Sep 12, 2007

September Born

There were so many wonderful things about having a baby in September. Amos and the new television season came kicking in at roughly the same time, and so there was ample opportunity for me to laze around in bed nursing and napping and getting hooked on all the new shows (Will and Grace, Sex and the City). Fall is a great time for beginnings, that crisp snap in the air, cooler air whipping everyone into better moods, no more mosquitoes. The shift in local characters as fresh art students hit our part of Brooklyn, bound for Pratt. The desire to hunker down and snuggle, or to wear a baby close in a sling, fully supported by those chillier months. There was all that wintry bonding, and then he was crawling on Mother's Day, taking his first steps on the sand in the summer. Very cute, all very wonderful. No complaints.

Even those first few years of birthday parties were perfect. We could count on lovely outdoor celebrations with apples and rustling leaves--a final outdoor bash before we'd all be retreating into indoor heated spaces. There seemed no better time to have a baby, to celebrate a birthday. Until he hit school and September proved to be a real puzzle.

Hmmm. Even a really early September birthday would be less crowded with complications. But a birthday firmly rooted at the end of the month means several things. A guest list comprised of LAST YEARs friends--some of whom, three weeks into the next year, might have already begun to drop off the radar (sometime after the invitations were sent out). There's the promise of all those new friendships, but of course the dust hasn't settled enough by the third week of school (or the second, when the invitations really should have been mailed), to know which friendships to invest in.

In his kindergarten year, Amos began a new school and, crippled by shyness, wanted me to make sure that in his classroom on his actual birthday--though I'd have sent in cookies or cupcakes or something lowkey--nobody would sing the birthday song to him. His was the first birthday of the year and he didn't want to do be the kid who did it first, didn't want to do it at all, really. Didn't want the attention. Didn't want any attention. I was the one who insisted on sending in some kind of treat (peanut butter and chocolate buckeyes, a delicious risk in this day and age of nut allergies, even though I was assured there weren't any in the room that year). And, determined that his birthday could be a chance to reach out to some people in this new school community, I asked him every day at pick-up if he'd met anyone he'd like to invite to his party. Lee was who he talked about after the first week, so we sought out his address, and added him to the list. Seb started to be mentioned at the beginning of week two, and Joey was added right at the last minute. All three families came. Well, really Seb and Joey's families came and were lovely additions to the festivities. Lee was dropped off (at a 5 year old's birthday party, which seemed kind of drastic since we'd never met his parents) and was a whirligig kind of nightmare--cheating in games, stealing from goody-bags. Gentle almost comical 'bad seed' stuff, but still, a nuisance and one, it turns out, we never really should have had to endure. Five years later Amos and Lee have a nodding relationship, but nothing more. In so many ways it feels weird that we'd thought Lee was Amos's first big new buddy at his new school. That's what you get for having to figure it all out when you're 3/185ths of the way into the school year.

The following year, in first grade, we repeated the process, asking Amos to make the same sort of strange determination at the start of the year. Anyone new you'd like to invite? We'd ask, hovering at pick-up to get a gander at the new faces in the room behind him (or more importantly, of the parents of those new faces--why not nudge him to befriend someone with a mom I think I'd like, right?). Aldo, his top pick, couldn't come on account of Rosh Hoshanna (the existence of which has come to make Amos curse the timing of this birthday, since that same holiday trumps his birthday every year), Cane came and was cute and then swiftly faded into the background for the rest of the year and then moved to Pakistan before the summer. We didn't kept in touch. By that spring though Amos had bonded with Ned, Luka, and Ashland and went to all of their parties. And by then it was weird that they hadn't been to his.

Then there was second grade. Amos was assigned to a table with a group of boys--two of whom he already knew and planned to invite to his party. One of whom was brand new to the school. I suggested to Amos that he invite Giannini, and he said no. He had no interest in this new kid. I let the subject drop, for a bit. Until one day in the car on the way home Amos said that the two other boys had mentioned the birthday party and Giannini turned to him and asked straight out 'am I invited?' When he told me this in the car, he beamed, proud of his truthful but still non-answering answer--"well, we haven't exactly sent the invitations out." But then I made Amos invite him. It just seemed so cruel not to. He railed against this, but I insisted. I taught him about karma-told him that this was just 'the right thing to do,' and that if he did this good deed, the universe would send something in return. He grudgingly agreed, adding that I'd better be right about the karma thing.

