Apr 30, 2005

The Laws of Birthday Parties

Ever since moving from the Shenandoah Valley almost two years ago back to the Philadelphia area, I have been an astute observer of the local birthday party sociology. In Virginny, we pretty much did 'em all at home and knew everyone purdy darn well. Here are some working hypotheses I have arrived at, some compared with our own family's backward practice. This list is not well organized, but hey, it's only a blog. I'm trying to write more and be more sloppy.

1. The less well you know the birthday child's parents, the more expensive the present should be. You're pretty safe spending a little more than twenty dollars.

I spent $7.00 on Model Magic for a girl in Jack's class last year whose name I can't recall.*

2. The less well the hosting parents know the families of the invited children, the more likely they are to have the party in a professional party place, such as a gym, etc. My theory is people don't want to reveal much about themselves to strangers. Only part of it is the convenience. Just a hunch.

I invited Jack's whole class (at the horrible fake Montessori school he went to in fall of 2003) to his fourth birthday party because I couldn't decide who to chose. It was at our house. "Only" eight kids came. The parents all stayed and did not eat a single bite of anything. Not even the chocolate cake I baked from scratch (Richard Sax's Classic Home Desserts)and decorated myself with a frosting firetruck! What in all heck is wrong with people?

3. The youngest child in a family with three or more children gets dropped off at a party before any of the other guests, the parent speeds off gleefully, not to be seen again until three minutes after the official end of the party.

4. There are always exceptions to every rule. It's most unusual, nay truly remarkable, for parents to invite fifteen children to a party in their house filled with antiques and breakables, and have the party last four hours instead of the universal two. Yet it happened today. Went surprisingly well. The Spiderman face paint will need another scrubbing before it comes off completely, and Jack's balloon broke, and some cake got smushed in their carpet, but no catastrophes.

5. When you try to be "green" and wrap the present from your child in the Sunday comics, you feel like a total loser when you compare it with the rest of the gaudily wrapped beribboned presents on the table.*

6. For parties at someone's house, girls wear dresses.

Jack wore his baseball shirt and torn jeans today. *

7. The party favor is not supposed to be just one thing, rather a bag full of things.

At the joint party we had for Jack and Will, there was one favor per child.*

8. Moon bounce, moon bounce, moon bounce.

9. When planning a party for your child, there is no polite way to encourage simple inexpensive gifts. You can only limit the number of children.

10. When dropping off or picking up your child, don't park in the driveway, unless you don't mind being parked in for thirty minutes.

*We could use a little work in these areas.

Apr 29, 2005

Hair Salon: The Blog

Now that I've had two haircuts without any color, the gray jumps out. I could see it in the mirror at the salon, even without wearing my glasses. For a "heavy myope" like me, you know it had to be a fairly blinding field of silver.

You ask, "What about that bitchy colorist who told you you would look fifteen years older?" Well, HA. Not only have I cast a wicked spell on her, causing her eyelids to sag, skin to wrinkle, and inground pool to spring a small but consistent leak that the pool specialists won't be able to locate until August, but I am also poised for defection. I'm taking my business to a salon in a neighboring town. I said to the owner of the new salon, "I need to have my hair cut by someone who supports my decision to let my hair go gray." I mean, I actually said that. You'd think I was switching therapists.

One time several years ago I switched salons because my "designer" Danny (you can't call them hairdressers any more) was taking up to 3 1/2 hours to cut and color my hair. In the meantime I was forced to listen to very loud house music as well as unfunny slightly off-color jokes that weren't off color enough to protest without feeling prudish, prim, and priggish (what's with words that start with "pr," anyway?). And occasionally his highly pierced friends would give me free advice on what I could do with my hair. Like not wash it that often and put blue stripes in it.

The breaking point came for me when Danny split up with his girlfriend, who worked in the same salon. They had had a son together, who was a year old at the time of the breakup, and had lived together. The child wore a Hilfiger hat and his room had a Dr. Suess theme. Whenever Andrea came into the room, to get orders for lunch, borrow a dryer, or whatnot, the air crackled with tension. They didn't talk to each other, they spit. I couldn't stand it, and thought he was a jerk, so I left. But not without having him write down my hair color "recipe."

