Today is James’ birthday party. “Choo Choo James is turning Two!” read the invitation. This morning I received a text from his mother.
“James has a cold and cough and totally understand if you don’t want to expose your children!”
I remember when I used to send out similar messages, back when I thought a runny nose and a cough was cause for concern (unlike now when it takes lice, vomit or radiology). When I was a new mother, one who hovered.
I no longer stand behind my child at birthday parties making sure their juice cup is half-full or cutting up their pizza slice. I don’t focus on juice and pizza anymore. My kids can drink juice and eat pizza without me, even the 3-year old can do it.
Maybe my “they can do that without me” attitude is callous. Do I need to get back to the hover place?
All this hover angst was heightened for me last Christmas when I dropped off my 3-year old at a birthday party for a girl in her preschool class. I had never met the girl or her mother, but when I called to RSVP her mother seemed to know exactly who we were. Evidently her daughter was huge fan of my kid.
So there we were, me and my youngest child, at a stranger’s front door at 1 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon two weeks before Christmas. My youngest is my third child, so when the mom, an experienced mother of four, told me to go, said, “Go, don’t stay, run some errands,” she didn’t have to ask twice.
Two weeks before Christmas, and I’ll leave my kid with any stranger listed in the preschool directory who offers. So off I went to my errands.
I returned to a full-blown preschool princess tea party with every parent there but me. I kinda got some looks from the other parents, and I kinda got some guilt from my 3-year old. Not intentionally, but in the innocent way she asked me, “Mommy, why did everybody else’s mommy stay at the party, but you didn’t stay with me?”
I felt terrible, really I did, especially when she handed me the craft. “Someone else’s mommy helped me finish.”
But the reality is that now when it comes to birthday parties I’m busy off running an errand because I dropped my kid off at some random place with parents who hardly know who they are. Or I’m sitting in the corner of the jumpy place in sensory overload, trying not to zing out by focusing in on my iPhone.
That bothers me. Maybe I’ve lost some enthusiasm, some of the worry I had when my first child was 3, when I actually worried if her pizza might be too hot or if she had enough juice or if the birthday boy had a cough and sniffle.
And I don’t know if where I am now is more normal, more acclimated to the entire birthday party thing — or if, maybe, I should hover more.
Maraya Steadman, who lives in a Chicago suburb, is a stay-at-home mother of three children. She can be reached at email@example.com.