Climbing aboard the party train

Our nine-year-old wanted a birthday party. Normally a reasonable request (though, one would think he wouldn’t have to request it), but to me, a commitment to serve dinner to my family can feel like pressure. A party????

Again, though, he is nine, so I told him that I could do a small party, maybe 2-3 friends. It wasn’t his vision – he wanted a big blowout that included all his classmates plus some other friends – but he happily shifted gears and thought hard about who to invite. If he could have only 2-3 friends, who would they be?

We came up with a theme, venue and activities, and I ordered coordinated little toys, erasers, candy, etc. for the goody bags. I figured that was all I needed to do in advance, and entered my chemo week.

When I emerged from chemo to take care of the final details, I discovered that the themed goody bag stuff would only arrive AFTER the party. We weren’t sure how to get pizza delivered to the venue, and we had to somehow decorate the place before the party. Oh and buy decorations. The thoughts alone were overwhelming.

I first did what I do when overwhelmed: I made lists. I listed what needed to be done to pull the party together, what we needed to buy, what we needed to bring to the venue and when.

My next go-to when I am feeling overwhelmed: Turn to friends to help me maintain perspective. Facebook friends generously shared suggestions for where I could shop for all this stuff in person and made it feel manageable. One even offered to do it for me. (Thank you, all!!!)

And finally, I act. Although I normally rest after chemo, we all trekked to the closest recommended party store, where I sat and directed while the boys toured the store looking for the items on my list.

They veered from the mission at times,

Masks in Party City

but we did end up with a treasure trove of items with which we could decorate the room and fill the goody bags.

Then, I was spent. I did nothing but rest for the next 24 hours.

Undaunted, our nine-year-old assembled the goody bags for his friends, thoughtfully choosing matching colors of candy and little toys so the bags would look good, and he carefully placed the finished products in a safe place.

The next day, he went with his father to decorate the venue. They hung a Happy Birthday banner on the wall and laid a tablecloth and confetti on the table. On the way home, they picked up the cake, which he selected. Back at home, he found birthday candles in the drawer, counted out nine, and placed them aside.

While I watched him do all this, I felt horrible that I could not throw a simple birthday party for him. Not only that, while he was counting the hours until his party with great excitement, I was counting the hours with dread. Would I have the energy? How would I do it? I can’t even go out to dinner. How would I last through a multi-hour party, with children?

Tonight, when I put our son to bed, he was giddy with excitement for his big day. It was that little kid kind of excitement: pure, bubbly, trusting that it will all be great. And I finally noticed: I was focused on my expectations – that I could throw a party that he wanted, that doing all the work would be my gift to him. He didn’t mind that the party wasn’t a big shindig. He didn’t mind doing the work. His friends were coming to celebrate his birthday, everything was ready, and he felt special. He would have his very favorite, carefully chosen people around him, and it would be wonderful.

I’m climbing aboard his party train, and grateful that I can do what he needs of me, which is to be present.

Party on, with love,

6 thoughts on “Climbing aboard the party train

  1. I was so glad to read you next to last paragraph and see that you “got” it. Perspective is everything. Perhaps he felt lucky for being able to choose exactly the cake he wanted and to choose the optimal assortment of toys for the goody bag. He will remember yet another fun birthday celebration with you and his friends. xo

  2. Marie, you are awesome. It will be a great party–let him run the show; kids would rather do it their way than have a parent micro-manage every detail. Reading this reminded me that my dad’s mother was quite sick all through his growing up and his dad was busy with work, so my dad, an only child, ended up having to do a lot for himself, even as a pretty young kid. I may be biased, but I think he turned out pretty darn well–he can cook, clean, fix things, organize things, and is thoughtful and caring to boot! Your boys will be better than fine; they have awesome role models in their parents! Keep your feet up…and party on…!

  3. A great post Marie – you articulated so well what many parents with cancer feel & worry about.

    Between 2 surgeries, weekly infusions & a few other things, I had been worried about impacts on my 8-year old’s summer vacation. A few nights ago, right after surgery #2 I semi-nervously asked her on her final night of summer vacation “Did you have a good summer vacation Kiddo?” She gave me a big hug and said “I had a GREAT summer vacation Daddy!”

    Indeed, party on – with Love!

  4. This made me cry. Sweet Julian — what an amazing kid. And Marie, as always you see lessons where when I’m in a similar place I seem to just see chaos! I always get totally wound up about parties…and what for? Whatever happens is gonna be good & if not — well, before long it will be a great story.

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