I called the number on the invitation fully expecting to extend our regrets for the Saturday afternoon birthday party.
The RSVP date had already passed. I'd waited to reply for no good reason, a combination forgetfulness and dread. It’s just one more thing to put off doing.
Saturday is filled with things to do: Shopping, laundry, cleaning ... a mid-day party would put us over the top and over extended.
Yet, when the birthday boy's mom answered the phone I inexplicably accepted.
It was something about the sound of her voice as she said hello. Something I recognized as joyful curiosity, even though she didn't know me or the reason for my call. Before I knew what was happening I was sizing her up, making imaginary comparisons and liking our differences.
Optimism. I may not come by it naturally, but I like to think I can acquire it if I keep it in proximity.
Of course, making friends seems like just another chore, one that takes effort and skills that have somehow evaporated with your ability to sleep past the crack of dawn. Even if it were easy, you would put up imaginary barriers: “Just because our kids are friends doesn't mean WE have to be,” you tell yourself.
A series of these thoughts worm their way through your rituals:
I will go, but I won't stay. I will stay but I won't chat. I will chat but I won't be chummy.
But before you know it conversations about the weather evolve — in a graduated sequence — into polite comparisons of thoughts on school, teachers, how often you've driven the kids to school after they missed the bus.
She tells me about how many hours she slaved trying to make a pig-shaped cake. I like her immediately when she puts her foot down over the request it have a filling of strawberry jam. She didn't want to hack into the cake and recreate Texas Chainsaw Massacre … Bed time is hard enough as it is.
How can I not admire her for letting her mind go there …
I tell her about making 25 super hero capes out of bath towels the night before my son's third birthday.
She looked at me with the same “You are Crazy” admiration.
Our conversation progresses to the slightly more personal: plots of television programs, what phone carrier, who makes the best pizza. We end up talking about the joys of motherhood, both sincere and satirical. You kvetch about homework, high fructose corn syrup, our inability to make our kids wear socks. Bodily functions become a competitive sport. There's talk of projectile vomit and toilet clogging poop.
Oh yes, we go there. It’s what moms do.
It's all gearing up for the most intimate of mom-bonding moments: Swapping birth stories. Each detail memorized and shared with photographic clarity. Each story seems fascinatingly familiar. We revel in the comparisons: where we were when we went into labor, we recount a formulary of drugs and times they were administered. She pushed for 24 minutes but it felt like 24 hours. I wound up with a labor that didn't progress and a c-section. She thinks I got lucky … even with the surgical scar that healed from the inside out. You think she did … even with the episiotomy and third-degree tear.
By the time the party is waning, the few men in attendance are awkwardly smiling at us from the other side of the room. They are talking about the weather, sports or making shelves with a new band saw they bought off of ebay.
We are undeterred.
We've made elaborate birthday cakes, bath towels super hero capes … and humans. We made humans … who are stuffing their faces with pig shaped cake with a red butter cream center.
As we're leaving she asks if I still have her number. I promise to call and set up a play date.
This has the best party ever, I'm so glad I had no regrets.