LightLife Guide: How to Manage Children's Birthday Parties

Everyone has been asking me how to politely manage the many issues surrounding children's birthday parties. Fear not! I'm here to offer my answers to your pressing questions with 100% accuracy as per Ms. Manners.

1. It says "No gifts." Do I bring a gift?

Maybe. Obviously the child's mother wrote this, not the child, and not generally the dad. Unless there are two dads, then it was a dad. Best thing to do is to ask the mom, "Why no gifts?" Do it just like that. The fewer words the better. Don't be judgy (Why on Earth would you deprive your kid of gifts?!), and don't be relieved (Thank goodness, no gifts! I didn't want to spend a dime on that kid of yours!). She will either tell you that she really doesn't want any more clutter and the kid is fine (that means don't bring a gift). Or she will tell you that she just put that so the grandparents don't go overboard. That's code for "bring a small gift, gifts are happening."

2. I was invited to a party where I don't know anyone, do I have to go?

Three possible answers here:

a) Your kid and their kid are besties: You should go.

b) Your kid doesn't really know anyone either: Don't go.

c) Your kid doesn't know anyone but you know the adults there in some professional way and it would be good to make an appearance: You should go for a short time.

3. If I'm only going to the party for a short time, how do I get out of there politely?

Don't tell the hosts you are leaving if they are busy. In fact, wait until they're occupied with something else. Then tell a mutual friend that you are leaving (so that no one thinks you got abducted). Why? Because the party parents don't need any wet blankets thrown on their fun. They (and most people present) are having fun. You are ending your fun. That's fine, but it's your thing, so let the fun train keep on rolling. Make sure you've done something memorable or thoughtful during your time there. Like winning the 3-legged race. Or eating your slice of cake without using your hands. Nom nom!

4. I can't go to the party but I feel really bad about it, should I RSVP as "maybe"? 

Here's the common convention on Facebook invites, Evite and the like: 

"Yes" is the new "maybe" 

"Maybe" is the new "no"  

"No" is the new "f*@# you" 

*I actually stole that from somewhere. It's hilarious, but sad, but probably true. 

Here is another plan of attack when you must regretfully decline:

a) Be the first to decline. Everyone forgives the first person to decline.  

b) If you can't be the first to decline, state your reason for missing it (assuming it's a good reason) and apologize a bunch. Not excuses (no one cares), just sad emoticons and sorrys. 

c) If there's now more than 5 people declining, don't pile on. Just don't RSVP. Don't "Maybe"!  

d) If you have to RSVP, send a separate message to the host with a funny self-deprecating explanation. This will add a touch of sincerity and (if done well), will generate a laugh, further endearing you to the host.   

e) If you forgot to do all of the above, your only option left is this one: The Last Minute Cancel. 

The Last Minute Cancel is controversial. It looks suspicious (how could they have forgotten about this visit from MeeMaw when I sent the Evite??). It looks a little insincere and cold. But! It happens sometimes. People get that. Be super DUPER sorry, only state a reason if it's real good, and make fun of your delinquent inability to keep a proper calendar. You silly goose.  

Another thing about "good reasons:" let me be clear, your child's nap is not a good reason. This has always somewhat irritated me. Not because I don't think kids should nap. Obviously, they should, they turn into total monsters without naps. Not the kind of monsters I'd want at a party. But that doesn't mean you go and TELL THE HOST that your kid's nap is more important than the day of their child's birth. All I'm saying is this: do what you need to do regarding naps, just don't tell the host all about your napping woes. They're celebrating the day their child entered the world and their lives were forever changed, glory halleluia! Don't be all "yeah, but Baby Joey needs his full 91 minutes of snoozy time!" It won't play well.

5. If I miss the party, do I still send a gift?


6. What do I wear to kids' birthdays?

Clothes, generally. No bikinis. No beer shirts. No visibile stains (this goes for your kids as well ... if you own such a thing).

That's about it. You're all ready for your next Bday invitation! Go forth and celebrate!


Watching her watch her first movie

I feel almost silly about how exciting it was to watch Lil O watching her first movie on the big screen. But I have a theory about this.

Walking into the discount movie theater in Springfield I felt like I was walking into a theater for the first time. I was reminded of the Garland theater in Spokane where I grew up. My mom would take us to see $1 movies, and we would always ALWAYS buy the big popcorn. Free refills, y'all. And it all cost about $5 because this was the 1990s and we hadn't all been swindled into $17 diet sodas just yet.

First movie. So excited.

Anyways, the fun of going to see a movie was definitely amplified by the fact that O had never been to a movie theater before, and we were seeing everything through her eyes.

"What are doing here?"

"This is where we buy the tickets. Then we buy the popcorn, then we go see the movie." And all of that is so new and exciting. It's the best!

We slowly walked into the dark theater (we were late on purpose, there was no way she could make it through the whole movie, let alone all the previews on top of it). There was some panic when she did not immediately see Elsa and Ana on the screen.

