The sign on the bedroom door — though affixed with a single thumbtack and curling at all four edges — couldn't have been more unequivocal: "Do Not Enter."
Whom it was supposed to keep out, however, was a little unclear.
We had just arrived at the party and the hostesses' daughter was sequestered in her room with several children who'd accompanied their parents to the late afternoon soiree.
Ittybit stood next to me at first, and then slid behind me, holding onto my jacket and hiding her face. I'm sure she thought it was yet another place she wouldn't be allowed. Even a year's difference, for a bigger girl, could make her out to look like a baby.
Whenever we go some place new it takes a few minutes for the kids to find their place in the fray. Ittybit observes for a while before she jumps in and tries to take over. The Champ usually hides in inconvenient locations and pretends he is a super agent spy.
Mostly he gets shooed out of bathrooms.
I didn't think the sign was meant for her. I knocked and poked my head through the paneled door. The tiny hostess smiled and greeted us warmly. "Come in, come in" she said excitedly to my girl.
Turned out the sign wasn't even meant to deter The Champ, our three-year-old whirling dervish, who doesn't readily take "No" for an answer anyway.
The sign remained a bit of a mystery as I made several trips from Adult Conversationland downstairs to the Fantastical World of Primary Folks happening simultaneously upstairs. ... just to make sure all was going smoothly.
The first time I trudged up the stairs I had noticed a chandelier over the dinning room table -directly under the floor on which they were bouncing - swing to and fro with the uneasy vibrations.
"Oh ... it's nothing. Just a pig pile," said my cherubic daughter, who peeked out of the door when I knocked. "They've decided to stop. Too dangerous," she whispered.
I went back downstairs.
Until I heard some screaming ... that could have been the gleeful shrieks of girlish delight ... or might have been the feral wail of a little boy being locked in a closet. Such things have been known to happen.
Her face was again cherubic as she came to the door.
"Oh that? That was just a little fun. Nothing to worry about. Nothing at all."
Next it was their turn to venture forth.
A few would snake between the throngs of party guests, gathering up provisions and ferrying the loot to their party upstairs. I couldn't help but laugh at the sight of it; they resembled overburdened drones hauling mother lodes of baked goods and juice boxes to their queen.
"What are they doing up there?" asked one mom, who thought it might be time for an intervention.
"I don't really know. I've seen six clothing changes for each girl, and there seems to be dress-up clothes all over the bathroom."
The mom smiled a knowing smile. "Project Runway. My kid LOVES that show." There was no need to be concerned.
The idea that the sign — which was probably written well before the party and forgotten was meant for people who'd either reached the age of maturity or were allowed to play with matches — hadn't occurred to me until that moment.
For all the kvetching I do about NOT being able to have an adult conversation, you'd think I'd be a little more ready for the closing of doors. I'd always just been there, hanging out with the kids, sitting under tables taking pictures.
I had an idea and knocked on the door.
"You know, Fashion Runway has cameras ... I could ..."
But they were onto me.
"No pictures," said one girl with the smile of play but the stance of steadfast.
"That's my mom. Always with the camera," said Ittybit, feeling the need no doubt to smooth over my transgression.
"Oh, don't listen to them," said the motherly hostess. "I bet if you just sit with them for a while they'll forget you're even there."
I knew she was probably right, but it wouldn't be the same.
This is the beginning of their secret life. The one that doesn't always include me. That can't include me. The life that either sorts itself out or that travels down the stairs in an avalanche of jumbled words that need to be smoothed.
It was time to let them have their party. To put away my camera and let the moment go undocumented. And that's what I did.
I suppose I knew all along the sign on the door was for me.