Sunday, October 30, 2005

Tats, Beer and a Midget on Crutches: My Favorite Children's Birthday Party

When Lulu was in Mrs. Lincoln's class, she had a friend named Mandi, a beautiful, bright girl with a single mom in her mid-twenties.
Through Lulu, I learned that her dad left when she was a baby and never saw her again, although he later had children with another woman.
"Mandi has a baby sister and she wishes she could meet her,'' Lulu told me one night.
"Mandi's mom had to stop showing her pictures of her dad because it made her cry.'' she said the next.
Lulu offered new details every day. But I had a prurient curiosity about Mandi and her mother that couldn't be satisfied.
I had to restrain myself from pumping her for more info: "Was her mom abused? Was he a drug addict? Did he leave her or did she leave him? Was he good-looking? Did Mandi's mom forbid her from seeing him or did he abandon her? (He abandoned her).
In a school filled with hardcore stay-at-home moms, who bake numeral-shaped cupcakes from scratch for the 100th Day of School celebration--while the working moms, like Mandi's mother and myself, can only manage to contribute napkins and paper plates--Mandi was supposed to have been an object of pity.
Instead, she was a star. She was one of the first in the class to read and could already write in cursive while other kids were still struggling to print. She could be bossy but bossy in a way that was ingratiating to adults (like she would remind Lulu to listen to me when I told her not to unbuckle her car seat before I before I stopped the car).
Coming from another child, it would have been too Eddie Haskell. But Mandi, in her hip-huggers and faux Frye boots, pulled it off. She was looked and acted like a well-mannered little biker chick.
She wore fake tattoos that looked real and told me once that she and her mom had a snake Mandi had named "Pythorn.''
When Julia was invited to Mandi's sixth birthday part, a pool party at a local hotel, I was thrilled.
The only other time I was so excited about a kid's birthday party was the year before, when Lulu was invited to the birthday party of an adopted Chinese girl named Lana. She had mentioned Lana's name for months, but two days before the party she dropped this bombshell: "Lana has two moms.'' (That explained why the RSVP had been to "Jane or Brenda,'' I had naively assumed that maybe one was a sister or grandma who was helping with the party).
After learning Lana's parents were lesbians, I congratulated myself for my politically-correct response a week earlier when Lulu announced she wanted to marry her best friend Kelly. I said, "Most women who get married get married to men, but not all of them do. You can marry anyone you want as long as you love each other and they're nice to you.''
As it turned out, Lana's birthday party was as conventional and suburban as could be. There were burgers on the grill, party games in the basement, a lovingly-decorated bedroom with Lana's name in Chinese characters painted on the wall by the moms themselves.
Mandi's birthday, party, however, was a different story. Her mom, Chrissie--a chubby version of Mandi with long brown hair and clear blue eyes_- had a few tattoos on her ankles and a rose on her cleavage but was obviously a responsible mom, gently admonishing the girls for too much screaming or splashing in the pool and overseeing an activity where they painted flowers on posterboard.
Her best friend, though, had an upper body covered with warrior princess and dragon tattoos. Along with her was a tattooed, metalhead midget on crutches with red hair and freckles named John.
I felt strangely at home.
Among the other moms in my neighborhood, I feel like a freak, and struggle, ridiculously, to seem normal, even while I'm sure that I don't seem that weird to them and if they knew my real story they probably wouldn't care. An early revelation for me as a mom was the moment a perky blonde in our playgroup confessed privately to me that she was once a nightclubbing cokehead. "My favorite phrase was, "Let me tell you just one more thing....'' she said.
Still, I cling to the knowledge that I'm different than them, and this is what makes me special. I listen to hip-hop and don't like to garden. My house is messy and my husband and I can't be bothered to renovate it ourselves, like everyone else in town. I've snorted heroin twice and have Lou Reed's autograph, with my name misspelled. In my mid-twenties, I let a Viet Nam vet I met at a dive bar shoot me up with meth after he told a good, if apocryphal, story about having been the original drummer of Iron Butterfly. (I'm pretty sure I didn't sleep with him. Worse: I think I sang along loudly to my Blondie tapes while the meth kicked in).
But at Mandi's party--where I was the only mom who wasn't a relative or family friend--not only was I paragon of respectability and traditional values, my tolerance and eagerness to be liked made me seem cool.
When we went up to the hotel room after the girls' swim, Chrissie nervously offered me a Coors from a heaping cooler filled with beer and hard liquor. Did I look askance (not only was it alcohol at a mommie-run kiddie party, but Coors?)? Did I refuse? Hell, no. I politely took one. And then had another. But stopped there, so she didn't have to worry about me being a lush and driving Lulu home drunk.
When it was obvious that Chrissie's younger sister, Tess, and her friends were getting high in the room next door, did I disapprove? Of course not. I smiled knowingly.
When John, the midget on crutches, pretended to be a monster and chased the girls into the bedroom, was I nervous? Okay, a little. But they weren't back there long and he didn't seem like a pedophile. The girls seemed to enjoy it.
When Tess's hot male friend flirted with Chrissie in the pool, and said in her ear--but not so the kids could hear-"Man, I want to mud wrestle you''--I twinkled understandingly.
Chrissie's enjoyment of the guy was a nice contrast to the moms in my neighborhood, who deny their sexuality completely. (Once, when I was mentioning a neighboring husband to a mom across the street, and she wasn't sure who he was, I said, "You know, Darryl, the good-looking stay-at-home dad.'' She giggled nervously and said, "Oh, I don't even notice that anymore.'' )
I wished Chrissie and her friend lived in my neighborhood and we could do this on a regular basis. I envied them because the lives they had before kids and the lives they had during kids didn't seem that different. They didn't feel required to pretend to be someone else, like I did, although I was never sure who I should pretend to be.
They were the kind of people I would have done shots with at the dive bar where I met Mr. Iron Butterfly, except, miraculously, the had reappeared in my existence as a mom, and while I had aged 15 or 20 years, they remained in their twenties and had kids.
The only change was that they'd quit their drug habit and moderated their drinking, so that now you could trust them around your six-year-old.