"Is this Frozen? Mommy that is not--"

"I know honey, but remember we need to be quiet here. Shhh"

Then they played some strange Mickey Mouse cartoon thing that served no purpose. Except that it annoyed Jake with its nonstop violence. Weird.

Ahh...and then it started. O began wiggling in her seat when the opening scene appeared. (She has seen Frozen before, at her daycare on movie day. We learned this when she started singing along to "Let It Go" on our Disney Pandora music channel. Hmmmm, so that's what the kids are into these days.)

By the time the opening song started, she was completely abuzz. Her little fists were balled up next to her face and shaking in excitement. She looked at me, then quickly over to Jake. "Look! Look! This is Frozen!!"

Jake and I could have melted into a gooey puddle. It was so fun.

Sometimes she would lean over to tell us some about some obvious detail. "That's Elsa!" "It's snowing!" And we got way into it too.  When the big song started and Jake realized it, he leaned over to tell her, "Hey! Let It Go!!"

Now, I think we can all agree that the American movie-going experience is really some kind of wonderful. It isn't enough that we have the enormous screen and amazing sound effects (O grabbed her ears several times), but we also add the best, most deliciously unhealthy food to the mix. Within minutes, O was grabbing handfuls of popcorn without even looking. She was demanding "more chocolate!" from Jake. She was a monster. An all-American monster.

Eventually the snacks ran out. I even let her have some soda (four sips total, no one freak out!). But it was not enough to keep her attention. She took a lengthy bathroom break with Jake and then the show was almost done. We let her wander around in our row a little, and when she got more and more cranky we were done. They stepped out and I managed to catch the last 3 minutes of adorable Disney ending.

Somehow the whole experience ended with quite a few tears. These things happen, I guess. So much fun and so much candy and so much loud dancing non-stop cartoon princess magic...there is only so much a girl can take. But we will definitely be back.

Took this picture in the pitch dark. iPhones are pretty amazing.

Took this picture in the pitch dark. iPhones are pretty amazing.

When you love something, when you really enjoy something --whether it is the music or sports or yes even movies-- it is kind of thrilling to see your child enjoying the same thing. Plus, there is nothing like seeing a "first" happen right in front of you. I loved seeing Olivia light up and scoot to the edge of her seat. Her eyes were so wide open. Her joy was infectious. We couldn't not smile. I hope I never forget it.

Light Life Moments: When Your Child Is Hurt

Last weekend we went on a little outing to the Science Factory, which was super fun and entertaining and funny until everything went terribly wrong and I left feeling furious.

So how did that happen?

The Science Factory is a delightful local place where families go to let their kids run around and play with the displays and experiment with science a little. When we went, we had the added bonus of seeing a reptile display (and the very entertaining family of handlers whose obsession with snakes and lizards can only be described as ... all-encompassing).

The very last thing we looked at was a display that had some kind of wind-up tool that you would whirl around to see how fast you can burn calories (I think). Little did we know that this particular display had a knack for chomping up little fingers that found their way into its path. And Lil O learned this the hard way.

It is one of the things I like least in life, or in parenting especially, when you go from a super high to a super low. It is hard to switch gears so quickly, and you don't want to switch gears. You want to keep the fun part going. You don't want the bummer part to be real. So I feel very tempted to ignore it or move quickly past it.

But when your child is hurt, everything comes to a screeching halt.

O screamed and *PAUSED* takeabigbreath and SCREAAAAAMed some more. It was intense. I grabbed her and rushed her into the bathroom and we washed off her scraped little finger as I tried to figure out what had just happened.

When we came back out, Jake had gone over to the desk to ask for a band-aid, which they gave us. Okay. But this didn't seem like enough. I couldn't understand why they were standing there letting other patrons in while they could see my child crying.

"Do you want to talk to them?" Jake was sort of cringing. I sort of was too. I hate being "that mom." But just can't go around hurting my kid with your calorie machines!

I went over and fumbled some words at them. The front desk lady had me fill out an accident report. Okay. We put exactly three things down on the paper. Not enough.

I didn't really know what to do next. I still don't. I told them that they really need to rethink putting that display out there for kids, because the little warning sign is too small, written in absurd font, and oh yeah...MY KID CAN'T READ.  Grrr.

Later, of course, I thought of more things to say ("I am a lawyer goddammit! And that should make you more concerned than you are currently acting!!"). And I felt a bit embarrassed that I didn't do or say more. I didn't exactly turn on the mama bear instincts. Or the lawyer ones, I guess. But I am not certain it would have done any good. I could have made a scene, threatened them, probably freaked Olivia out. Not exactly my style.

But that doesn't stop me from feeling that parental self-doubt. Or regret. Guilt, perhaps? There's always guilt.

I guess at the end of the day I just want her to know that I will be there for her; that if the mama bear was needed, I would do it. (I pity the children's museum that ever does real harm to my child. I will RAIN down on that place like a hurricane of fists and subpoenas.)

But I didn't think it was necessary in this instance, and ultimately I think we will get to a better result by acting rationally. That's the goal anyways, I still need to give them a call back. And I'm planning* to be perfectly reasonable.

*provided they do what I ask