Monday, March 5, 2007

Carnival and chaos


So I promised to write about the Big Day of Grandparents. A.'s parents showed up just in time to keep Z. up for an extra hour on the night of her birthday, and my folks arrived early the next day. We all went to shul, even my non-Jewish folks, who do this for me every year or two. Z. was so delighted to have all her grands there, and me! (I usually sleep in), that she promptly abandoned them and dragged me by the hand to kids' services. Once she got her story hit we were good to rejoin the grownups.

The official reason for this family outing was to provide kiddush in Z.'s honor. In addition to the usual (hummus, pita, crudite, chips, salsa, and gorp) I had intended to make New Orleans bread pudding, which is an alcoholic marvel, but didn't check that we had enough milk before shabbat. When shortfalls like this happen I always think I'll break shabbat so that the fun thing I planned won't be spoiled because I don't want my shabbat observance to make me feel deprived. Then having determined to break shabbat, and without ever wavering in that determination, I decide that it wouldn't be worth it anyway. In this case, when I found there wasn't milk I decided to go to the co-op the moment it opened the next morning, then decided that I wouldn't have enough time anyway. Instead of bourbon and raisins we brought honey bunnies. Luckily a hamantaschen baker missed the communal mishloach manot assembly day on Friday and brought her tray to kiddush instead.

My father learned to say "hamantaschen" moments before the baker came over and he complimented her on them perfectly.

Back at the Rhyming ranch, proper lunch was eaten, and cake, and ice cream. The Big Day of Grandparents reached its purest, highest point: the Opening of the Big Grandparent Presents. Z. was almost dizzy with her treasures. There was a big tube to climb through from A.'s parents, with tents and things to attach to it when it can be assembled somewhere larger than our living room, and there was also a pinky-purple gorilla whom we named Hank. My folks gave her a tricycle that had both grandfathers saying admiring techonological things, and has a basket in back for toy transportation that you can dump out when you get your toys to where they're going. Aunt N. sent her old cell phone, with charger so it will continue to turn blue when Z. turns it on. Uncle B. and Aunt S.E. sent a huge box of sidewalk chalk and a big, floppy unicorn whom we named Stella. (If we don't name toy animals instantly they all get names like The Camel.)

Then the afternoon kind of ran out of juice. All of us could have used a nap, but Z. was too manic to even think of trying. I had wanted to take a walk earlier, but after the presents I could no longer remember that. Eventually, it was time for the grandparents to go. Goodbyes were said all around, then we got ready for Purim. With no nap, the goal was to keep Z. up long enough to sleep through the night when she did go down.

Z. got back into the most purplest of her purple clothes, which industrious Mama had rendered clean again. Neither A. nor I did much in the way of costumes, but we were nearly alone in that--there were zoo animals and fighter pilots, yin and yang, rock and rollers, various sports stars, and the entire synagogue staff came as penguins. It was fun, but we didn't stay long. The moon was in eclipse when we arrived but full when we walked home.


The next day, yesterday, was the brother-sister family's birthday party. This was held at an indoor gymnastics place a half-hour drive from our house--mind you, most of the kids at this party live within a 10-minute walk of our house. A. had a ton of work so I took Z. on my own, and got lost twice from directions that referred to roads that weren't signed. We arrived to find a mass of big kids in the lobby of the place and a harrassed teenager herded us brusquely but ineffectively along. We were told to hand over the presents before we even reached the party--as though this were a wedding!--and given little help in sorting out the geography of the place, which was complicated. Most of the party was held in the "Kids' Fun Factory," a multi-level Ikea-style play structure with lots of tubes and ramps and netting. There were two ball pits, and the first one we found was full of big kids playing very rough. Z. desperately wanted to go in and she would have been crushed instantly.

After a couple more turnings we found the toddler area, which was magically, delightfully full of her day-care classmates. What sweet relief. We had a nice long, pleasant interlude bathing in the balls and throwing them up in the air. She didn't want to leave when our time was called, and in fact she shouldn't have, because under 3's weren't allowed in the next activity (mind you, over half the kids at this party were under 3) and no parents or under 3's were allowed to walk across the route that the over 3's walked.

Z. melted down. I tried to get her together with cuddles and snacks, but she just wanted to go away and cry and I couldn't much blame her. Finally, I carried her over to where everyone else was. A few over-3's were in a moon bounce, and most of the 2's had illicitly joined the rest of the 3's doing completely unrisky things on mats with hula hoops, but Z.'s window for fun had closed. Looking around, she wasn't the only one. Luckily, the meltdown had taken enough time that we were quickly herded up to lunch in a room that also held another party of much larger kids. Our group got pizza, for which no knives or forks were provided, so parents either encouraged small offspring to direct entire floppy slices towards their mouths, or they were reduced to pulling off pieces by hand. Z. was still too dazed and weepy to do anything, so I resorted to actually putting pieces into her mouth to get her blood sugar up.

Cake emerged--pink and purple skirt-shaped with a Barbie in it for big sister, brown and red sheet cake with the Cat in the Hat for baby brother. The cake was excellent. The cake was delicious. I can't complain about the cake at all, and though I did have visions of the candles frying Barbie's hair, sister clearly adored it.

I counted heads before people started to leave. There were 27 toddlers and preschoolers there. Twenty-seven! I would say that Brother-Sister Mom is insane, except that clearly this has become a cultural expectation, that you would have nearly 30 kids for your 3-year-old's birthday party.

Also, I don't like not giving the presents to the birthday child. Present-giving and present-receiving is a skill that kids need to learn by doing it at birthday parties. It's no fun to give a present to a staffer who collects them out of sight of the intended recipient, and if you are the birthday child you need to learn graciousness in accepting presents. I can see the argument against opening presents in the middle of the party (though I think I would make a different argument), but at least the gift should be given from the hand of the guest to the hand of the guest of honor.


In the lobby, there were still more kids for still more birthday parties. Z. got away from me twice while I was explaining the value of cutlery to the teenagers on staff--both times she had positioned herself not 10 feet away from me, but the chaos was such that I really couldn't see her. Then of course we had a half-hour drive home, and the directions that served me so poorly the first time weren't reversible, so I wound my way through backroads for some time. That was actually fairly pleasant. It gave me a cooling-down time, and almost gave Z. enough time to nap, but not quite. When we got home I took a three-hour nap in her stead, but she got her second wind and was up the rest of the afternoon with A. No nap for two days in a row. She went down in flames at 7:30, resurfaced screaming again at 9, slept in our bed the rest of the night. When I got her to talk to me about it (Mama asking questions, Z. either wailing through them or responding) it came out that she had been terrified of losing me at the party place. But really, who wouldn't be?

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