Most parents dread kids’ birthday parties if they know any better. (If you don’t, please explain to me your trick for navigating children’s social politics as well as their parent’s.)

If you have two kids with a combination of food allergies, asthma, anxiety, ADHD, and autism you plan twenty steps ahead for any scenario. Then you silently hope the whole way there that no one makes them cry, includes them, and that they themselves don’t meltdown.

It was on a hot day, with no help and misguided optimism, that I loaded my two children into a car to take them to a birthday party in a park. We reviewed the rules once they were strapped into their respective car seats and Owen summarized in a grumble, “No running-ed off.”

We reviewed those rules once again as we parked and I then opened the car door to them running from me headlong into the park like deranged gazelles in separate directions. I caught up to them and was left speechless. It was something from my nightmares. We weren’t the only birthday party in the park that day. There were four of them within fifty feet of each other in the same park on the same day. What the sweet-baby-f*cking-holy-h*ll-on-a-goat?!!!

Both kids began running in separate directions again to other parties and none of them were the ones we were invited to. I wanted to cry. I held it together and managed to convince them to go to the party we were invited to so we could at least wish the birthday boy a happy day. Mind you, Owen attends school with the kid and several of the other kids. One would think he would be excited to see them, his classmates, but there was a whole park to explore and three other cakes to pilfer. Did I mention the mylar balloons shaped like cars?

“Come on, Owen, let’s go wish your friend a happy birthday.”

After a ten minute struggle he ran towards the group (once I promised snacks), I thanked the mother who was hosting and then asked the kids to say “hello”. One of the other mothers looked us up and down with a smile, “Hi, I’m Ian’s mom,” proffering her hand.
I felt an immediate uneasiness, “I know we’ve met -”
“The gift table is over there…” Her eyebrows went up looking at my lack of a gift.
Oh shit! It’s on the counter at home…!

“Thanks! I’m sorry I forgot – “
Tittering at my embarrassment, she looked away at a woman behind her who shared in her laughter, she responded in a magnanimously condescending tone, “-Oh, that’s ok, YOU’RE not the ONLY one…” She turned to another friend who laughed in response while pointedly looking at a table heaped with gifts as if it were empty.

I felt like a kid being left out on the playground. My stomach twisted in shame and anger. Oh, wait, I WAS on a playground. F*ck me this day sucks…

Owen began running around randomly shouting to people, “Hi, friends! Hiiiii! I, Owen!!”

Nora stared at her feet and politely introduced herself to the host and then waited while Owen introduced himself to each person ala-Groot, “I, Owen!”
One boy scowled at him, “I know, we go school together. You SIT by me.”
Owen looked panicked and then brightened with pride at remembering, “Happy birthday!”
The kid looked like he smelled a fart, “It’s not my birthday. It the OTHER Ian.”

His little face went blank and I could see his disappointment. I smiled, forced eye contact with the most hateful of the parents and realized she spawned the kid who had just hurt Owen’s feelings. Figures.

She stared at us and played with a gold cross necklace. I smiled at her and let loose the dogs of Hades.

Their little faces jerked upwards as I announced in a jubilant manner that they knew signaled I was pissed at someone that wasn’t them, “OK, KIDS! Let’s go play in the splash pad!”

They peeled off clothes and ran like newly released prisoners towards the icy cold fountains. The offended mother scoffed and muttered just loud enough, “We were JUST about to cut the cake…”

F*ck this, if you’re going to be mean to me and my kids then we’re going to ditch your party. We’re here at a park. We made it out of the house without killing each other. It’s hot, I have towels – shit, I forgot them in the car!

Karmic retribution was speedy to me that day. I looked over to see a shivering Owen with drooping shorts and a gigantic smile. We hadn’t put his swim diaper on yet or his trunks. He had twenty pounds of soggy cotton shorts and daytime diaper hanging off of him. My stress melted away and I smiled back.

“Does it feel nice?”
His lips were purple and his cheeks were vibrating like he was sitting on an old washing machine, “Yep!”

They danced and chased each other. The party was forgotten and we returned eventually to wish the birthday boy a happy day once again and his mother, of the nice Ian, had a lovely chat with me while my soaked kids devoured her pizza.

I loaded them back in the car, gave them both allergy medication and chewable probiotics, cleaned off every speck of dirt from their feet so they wouldn’t panic, and poured a bottle of water on myself to prepare for the hot car ride home in my junky car with the busted air conditioning. It wasn’t an easy day but, like a lot of days, it had its moments.

We drove back along a route with the most shade. (You know you have a junky car when you have to choose a driving route that has the most shade during the summer.) I rolled the windows down so they could look at the river and the downtown skyline. (Also so they wouldn’t die from the heat.)

We were listening to the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman yet again. I looked in the rearview mirror and Nora smiled at me. I looked at Owen and he smiled, “I pooped.”

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