helped me to set the table with the Daniel Tiger themed paperware. The paperware was a big hit with kids and adults.
The second present was opened. It was a toddler boy doll. I asked Luanne to get a doll from Caleb. Boys usually don’t play with dolls. However, I wanted him to relate to other kids better and improve his caring skills. Caleb liked the doll, especially putting on and taking off shoes and socks from the doll and giving the doll a toy bottle.
My parents were still running late, but I could not wait anymore. It was time to serve cake and ice cream! Those were very popular with all the guests, though one little guest had sensory issues with food and just ate ice cream. I ended up eating an untouched cake piece had, as I really liked the cake. I also asked Holly to say grace over the party and the dessert, and she did.
Finally, my parents walked in. They were very happy to see everyone. After serving refreshments to them, I asked everyone to sing Happy Birthday to Caleb and me. Caleb really liked this song. I also showed him the Daniel Tiger Birthday Buddy episode a few times prior, so he was familiar with it.
Next, I asked all the guests to share a good story about Caleb and me. The comments I got about Caleb were that he was “adventurous and persistent”, and about me that I was “kind and resourceful” and “was willing to talk through difficult parts of relationships or situations”.
The party was wrapping up. My mom commented how she liked everything – the food and the gifts and meeting my and Caleb’s friends. I told her that it was not easy to connect with other families during and right after the deadly pandemic, but we were all making progress – one baby step at a time.
(Note from the author: Names of friends were changed for privacy reasons)
Yevgeniya Przhebelskaya is a freelance writer and an educator. She draws inspiration from the Bible, Russian and American literature, and her recent parenting experiences. Yevgeniya’s poems and essays have been published in Agape Review, Amethyst Review, Ekstasis, Trouvaille Review and many other publications, and were nominated for the Pushcart Prize two times. Check out her blog at ypoetry.weebly.com.