I’m in recovery from the disease that has afflicted me since my oldest daughter was in second grade. The disease: You Must Invite Everyone. The cure: last night’s annual Halloween Party for my son’s fifth grade classmates turned loud and raucous, and I wondered why in the world I ever thought it was a good idea to have 45 children in costume running crazily through our home.
Just last year, fourth grade Darth Vaders, astronauts and ghouls mingled happily with Pink Ladies and a huge cardboard Starbucks cup. This year, a number of parents, dropping off their kids, smiled, “Boy, you guys are brave,” and I, gracious hostess, smiled back. “No worries. We’ve got this. It will be fine.”
Ha. How did those other parents know?
Oh, it all began amiably enough — too few kids in costume staring at each other awkwardly, one boy from the soccer team who did not know anything else, drinking cider in the corner of the dining room, gazing longingly at a monstrous cupcake displayed on the cupcake tree. High school girls from the school I lead had constructed a haunted house — blood streaked clothes, a beheaded baby doll, grape eyeballs. These girls and a few more helped me lay out snacks, planned a scavenger hunt.
But about an hour in, organized chaos devolved into a noisy, wild frenzy … perhaps it was after my husband finished the “Eat the donut on the string” contest, littering the yard with donuts that our three small rescue dogs gulped down joyously. From there, things swiftly tilted-- boys running crazily through the house, screaming, a few throwing soda at others.
Mob mentality prevailed. Others started screaming, too. Girls huddled on the trampoline, fleeces over flimsy costumes, chattering about who liked whom. Someone started a rumor that the police had been called. (They weren’t.) I worried neighbors might call to complain about the decibel level. (They didn’t.) Three girls left the party and walked home without telling me. The dancing in the living room that my ever-patient husband rigged with a disco ball and fog machine, was deejayed by Nora, one of the juniors from my sedate all-girls’ school. Decorous shuffling morphed from kids displaying dance moves to children leaping about in fog, tracks blaring; at one point, I had to tell the kids they could not dance with other people on their backs. The room pulsed: volume, hormones, squealing.
When my adult neighbors appeared, I was grateful that they had arrived to help me restore order; my husband having retreated briefly upstairs with the three over-stimulated and over-donut-ed dogs. I was glad, too, that the party was almost over. 7:30 never took so long to arrive.
“Cured?” Kathryn, my neighbor and colleague, asked. I knew she asked if this craziness had cured of my insistence that every child in the grade be invited. My affliction dates from my older daughter’s experience in second grade, when we lived in a different city in a different life.
“Davina’s having a birthday,” Miranda reported to me. “And I’m not invited,” she quivered.
“Oh, honey, I’m sure you are. I’m sure the invitation just hasn’t arrived.”
“It’s tomorrow, Mommy. I’m not invited.”
“Well, honey, maybe it’s a very small party. Perhaps she could only invite a few girls,” I reassured, busy making dinner in our galley kitchen, each meal carefully choreographed because there was so little counter space.
“Every other girl in the class is going,” she persisted.
Cutting peppers, I smoothed it over. "I bet it’s just the girls in her second grade class. The two of you aren’t together this year.”
“Bridget got invited.” Bridget was in Miranda’s section of second grade. In her small school, there were only about ten girls per section. I paused, trying to think of a plausible explanation.
“You always say to include everyone, Mommy, that I can’t leave other girls out.”
“I do, sweetie. I’m sorry you got left out. I bet it was just a mistake. Want to stir the batter for the cornbread?”
In bed that night, next to my husband, I had a few things to say about Davina’s mother, a woman I had always found snobby and condescending. Our babysitter told me once that Davina’s mother thought she was better than most of the other mothers in the class, a nugget of gossip gained when all the babysitters chatted, waiting together at pick-up.
Miranda noticed too much, was all too conscious of the social pecking order that our lives as schoolteachers happily precluded us from joining. We ignored social climbing. We did not go to fancy benefits or land reservations at chic new exclusive restaurants. We lived in an apartment, not a penthouse or a brownstone. And we did not ski in Europe on vacations or hang out in fancy mansions on Long Island on the weekends. Both of us worked. Once, a little girl, upon being invited to our house for a birthday party, arrived with her nanny and said, “What a very small house you have. Ours is much bigger.”
“Well, we like it,” I smiled. “Would you like to come in?” And slum with the peons? I thought to myself.
Here’s what I remember next. Davina’s mother phoned me one night a week or so later.
“I just wanted to say we were so sorry we couldn’t include Miranda this year at Davina’s party.”
Stunned, I muttered a few incomprehensible syllables into the phone.
“I know you’ll understand. We just had to draw the line somewhere,” she oozed.
Oh, I understand, I fumed.
“Right. So you drew it on my daughter. I understand completely. I doubt she’ll ever understand. I’m not sure why you phoned. It doesn’t help,” I replaced the receiver deaf to her sputtering.
“Bitch,” I growled. In that instant, I was the wolf who raised Romulus and Remus; I was Demeter failing to protect Persephone; I was a lioness; I was every mother whose cub has ever been threatened. I wanted to throw plates against the wall. Instead, I checked the broccoli and served dinner.
“Who was that?” Miranda asked.
“No one,” I lied.
And so the rule — everyone had to be included. Always. Because I had seen what it felt like for my girl — for myself — to be left out. The bruises lingered longer in my psyche than they did for my child. So, I insisted.
Until last night. Scraping pizza off of the dining room rug after most of the guests had been retrieved, I thought, “Hoodlums. Wild things. What if someone had gotten hurt?” Grimly, I sponged up spilled soda, grateful that we had narrowly avoided catastrophe.
And then my husband appeared. He, who had made all the decorations, done the cleaning, made the soundtrack, hung the black lights. He, who makes magic happen in our family.
“Great party, wasn’t it?” he grinned. “Let’s do it again next year.”
Maybe there’s a vaccine or an over-the-counter medicine I can find to give him.
Guest post written by Ann V. Klotz. Ann is a writer and mother who lives in Shaker Heights, OH, where she is Head of Laurel School, a girls' school. Her house is full of books and tiny rescue dogs. Recent work has appeared in the Brevity Blog, Literary Mama, Mothers Always Write, Mutha, and Mamalode. Her essay about becoming a teacher has just been included in the anthology What I Didn't Know, published by Creative Nonfiction. She blogs semi-regularly for the Huffington Post. Read more of her work at www.AnnVKlotz.com or follow her on Twitter.