Damn the Cubbies.

Happy New Year! And yeah, I know it’s not really new anymore, but I’ve been busy, y’all. And really, the only thing I have to show for it is a little extra nugget of (in?)sanity, because as of yesterday, I have an official plan for my little dude’s birthday. Which is in March (but what can I say? I love birthdays, and Pretty Bad Dad never wants anybody to do anything for his, so I get a little . . . exuberant . . . when the kid’s birthday nears).

And yes. A person’s sanity (or lack thereof) absolutely CAN ride on something like that.

But the truth is, it’s my fault. Remember how I said that when I was a brand-new, shell-shocked, questionably-groomed parent, I started a club (if not, click here and skip to Item #2 in the EPILOGUE)? Well, let’s just say that foresight has never been my strong suit, because now that those families are firmly implanted on my Friends list, social calendar (we get together not only for birthdays, but also for holidays, playdates, and impromptu field trips), and official list of Favorites, my kid (who will turn 5 in a couple of months) has decided to make new friends.

What the heck is that about? Isn’t it enough that he no longer lets me choose his outfits—now he has to go all Fight the Power with his friends list, too?

So the upshot is that while PBD and I were busy making kiddo birthday party plans involving the usual suspects (totaling 16 kids and 22 parents), our boy was making his own birthday party plans involving his entire preschool class (which is 10 more kids). “I’m going to put an invitation in each cubby!” he informed us with glee-clenched fists and an ear-to-ear grin. Damn those cubbies.

And it does seem like we’ve reached the age of “school friend” parties, because he has been invited to three of them within the last month and a half. So PBD and I were faced with a few choices:

1. Continue with our party plans, and screw the school kids (hey, it’s important to get all options out on the table—even the mean ones).

2. Try to find a party venue that would allow us to invite 26 kids without ponying up the cost of a new Cadillac (which is harder than you’d think; many places set incredibly low guest limits (like, 10) and then “generously” offer you the opportunity to pay six months’ salary for each “additional” guest—while still others make you count parents as guests, too, which really drives up your guest count!1)

3. Continue with our party plans and take treats to school so that our kid could celebrate with his school friends there. (This was actually my vote; mostly because I despaired of ever finding a good venue for 26 kids, but also because I had the most kick-ass theme idea for the party at school! Well, OK, “most kick-ass” if you ask me; “hella em-effin dorky” if you ask PBD, or any of my coworkers, or that guy who sleeps under the bench at the bus stop. But don’t listen to them. Listen to me.2)

4. Ditch our usual party friends and just invite the kid’s classmates (Yeah, RIGHT, like that would happen! What, you thought this party was about the KID? InstaPrincess Rule #32: The party is NEVER about the kid.)

5. Ask the kid to choose just a couple of his classmates to invite to the party. (Other parents have done this; I know, because when we go to these school-friend parties, I always manage to corner one of the birthday kid’s parents and casually ask, “So did you invite the whole class, or what?” And two out of three parents have told us that no, they didn’t—their kid handpicked only a handful of guests from school. However, PBD and I don’t really trust the discretion skills of a bunch of four- and five-year-olds, owing in part to our own foot-in-mouth party invite indiscretions as adults. Plus, the kid is really into that whole damn “invitation in every cubby” idea.)

6. Disappear to the Canadian wilderness, learn to make our own flour from tree bark, and start over.

In the end, and after copious internet research peppered with a few inquisitive phone calls, we were actually able to pull off Option 2, thanks to a local community center that offers birthday party packages for up to 25 kids. Hallelujah! (Hallelujah, that is, assuming we have at least one kid who can’t make it.)

Now, I know what you’re thinking: Isn’t this the problem with kids these days? That parents bend over backwards to give Wittle Pwecious Schmoopie Face anything his or her (wittle) heart desires?

And I can’t disagree with you. I mean, when I was a kid, many of my “birthday parties” included my family only. When I turned five, my mom considered it a milestone birthday, and so invited about eight kids who belonged to families we knew. (I’m still good friends with one of those kids, and at one point, a couple of decades later, he and I looked back at the one Polaroid still remaining from that day (or perhaps the only one that was taken) and realized that every kid therein was either his cousin or mine. But I digress.) Otherwise, aside from a slumber party in middle school, my birthdays pretty much consisted– at their most elaborate– of having a couple of friends over for ice cream and cake.

So when did kids’ birthday parties become a whole, thriving industry involving giant inflatables and even bigger senses of entitlement on the part of the pee wees? When did the notion of celebrating a kid’s existence on the planet become contingent on a theme, a $100-per-hour booking fee and an RSVP list ten times as long as the number of years the kid’s been around? Honestly, that’s research I’d love to do—and write about—but I have a big-ass birthday party to plan. (In the meantime, we’ll try to keep the kid’s ego in check in other ways: stocking his dresser with highwater pants; feeding him nothing but cold beans for two weeks straight; pointing and laughing at him while he’s on the toilet. The usual stuff.)

And yeah. This is the kind of stuff that passes for blog-worthy news in my life. Well, that and the fact that I spent the other night in the Emergency Room, most likely due to some highly adversarial ham and beans, which managed to convince me that I was developing heart problems. I suppose it’s not fair to blame the ham and beans entirely; I mean, I probably would not have felt so panicked had I not lost my dad, brother, and sister to heart attacks over the last two decades. My sister was 52. My brother was 42. I am now 42. Perhaps now you understand why I had a little moment of “Oh, shit!”

So I had just embarked upon the long (40-mile) commute home from work, and was tooling down the highway when I was hit with some mild pain in my chest (a tiny bit left of center) and on the underside of my left arm (from armpit to elbow).