Then there was Dominic, who ran a salon called "The Abbey" in Center City Philadelphia. He had trained to be a priest, but decided to come out instead, and then go the whole nine yards and be a hairdresser. But he was still sentimental about all things monastic, so he had huge photographs of cloisters all over the walls. But the other day Will and Jack had their hair cut by a guy planning to train for the priesthood. So, no pun intended, it all comes out even in the end.

Apr 25, 2005

Now Where Was I?

Boy, I just can't shake my loyal fan base. The longer I go without writing the more guilty I feel and so I avoid it. I'm also supposed to be blogging for a Mothers & More blog, and I haven't done that either. Spring happened, I guess, and what with all the pressure to mulch, I've just been doing that. Not really.

I'll just jump into this post, but I've no idea what it will be about.

My dad is moving to a retirement community in June, and my brother Dan and I have been carting off stuff from his house that we want. We have agreed very amicably so far. My mother, who died six years ago of a brain aneurysm when I was six weeks pregnant with Jack, had collected a number of antiques. What a bizarre sentence I just wrote. Like with my knitting, I don't believe I will go back and "rip it out." I'm a beginning knitter, and the scarf I am creating has the craziest knots and holes, and how the heck did they get there? Anyway, our house now has the following furniture:

A rustic "farm table" that we eat on now instead of the Ikea

A drop leaf table that my family ate on every night during my entire childhood and adolescence

An old but not antique bureau with drawers that don't stick (for the boys)

A cedar chest from the early 1970s that was in my room as a child, that I hid a number of dubious things in

A very small drop leaf table that we're going to use as an end table

A "butler's table" with a top that the "butler" just lifts off with the silver tea set on it, I suppose (we'll have to anchor it down in some way that is reversible and doesn't compromise its value)

A small table with glass knobs and a drawer darker than the rest of the wood (which I find strangely compelling)

A fancy table on wheels that also has drop leaves that we have in the entrance hall. My mother loved drop leaf tables.

A small chest with three drawers for the table linens

Enough table linens to need a full-time laundress

A rustic corner cupboard for the dining room (my brother lives in a geodesic dome; therfore he has no corners for it to live in)

An antique chest that used to have the aforementioned linens heaped up in it

A Vienna regulator that doesn't work

Four assorted antique mirrors of various sizes and with assorted visibility issues

Two oil paintings that my great grandmother painted

Two 1940s-era marble lamps

A needlepoint footstool

A needlepoint "fireplace screen" on a wooden pole on a three-legged base

A "fireplace screen" for in front of the fireplace, to keep sparks and ashes in and children out. (The above item and this one are completely different but seemed to be called the same thing. Why is our fireplace accoutrement vocabulary so impoverished, I ask you?)

To come: lots of dainty little china cups, finger bowls, and salt and pepper shakers that my great grandmother painted, boxes full of incredibly beautiful and moving photographs that my grandmother took of us, my mother, and other people, which she developed herself and that desperately need to be properly archived, a massive silver service, a set of Limoge china.

Our house smells like my parents' house now, John says, but I haven't noticed.

Apr 5, 2005

The Mad Mulcher: Busted!

We turned into our driveway on Sunday after church, and we almost hit her. There she was with her wheelbarrow, our next-door neighbor Hazel, mulching our yard, just the skinny strip between her metal fence and our driveway. "Hazel!" I said brightly, "You're mulching our yard!" "Yes, well, it looked terrible," she scolded us. "You know," she admonished, "hardwood mulch is only $2.00 a bag at Home Depot."

This favor, or interference, or whatever you call it, is . . . well, I guess that's the problem, is that I am not sure what to think, and it's really so minor in the scheme of things that I believe I'll just pass over it completely. So, never mind. Nothing to see here, folks.