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Zeb has created his own soundtrack when he plays with his Hot Wheels. Its a lot like the macho music that's played on his Tonka Joe computer game whenever a bulldozer rolls across screen.
We call them "action songs.'' In a gruff little voice he sings, "Duh duh DUH! Duh duh duh DUH! Duh duh Duh DUH! Duh duh DUH!'' It sounds something like the melody to the Sean Paul song "Get Busy,'' a favorite of both my kids.
In the past few weeks, however, he's modified it. Instead of saying "duh,'' he sings, "Dunst duh DUNST! Duh da da da DUNST!'' We can't explain the addition of "dunst'' and neither can he. As far as we know, he is unaware of Kristen Dunst, the actress. He seems to just like the way it sounds.
He gets very irate when we sing the songs along with him. "People can't sing it,'' he shouts. "It's just a song the cars sing!''
Zeb also has a softer side, his feminine alter ego "Deb.'' She's a college girl with a driver's license who likes to cook and go to school. Its a character that surfaced over the summer when we were renting a house in the Adirondacks.
Zeb and Lulu liked to sit in our parked car and pretend to be driving. Somehow, Lulu convinced Zeb that in one scenario he was her older sister and that's why he could drive. I think she was the one that named him "Deb.'' But he liked it enough to resurrect it every now and then.
When he does, he'll insist on being called "Deb'' and offer to drive us around. Sometimes, he works at Lulu's play stove, cooking bacon, fish, cheese and green beans.
Often, as Deb, he gets Lulu's back pack and pretends its time for school. He'll be a little wistful about saying good-bye, but eager to start his day. At school, he sits at a desk and does "homework,'' mostly drawing scribbly pictures of monsters and trucks, until its time for me to pick him up.
Apparently, these scenes are from an earlier part of Deb's life, since she seems to be in elementary school. When she drives, we know she's grown-up Deb, who goes to an all-girl institution called "Pollege'' college.

Friday, October 21, 2005

"I'm Going To Light Up Your Heinie''

Regis and I took the kids to the Sussex County Fair over the summer. It should have been fun. But it was 100 degrees, so it wasn't really.
At lunch, the kids were tired, sweaty and fretful. At the table next to us we heard parents reprimanding their own little children, when all of the sudden the dad says: "Branson, if you do that again, I'll take you out to the car and light up your heinie. You act like a brat, you'll get beaten like a brat, okay?''
But he said this in the mildest, most rational tone, the same way nice, non-spanking parents, like ourselves, would tell our children: "If you do that again, no more TV today, okay?''
We felt very judgmental and superior, while at the same time, I was conscious of the fact that when our kids behaved badly at lunch, the heinie-lighter-would surely be thinking that we should belt them once in the ass to straighten them out. And I couldn't help wondering, momentarily, if he was right.
Later, I told Lulu: "You're really lucky you don't have parents like that. If you didn't feel like eating your hamburger or called your brother stupid, he'd be giving you a spanking! In fact, maybe the next time we're mad at you, we'll send you over to his table so he can do it for us. Ha ha''
Mostly, though, the entire family just laughed uproariously over the phrase "light up your heinie.'' And months later, we still joke about it.
That abusive dad will never know the gift he gave us!