She is ten now, and we have just wrapped up the most fantastic, elaborate, and detail-oriented birthday party I have ever thrown in my decade of parenting. So satisfied with myself am I that, after the last parent picked up their child at 9:30 p.m., I requested that my husband play the Rocky theme song on his phone so I could take a victory lap around the kitchen. Yes, I did.
Now I hear crying from upstairs, minutes after we had settled onto the couch with bowls of popcorn to watch our show, and I know it’s her. Her younger sister fell asleep instantly, but she is too wound up from the excitement.
She comes downstairs, can’t sleep, she’s lost her voice from too much screaming and laughing and singing, and she’s upset. I assure her that she’s fine, walk her back upstairs. She wants me to lie down with her and I sigh. I explain how tired I am after the party, that I just need some down time with Daddy to watch T.V. I tell her I’ll give her just two minutes, and she is sated.
I lie down in her bed next to her, and begin to literally count backwards, first minute one, beginning at sixty. I am pleased that I have suppressed my irritation but I am antsy to go back downstairs, to be left alone with my husband and my popcorn.
Forty-two . . . forty-one . . .
My husband comes in with a stuffed animal and gives her a kiss. I whisper frantically that I won’t be long, I’ll be right down. I start my second minute.
Twenty-four . . . twenty-three . . .
I remember how hard she was to get to sleep when she was in preschool, how awful every night was as I raged against the inevitable reality of my having to sit on her floor, lie next to her in bed, sit outside in the hallway as she cried. How I resented the lengthy bedtimes and necessity of my physical presence. I tap into the fact that someday she won’t live in my house anymore and I will give anything for a few more seconds of lying next to her in bed.
Twelve . . . eleven . . .
Ten. It was a perfect party. Magical, even though exhausting.
Nine. Sort of a 1980s throwback: easy, in our backyard, games, an ice cream bar, kids of all ages.
Eight. The epic failure of a sleepover party. The reason we’ll never have one again for a long, long time. Kids dropping like flies and my daughter sobbing in my lap in the kitchen.
Seven. The last boy-girl classmate party at the trampoline place, her toddler sister trailing behind, bouncing on her bottom on a trampoline with my husband.
Six. I wear her baby sister in a Bjorn at the children’s museum, the last party with many of my friends’ kids, children she grew up with, the friends that don’t go to her school.
Five. She wears an Ariel crown, it’s a Little Mermaid party though I have little recollection of what we actually did. She has her baby teeth still. I am pregnant, weeks away from giving birth.
Four. She holds up four fingers, draped with feather boas and beads and wearing a jeweled tiara. She is chubby, our friends gather in the backyard. It is easy, we’ve all known each other forever. She requested a birthday cake with a photo of herself on it, cupping her chin in her hand. We laugh about it.
Three. The first of many backyard parties. She is a stinker, with short, short hair and a pouty mouth. Her day-care friends make a lame craft with materials I bought at Hobby Lobby. I am not good at these things. Her cake features a screened image of her swimming with a dolphin. In just over a month, the three of us will go to the courthouse for “our wedding.”
Two. The birthday where everything went wrong. We end up having a last-minute party at a friend’s house an hour away. She doesn’t mind. It’s the party where someone took one of my favorite photos of us together. We beam at each other over a collection of Elmo cupcakes.
One. Her first birthday; my divorce is almost final. I still have no idea what I’m doing. She eats her chocolate cake in a high chair while I snap photos. Another one of my favorite photos of the two of us: I am holding her and laughing as she blows raspberries. She is wearing a pink sundress I bought from Old Navy. She is bald, still not walking. I look at that photo and remember how in love I was with both my babies.
I lean over and whisper, “I love you,” not sure if she’s sleeping already. She whispers back hoarsely, “I love you, too.”
“I remember all of your birthdays,” I tell her. “Every single one.” She smiles, her eyes closed. I tiptoe from her room.
**Yes, a step-by-step Harry Potter birthday party how-to post to follow shortly.