When I thank the birthday stars for Monster's 4th birthday party going so well, this is why:
Not only did a 40% chance of rain turn out to mean that it would be a lovely day, but nobody showing up for the first painstaking hour turned out to mean that the perfect mix of kids and grown-ups would come and a great time would be had by all.
Despite the birthday traditions of extravagance, commercialism and junk food here in this small town in Argentina, we managed to have a fun, low-key, backyard birthday romp without offending anyone (that I'm aware of) or violating too many sacred rules (relative lack of junk food notwithstanding).
Other than one family we are very close with, we don't have any friends here (boo hoo), so our invitations consisted of some mid-week phone calls to invite a few acquaintances with kids, and a last-minute decision to invite two of the Monster's classmates (a third was ruled out based on the unacceptability of having to make small talk with her parents). In all, we invited 9 kids and their parents, and 5 kids and their parents actually showed up.
We had a good supply of juice, water and maté, bakery munchies and meat sandwiches (I'm the only vegetarian around these parts), chocolate birthday cake made by the beloved abuela (grandmother), and some apple slices I put out as an experiment just to prove a point (a few did get eaten).
The all-important party gear included whistles, party hats, clown noses, masks, face paint, dress-up stuff, musical instruments, chalk for drawing on the walls, bubbles for blowing, and kids' music at a reasonable volume.
Our shocking birthday party attire? Monster wore his favourite shorts, his nose painted red, and a big spider web painted on his chest (his idea). I wore my bare feet, a skirt and a tank top. Monkey wore a diaper, and Macondo Papa relied on his standard shorts and t-shirt. I only include this fashion note because of the contrast with other birthday parties we've attended here (and with some of our guests).
The alternative piñata I stuffed was full of balloons, whistles and little plastic animals. The awesome loot bags we gave away had bendy pencils, a pencil sharpener, little plastic animals, a little package of plasticine, a little (store-bought) container of bubble solution, and a lollipop.
I know, you're all reeling from my creativity and counterculture audacity. What can I say? This is revolutionary stuff here in Macondo (check out these parties for comparison).
(Let me just stop for a minute to award myself a non-commercial medal for trying harder than was reasonable to find all of these things without a TV or movie character plastered all over them. I went out of my way and over the top. Beyond the call of duty. I'm talking about going all over the nearby city trying to hunt down birthday items without barney, without barbie, without anything disney, without spiderman. The more I looked, the more determined I became that I would NOT get that stuff just because there was no other option. And I got pissed off, too. Anyways, now I have my very own medal to prove it all.)
Up our sleeves, should they be needed, we had a few party tricks, like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, hide-and-seek and a treasure hunt.
As it turned out, the kids ran around and yelled and jumped and danced and laughed and painted and blew bubbles and blew on whistles and got dirty in the dirt. There was a fairly bizarre game of hide-and-seek, in which all the kids would hide together in the same place, every time, and one kid would look for them in the same place, every time, and then they would all run together to the other end of the yard, every time. Good times.
So good, in fact, that except for when I was needed to help find a special whistle, put on a mask, take special care of a piece of cake or provide refuge during the happy birthday song, I barely saw the Monster at all.
The grown-ups, too, had fun. There was some dancing, but mainly talking. With promises to spend more time with one of our acquaintances who may soon become a friend. And connections with two of the Monster's classmates, who now have open invitations to come and visit him and enjoy the beach and our backyard when they want to get out of the city. I would say there is no chance that their parents will become our friends, but at least an afternoon of forced social interaction while our kids play seems tolerable. This may not seem like much, but you have no idea. Trust me.
The only mishap occurred when a pair of scissors made it into some enthusiastic hands, causing a slight alteration to our curtain-that-keeps-the-flies-out-but-not-the-mosquitoes-so-what's-the-point (the subject of an ongoing debate with Macondo Papa). The fact that it makes it into a kid-sized door makes it kind of cute, I think (especially since the curtain was useless anyways, against mosquitoes, that is - ahem).
Here are two additional party moments:
Me: Monkey! Where are you? Monkey?
Daughter of our close friends (2.5 years old): [Runs out from behind a bush] We're sitting behind that bush giving each other kisses.
Son of our close friends (5 years old): [In the car on the way home] That was the best party ever. I played with everybody. And I didn't get a lot of candy in my loot bag, but it doesn't matter because now you don't have to decide what I can eat and what I can't. And I got lots of cool stuff to play with.
Now that it's over, I have relaxed, and so I have predictably gotten sick. Thankfully, this time I'm the only one that's sick right now, so I get to lie in bed and moan a bit, which makes it much better.