It was the arm thing that got me freaked out.

Or, rather, got me periodically freaked out; the pain would occasionally ebb, during which time I’d calm down and think, “yeah, probably just indigestion (which also runs in my family, but I have never been a sufferer), jeez, calm down, Bessie.” (Sometimes I call myself Bessie. Other times Raquel. Because if I don’t, who will?) Then the pain (which, again, was only strong enough to be moderately annoying; it was never stop-you-in-your-tracks pain) would return, and I’d start freaking out and bawling. Mind you, I was not for one second convinced that my last sight on this earth would be the rear end of a Toyota Tacoma embellished with a “Real Men Love Jesus” bumper sticker. Mostly, I just feared that this was going to turn out to be some sort of new Condition (note the capital C) that would somehow prevent me from living the way I want to (and heck—my income bracket already prevents me from living the way I want to, so who needs a health factor tying me down even more?)—and I had juuuuuust gotten back to being able to exercise after The Accident That Set the Tone for Sucktober.

So yeah. Intermittent crying all the way home. When I finally got home, I was no longer feeling the pain, so I was back to the Indigestion Theory, and had made up my mind that I would just take some Pepto and lie down for awhile. Unfortunately, I’d already told PBD earlier in the day that I wanted to go to the gym, so when I got home, he was dressed and ready. I’m not particularly good at lying, so when he wondered why I was no longer interested, I spat out the truth. Then I told him that no, I did NOT want to go to the hospital, because I didn’t want to force all of us to spend what was bound to be our entire evening in the ER—nor did I want to spend what was bound to be the cost of live His and Hers camels from a Neiman-Marcus catalog in medical bills—just to find out that nothing was wrong with me.

Which is pretty much what we did. (“With YOUR family history,” said PBD, “you betta get your ass in the car.” Or something like that. So I did.) The EKG, the chest X-ray, and what seemed like 17,932 blood tests due to my fear and loathing of needles(but was really more like two) all came up clear, and after another romantic ER evening (during which our son kept his face buried in an iPad, and PBD entertained me by looking up angina symptoms on his phone, and reading aloud to me from his findings), I was sent home.

Theories as to what caused the pain (which came back briefly on the next morning’s commute, but hasn’t returned since) range from the ham and beans to my recent return to the gym (I told the doc I’d done some chest presses on the weight machine, and he said that the last remnants of the resulting muscle soreness could have manifested as “heart” pain). Anyway, yeah. That’s pretty much all I have for news so far this year . . .

. . . except, of course, for what happened the other morning, which was basically a groggy 4-year-old shuffling into the bathroom (where I was doing my hair for work) with a sleep-smashed frown and asking, “Who was making those noises I heard last night? They were coming from you and Daddy’s room . . . ” and then proceeding to demonstrate said noises.

But I’m not quite ready to talk about that.

Psyche totally scarred.



1. So far, we’re still at the point where most of the birthday parties to which our kid gets invited are also attended by at least one, but usually both, of each kid’s parents (who are just as likely to be seen flooshing down the giant inflatable slide, or battling to the death with an inflatable Light Saber, as any of the kids). And frankly, I’m not ready yet for it to be any other way. But I think it’s coming; less than a month ago, our boy was invited a 6th birthday party. The birthday kid’s dad is a childhood friend of PBD, and we have hung out with him and his wife on several occasions. So when we arrived for their kid’s birthday party (which was at their home), it never occurred to us to do anything but stick around. We like them, and besides—it’s how we roll.

Imagine my surprise, then, when other parents escorted their kids to the front door, introduced themselves, and left. Only one other parent actually stayed for the party; I assumed, therefore, that she must be friends with the birthday parents, too. Turned out, though, that she’d never met them before, which brings up an interesting irony: When our kid is invited to a birthday party by a family we count among our friends, we stay because we know and love the parents (and the kid(s)); and when he’s invited to a birthday party by the family of one of our kid’s classmates, we stay because we don’t know those people! Why the heck would we just leave our kid with them?

2. Y’all. Seriously, does it get better than an Around the World theme? It just sort of built itself; I was putzing around online, and came across some cardboard favor boxes shaped like little suitcases. I liked them, so I started hunting for party favors that would go along with that idea. I found some little “Passports” (complete with stickers) that were cute, some beach-ball-sized inflatable globes, some foil-wrapped chocolate candies made to look like little globes, and some international flag stickers. By then, I was completely enamored with myself and everything else (I love it when a party theme comes together), and set off in (cyber-) search for planes, trains, and automobiles to use as cupcake toppers. That’s when I found these!

I mean, come on, how perfect is that? Obviously, I’d have to weed a couple of those out, because I don’t think the Pyramids, for example, would work on a cupcake, but the Eiffel Tower? That summa bitch was MADE to be a cupcake topper!

Oh, I was so excited about this plan—even, as I said, when my coworkers laughed at me, and begged me to let my kid just have a SpongeBob theme like other kids. Then PBD called, and I eagerly shared my plan. Even as I (practically) heard him shaking his head on the other end of the line, I remained devoted. But he said he really wanted to try to give the kid his wish to invite his classmates to his actual birthday party. These are, he pointed out, the kids he sees every day, and he’s so excited about putting invites in the cubbies (again: damn the cubbies!) . . . .

And while he was right, that pretty much precluded my precious Around the World theme (because pulling it off for 25 kids, as opposed to just 10, would be a little cost prohibitive). Perhaps, said PBD helpfully, I could keep the theme in my back pocket for now, and then use it the next time I host an ADULT gathering?

Honey, don’t think I won’t.




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