Giannini arrived--another unexpected drop-off kid. Turns out his family had as much interest in bonding with us as Amos did in bonding with their son. He was such a nuisance. He ate every single petite-quiche--the spinach and cheese ones, that is--his being a vegetarian and all, and then hounded me to heat up more (hanging out in the kitchen heating petite-quiches had not been my party plan--144 quiches should have been sufficiently ignored by the hordes of children, leaving plenty for the adults--I never intended to have to break out the other box). He kind of niggled his way around the edges of the party, mostly just annoying grownups. And then his parents got lost on their way to pick him up (new to the nabe and all) and we had to entertain him for an extra 90 minutes once the last cherished party guest had left. A week later he was pulled out of school to be homeschooled--his mother deeming our colorful little progressive place unable to meet his high academic needs. (I have to point out here that, after months of whining when remembering about Giannini and the karma that never happened...Amos finally spent the $10 comic-book-shop gift certificate Giannini had given him on a pack of Yu-gi-oh cards that ended up containing a much-sought-after rare-ish card--score one for Mommy and the karma...even if it did come a little late). But every birthday since, when I'm making my gentle suggestions about how to spice up his last year friends with a few from the new class he gives me a certain look and mouths the word 'Giannini' and I back down.

As if the trauma of the early in the year party isn't enough, the rest of the school year then shakes things up even more. He ends up being invited to a slew of birthday parties hosted by other kids who've moved into his life at some point that year. While I'm sure no one's measuring this stuff, it does seem perverse by the end of the school year to see which of Amos's best friends he hadn't invited to his too-early-to-tell September party. To think that last year's Mets game hadn't included Chandler and Roy is strange, given the intense baseball bond that grew between them by springtime, when they were having birthday parties that would never have NOT included their new pal.

This may not be high-stakes stuff, but it is bizarre-o land timing in a terrain that, even in the best of circumstances, can be really awkward. Who's invited, who isn't. Last September six-year old Etta was given a last minute invitation to an old pal's party--talk about tense. Understandably, Norene had NOT BEEN INTERESTED in inviting Etta to her early-September party, when she and her mom made the guest list in the summer. Great. No problem. Big deal. But then Norene verbally invited her (tell your mom to call my mom so you can come) the day before her party, when they reconnected at recess in the first week of school. It was a clear last minute addition, that no one seemed to mind, once the two moms got over the awkwardness of the 'my daughter claims to be invited to your daughter's party that we've otherwise heard nothing about, is that true?'/'my daughter didn't want to invite your daughter when we made the list, but must have changed her mind yesterday' conversation. But the whole thing could have been avoided had Norene been born a month earlier. Parenting is like high school all over again, but the conversations have to be had, not ignored...since the social lives of helpless little powerless hostage-like children are at stake.

So now it's Etta's no-strings summer birthday that seems really wonderful (and makes the morning sickness at Christmas and the ready-to-pop-in-the-hundred-degree-playground pregnancy worth it). Any kind of party can happen, any kind of grouping, any amount of including, any crass's all fair game. Time isn't measured in 5-day non-party days and two party-possible afternoons, like it is in the school year. It's just a big blob of time that no one else has to know anything about. Even my toddler's otherwise formidable (born in a negative windchill week) winter birthday falls nicely within the school year's bookends. It can just be about who she's friends with now, and doesn't have to reach too far into the past, or make ridiculous predictions about the future. And it lacks the pressure of the 'should we have it outside?' question.

But it's September now, and the party's planning is well underway. I have an idea of what the invitation will look like, and my husband's working out some activities. We know where we'll be and what we'll be doing, we just don't know who will be invited, even at this point, 16 days away. He's lucky to have friends, we're lucky to be able to create these lovely little celebrations for him to share with them. And everything's fine. But September birthday's still can make me feel this way.

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