Okay I’ve figured it out. I have PTPSD – Post-Traumatic Party Stress Disorder.
Admitting it is the first step, right? Though I hope I’m on the road to recovery, my PTPSD reared its ugly head this past weekend when I had not one, but two birthday parties to host – one for my youngest daughter who was turning nine, and the other for my mother who recently turned eighty-five.
Adding to my stress was an email telling me that one guest would not be coming because another guest was invited. I wanted to contact the mothers of these feuding party guests, to scold them for their immature behavior, but unfortunately the guests were my brother and sister, and that mother was mine.
Instead I pushed their juvenile drama aside and concentrated on my daughter’s ice-skating party where at least I knew the guests would get along. Yet even though her party was all arranged I still worried: about whether we’d be late, or early, or if there would be enough time for pizza and cake. I especially worried that our young guests might be miserable once they found out how difficult ice-skating could be.
Of course I know the source of my PTPSD. My eldest daughter’s own ninth birthday party so many years was to blame. Tired of shelling out $300 bucks to have strangers entertain my kid, I offered to host party the old-fashioned way, at home with cake, ice cream, and Pin the Tail on the Donkey. “It will be fun,” I said, as my daughter and I eagerly planned our activities.
But then my friend Alison called to RSVP for her daughter and sounded the first alarm. “A three-hour party . . . at your house? Are you crazy? What are you going to do with the kids for all that time?” she asked without a hint of judgment, just genuine concern.
I laughed off her worries. After all, I had a plan. I had even typed up a schedule, much like I do for my work on live TV shows. “Remember, I time out and schedule things for a living? I have it worked out to the minute,” I bragged.
Then the kids arrived. I greeted them, schedule in hand, and introduced them to their first activity, making Mardi Gras masks. I envisioned the girls’ handiwork rivaling those seen in Rio, and allotted a full twenty-five minutes for the craft, plus pad time for girly chatting. But a mere three minutes in, one little girl yelled out, “I’m done!”
“What? You’re done, already?” I asked, eyeing her entirely white mask, save for a single glued-on piece of purple confetti. Within seconds, the other party guests followed her lead and announced they were done and ready for the next activity as well. Shaken, but still in charge, I checked my schedule and summoned the kids outside, “It’s egg hunt time!”
The kids were thrilled. They ran to and fro, crisscrossing our backyard, eagerly filling their bags. I suggested to my husband that we retire to the patio since this egg hunt, I figured, would take a good thirty minutes. But then, before we even got to sit down, there they were again, those kids, staring at me. “Now what?” they demanded.
Hands trembling, I ran them through my remaining list of activities – the piñata, the donkey game, the musical chairs. Then I checked my watch wishfully, hoping it was time for cake and then the parents’ return. But my watch only confirmed my worst fears. The party was just forty-five minutes in and I still had over two hours to fill!
So I did the logical thing. I abandoned the kids in the back yard, ran inside and locked the doors behind me. Moments later my husband found me hiding in the corner of our bedroom, rocking in fetal position, crumpled schedule by my side. “I had it all timed out,” I repeated, staring blankly at the blank wall.
Then my husband, my knight in shining armor, came to my rescue. He grabbed a bullhorn from the garage (I didn’t even know he had one) and led the kids in Simon Says. He set up a spoon and egg relay race, next a water balloon toss, then capped it off with a “Who can be loudest?” game. He was my hero.
But even a knight has a limit to the weapons in his armory. Not ten minutes went by before he joined me in my corner, where we sat clinging to one another like Leo and Kate in The Titanic, shaking and waiting for the misery to end.
Then we looked out our bedroom window and saw a wonderful thing, a miracle some might say. My daughter and her friends, left to their own devices, had actually started playing. They played tag. They played hide and seek. They ran. No clowns, no petting zoo, no video game trucks were needed. They had made their own, simple fun.
At the end of the party I even boasted to the other parents, “The kids loved just playing together. How often they get to do that anymore?” I pretended like it had been my plan all along.
Though I learned a valuable lesson that day, the scars from my failed party schedule have not healed. Throughout my daughter’s ice-skating party, I had to remind myself to stop clock watching, and to stop worrying whether the kids were having a good time. Luckily, a glance at the girls giggling as they fell on the ice and giggling as they got back up again, helped take my worries and made my PTPSD melt away.
Though I wish my mom’s birthday party had turned out differently (brother came, sister didn’t) there, too, I did my best to relax and just enjoy. Of course, I’ll admit it didn’t hurt that this was a grown up party where the cake came served with a hefty glass of red wine!