Life’s a Party for Dad!
“Daddy! Is today the party?” asks Sunshine as she gets out of the bath, having screamed the house to its foundations over getting her hair washed. Hours later, and now running late, I bundle the kids into the car and set off to find this party. It is in the country somewhere, where they eat their wanes as they used to say when I was a child.
It turns out I could have stayed at the party. I did not know this. I had Starlight with me too, and there hadn’t been an invitation for her. I decided she and I were going to go for a walk. When Sunshine was her age, she loved going for walks. So it’s something I’d like to try out with her. Although with Starlight, I think she would be taking me for a walk. Have you seen that Benton video on YouTube? I don’t want to compare my daughter to a dog, but I could see myself as that bedraggled man calling from the side of the frame “Starlight! StarLIGHT! STARlight! STARLIGHT! JESUS CHRIST STARLIGHT!” as innocent bystanders see a herd of sheep stampeding toward the GAA training fellows and FCA guys hiding out in the rolling hillocks of the Curragh; the sheep followed by a terrorising toddler, followed by a chubby fellow with floppy hair.
But I digress. As I drove Sunshine to her party, I worried. How would she get on? She knew many of the kids going, as they were all in her class. But would there be others she didn’t know? How would she get on with them? I’ve heard names; names I can’t tell you, to protect the innocent – but I didn’t really know these kids, and we all know how welcoming kids can be.
And she is shy, Sunshine. At home, when new people come in, she darts behind her mother or I while Starlight attempts to rifle through their pockets or jump up and down in front of them. Would Sunshine be shy at the party?
I must confess to nerves for myself also. I am the social caterpillar that never really turned into a butterfly. You will always find me chewing leaves at parties. What do you say to someone you never met, who you are entrusting with the safety, social inclusion and entertainment of your first child? (In the end, I just asked if I could give my phone number, in case… errr, there was any… errr… trouble. I foresaw crying, but I was damned if I was going to admit to that.)
Another car pulls up at the same time as us. I am getting Sunshine out of the car (Starlight is sleeping), when the other driver – who had alighted her vehicle and seemed to look curiously toward me (obviously as she has not met me before – she knows my wife), calls out “Sunshine! How are you!”
Sunshine responds in the traditional manner, turning into me and whispering hello. I tell her to say hello properly and she does. Another little boy is getting out of the other car, so we wait. Sunshine can name him, and starts to get a bit more into the party spirit. We all walk up the drive. Every footstep for me is dread. At least Sunshine knows this boy. Hopefully he will play with her if no one else does. The door opens.
“Sunshine!” says the kindly mother on the other side. My daughter is gone. Where? Inside. I do not see her again for hours. I stutter. As the birthday boy’s mum asks if I want to come in for a coffee, I let out a random set of sounds that might be called communication, but went something like this:
“Another phone number in the car, Starlight! Asleep! Ha! I can’t phone me?” (OK, probably not this bad, but garbled enough) As the two ladies, who have greeted each other look to me, I say “I’m sorry, I can’t stay – I have another one in the car asleep – can I give you my phone number though, just in case there’s any… errrm….” She says of course, I call out the number as she writes it down and I get the hell back to town.
Starlight is fast asleep, so I run some errands. I’m surprised that Sunshine is so well socialised already!
It feels like an absolute break. From watching her sit and play on her own in the presence of other babies, to those intrepid attempts at sharing by taking every toy within reaching distance and pushing away any other infant, to reiterating the importance of sharing (but without feeling – reiterating what she’s heard from us), there seems to be this gigantic break between then and now.
She talks about her friends – the other night she was making cards for them to come to her party. “What party?” I asked. “My birthday” (her birthday was in August). I break the bad news that parties need planning. She has it planned.
“We will come in here and Mummy will make sausages and cake. You can put on some DDs (common parlance for DVD and/or CD as well as some internet things). We’ll dance over here, then play princesses. Then we’ll go in the sitting room and do a jigsaw. Starlight can’t come because she’s too small…”
There’s the tough stuff too. One day, Sunshine tells me about a friend in school who wouldn’t play with her. They had been playing together – but at some point the other girl started playing with someone else. And wouldn’t play with Sunshine.
Maybe she needs some reminding of the things you need to do for your friends: I know you’re nice at home, but are you always nice to her? (Yes!) Sometimes you do things but don’t realise they aren’t nice to other people… (No….) Do you share? (Not always, but sometimes she takes things off me and I want them…) Did you take a toy off of her? (A response to that is a look like I am crazy – like I just asked a 30 year old why a politician would make a promise, but not keep it.) What did she play with the other girl? (I don’t know, because they didn’t play with me. They kept moving away) Maybe it’ll be better tomorrow. (Yeah?) Why don’t you just wait and see! (OK!) I bet it’ll all be back to normal tomorrow – or even better – all three of you will play together! (OK!) I think that’s the end of it. She seemed pepped, from the pep talk.
Then, later on: “Daddy, can you change it tomorrow?” she asks, “Change what?”
“Change it so my friend plays with me.” I gather up the bits and pieces of heart that are lying shattered around my feet “Daddy” she says “it’s OK first, but then when I am playing by myself and I get bored” she says.
Back to the car, Starlight and I drive to a car dealership, where I talk to a guy about getting some minor work done. Starlight looks at the cars, points, says “My car! My car! My car!” We go home for some lunch and goof around the house. We play Joe Duffy. She gets a real kick out of this. It goes like this:
She says “Daddy?”
I say “Hey-hey, hey, heyheyhey, hey! Sure, sure sure-sure, sure!”
She bursts into laughter – the kind they say that warms your soul. She asks where Sunshine is. I look at the clock. We are going to be late to pick Sunshine up. We didn’t even get our walk. I bundle Starlight into the car, as she laughs hysterically, and head back out to the country.
We are not late. I lift Starlight out of the car and we go in.
Everyone knows Starlight, call her by name, coo over her. I am surprised again. All these friends, so far from home. They tell me Sunshine was great – so independent, joining in and getting on with a magician and playing away. Sunshine comes into where we are and sidles up to me. She is tired. Perhaps anticlimactic after the fury of the party. I thank her hosts and tell her to do the same. She does, from behind my legs. Perhaps I am the problem here. As we are going, they tell me again how good she was; so independent. They are amazed. So am I. But it is all I want for her.