My friend Annie suggested this might just be the most pathetic affair she'd ever heard of, and asked what I intended to someday tell my little girl about her first party. "I will tell her that I rented a farm with ponies and a Ferris wheel and a magician and a rainbow and fireworks and 67 ballerinas. I will tell her that Springsteen sang and Elmo juggled. And I will tell her that the world was in such fabulous shape, President Gore decided he could afford to take the day off and help blow out the candle on her strawberry-pink butter-cream layer cake." Annie rolled her eyes.
Julia's second birthday was spent in bed with a stomach virus, but eventually I will show her clips from the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and point out how wonderful it was to have thousands of well-wishers lining the streets to celebrate her entry into the terrible twos.
My plan was to keep this up until she hit her mid-40s, but by last spring, with Jules on the verge of becoming a 3-year-old, I knew the jig was up. She had begun to question how I balance the demands of being an ice-skating superstar with my rigorous schedule as the Northeast's only true fairy princess. She was also getting invited to more and more birthday parties. She'd embraced half a dozen Barney clones, dined on politically correct tofu nuggets, and received goody bags filled with bubble wands and unicorn stickers.
There was no getting around it—I'd have to throw a party.
Of course, hindsight is always 20/20. In retrospect, it's easy to understand why you don't see more flambéing done in the home. But who would ever have imagined that something called cherries jubilee could singe so much off so many?
When the smoke cleared and the sugar settled, I knew I'd given my last get-together. If a hostess has to end the evening by assuring guests, "With any luck at all, your eyebrows will grow back, good as new," it's time to take the extra leaf out of the dining table and call it a night.
But then was then, and now I needed to get back in the game. I scoured Manhattan for a suitable venue and settled on a pretty little place called Moon Soup. It had a giant penguin in the window and "Hound Dog" on the sound system. But what hooked me was the promise that all I had to do was show up and have a good time—they would take care of everything else. I knew I was perfectly capable of showing up. Hell, I've been showing up for things all my life—last week alone, I made it to a mammogram, a pedicure, a memorial service, and a new-parents' tea at Julia's preschool. The question was, Could I have a good time?
But I digress. You're probably wondering how the social event of the season finally turned out, whether the kids liked the pizza bagels and the mothers liked the crudités, if everyone had a maraca to shake, a hand to hold, a balloon to pop. If I actually managed to find a bit of bliss, a shot of redemption, a few moments of grace in seeing my daughter serenaded by all the people she loves. Can a phobic party-giver wrestle her neuroses to Moon Soup's padded floor mat and survive.
Well, in a perfect world, I'd be able to say that I not only survived, I turned out to be the hostess with the mostess and a good time was had by all. But—on the off chance that you hadn't noticed—this is not a perfect world, so I'll tell you the truth: One kid threw up, two kids cried, Julia started asking if we could go home about 40 minutes before it was over, my parents started asking if they could go home about 40 minutes after it started, I barked at Johannes (the only thing that kept him from divorcing me during this ordeal is the fact that he'd first have to marry me), and the phrase "Please, God, let this stuff I just stepped in turn out to be apple juice" was evoked several times over the course of two and a half hours. But according to my friend Jan, who has three kids and knows virtually everything I don't, in toddler circles this constitutes a rollicking success.
So, my darling daughter, when you grow up I will tell you that your third birthday party was fantastic—because for the most part it really was. But I might also mention that it's a very fine thread that sutures us to our dreams. My dream for you will always be 67 ballerinas, but I'm afraid reality is an overwhelmed mother and an old Jewish couple from Detroit picking cupcake out of your hair on a rainy night in April. The truth is, Springsteen was booked and my skating did not take six gold medals at the Helsinki Olympics. But here's one more truth: For a couple of seconds there, my mom and dad and you and me were the finest family in the world. We shimmered with closeness, we shut our eyes, we made a wish, and we blew those candles out.