Anyhoozy, we had Hazel, who's about 74, and her daughter Rebecca for dinner tonight, along with my Dad, who comes every Tuesday night. We were talking about the fussy and fickle eating preferences of small children. Will had pronounced loudly, "I don't like rice!" And even "I don't like cold!" when presented with ice cream, his favorite food. Hazel, who can tell a great story and has many to tell, told about when she was about five and wouldn't eat her oatmeal for breakfast. Well, her mother re-presented that oatmeal, reheated just so over the stove, at every meal until even stubborn little Hazel broke down from hunger, at the 36th hour. The Depression explains this standoff at least as much as the iron will of the mother and daughter. Hazel still hates oatmeal, and is still very stubborn.

By the way, she has a great wine cellar and brought some sparkling wine for us, a little over the top for a Tuesday dinner with the family, but it was accepted eagerly. My dad and Hazel reminisced about Majorca in the fifties, traveling by ship, icebox tongs, and other generational esoterica, while the middle generation sipped and listened. On other occasions Hazel has provided us with much detailed lore about the neighborhood's characters, where property lines actually are, who owns which trees, the reason why our house smelled like dog pee for a couple of months (non-housebroken dachsund lived here for ten years), what the landscaping of our yard has been like in every era, how much our old kitchen cabinets from the 1930s were actually worth and why we should hang onto them, the best auctions for antiques, the best place to get a variety of cheap wine, you know, stuff like that. Mulching incident, what mulching incident?

Apr 4, 2005

Adventures of Dumpster Carrot

Every night John and I take turns inventing a story to tell the boys. Yes, one of us makes up a story every single night. Not our idea. Theirs. It’s much easier than it seems. Here’s what you do:

MENTAL PREPARATION: Get ready to make a string of snap decisions that have little or no basis in reality or logic. A story will emerge almost of its own accord. Stories will do that, and humans are hard-wired to tell them.

1. Choose a creature or object to be the main character. It could just be the first thing you think of. We have done stories about stones, forks, racecars, trucks, chameleons, and, in tonight’s case, a carrot.

2. Give it a name. Objects may and should be personified. Names are funnier when they are incongruous with the character’s size or nature in some way. Tonight’s name, “Dumpster Carrot,” contributed by Will, gave us the character’s identity and setting, as well as tantalizing superhero implications with a comic slant.

3. Choose a setting, any setting. Don’t think hard about it. All the better if your setting doesn’t make “sense,” because then your story line can focus on doing the backstory: How Dumpster Carrot get into the dumpster? How will he get out?

Now, if you aren’t too sleepy, your brain is kicking in to get your character (and yourself) out of this mess.

4. Your main character wants something, to go somewhere, to have a new friend, to learn why he or she is in this silly story, or whatever. Invest your character with motivation and a goal. Tonight’s carrot wanted to get out of the dumpster because he wasn’t rotten. He had been pushed into the trash by a thoughtless cat, no doubt a plump gray tabby now that I think about it.

5. To propel your story, you will probably need to add a secondary character who aids the main character, as well as some kind of barrier or obstacle or “enemy” that must be surmounted/outwitted/escaped. Tonight’s barrier was the trash bag he was in, then the high dumpster walls.

6. Get to the climax as quickly as you can, within reason. Increase the conflict, and then resolve it somehow, preferably through elements you’ve already introduced and not through some magic character that you’ve never mentioned before. It’s tempting to cheat when you have to pee and are desparate to end the story. Dumpster Carrot’s buddies in the trash bag, some rotten zucchinis and a razor blade, agreed that the carrot was too young to go to the landfill so the razor blade slit the bag and the adjoining trash bags, and rotten fruit and vegetables climbed out and make a big vegetation ladder for the carrot to climb up. Did you ever hear me claim that this was a good story?

7. Make a happy ending. The best endings for very small children are ones in which all the main characters go to sleep. But not like that creepy poppy field scene in The Wizard of Oz, normal going-to-bed sleep. We don’t do a whole of these any more, though. Dumpster Carrot really just wanted to go back to Ralph’s apartment and be cut up by Ralph and eaten. So he was, and everyone was happy. Don’t think too hard about this ending, OK?

8. Say “The End.” That’s “Thee End,” not “Thuh End.”