As anyone within earshot knows by now, my oldest kid, the daughter, turned 5 over the weekend.
This is a big number. They’re all big of course, to the kid, but 5 has some sort of watershed feeling. I just turned 35, and it felt like a tollbooth to get onto the road to 40, and so I’m looking at my daughter and seeing half-a-10-year-old now, and that does tend to fill one with a sense of awe and dread.
Among all the many things we have yet to figure out about parenting in these five big years is exactly how to throw the right parties for her.
For starters, we didn’t have the right candle. We neither had five regular candles nor one candle shaped like the number five. Fortunately, we still had her number-candles from her 2nd and 3rd birthdays, so we brought them both out and pretended it was some kind of tiger-mom cake with a math equation: no cake for you unless you figure out that 2+3=5!
But our real problem is that we keep having two parties.
When she was really young, of course, her birthday was an occasion to have one party that would get us together with our friends. At her first birthday, she was just a sack of beans to be passed around while the rest of us talked shit and drank. Her second birthday, she was a mute little person who wanted to be held most of the time but also made some great faces trying to blow out the candles. The adults, into their cups already, were much amused. Three might have been the perfect birthday: one party, not too many other kids (she wasn’t in school yet). She was a full-on talking, entertaining Little Person, sort of like hiring Wee Man to play your party. I have fuzzy memories, just before this year’s Orange Bowl in Miami, of being at the Louis Bar at the Gansevoort Miami Beach, and suddenly after midnight Lil Jon showed up and then there was a midget dressed like Napoleon hired to stand on the bar and spray the crowd with a fire extinguisher. It was sort of like that.
But by 4, she had her own ideas about who should be at her birthday party. She was, sadly, in school already, and she had all these little friends she mistakenly thought were fascinating people. We made our own mistake and invited the whole class over, as some other parents had done. It was, of course, the kind of craziness we wanted to shield our friends from, and thus was born the two-party regime. The day after the whole-class fiasco, we invited our friends over as usual.
This year was much the same, except that our friends have more children and drink less. Only the freshly unemployed Theodore (of DadWagon non-fame) joined me in actually drinking vodka before noon (although a couple of others joined the scrum shortly thereafter). The number of children, actually, had gotten so extreme that only the most intrepid of our non-childed friends dared come over. And so our adult-party this year looked a lot like last year’s child party.
That is, I suppose, the whole progression of this thing. Even our adult lives will be infected by this kid-virus. Each event will be more sober than the last, and more kid-friendly. The days in which I bring back a freshly slaughtered goat and roast it whole while my friend Bobby grills its heart—all of which happened at my younger son’s first birthday—seem remote.
The good news, I suppose, for someone partial to partying, is that heart-roasting and vodka-drinking—even before noon—will never reach the levels of barbarity and punk-abandon that a group of 5- and 6-year-olds can bring. This year’s kid-party, which took place yesterday and included a not-quite-small-enough group of five classmates, was total anarchy. They were all wildeyed thrill-seekers, surging forward into traffic in the streets, scaling the bannisters at home. They shrieked and screamed and howled and bellowed. And if they had found a cache of tricorn hats and fire extinguishers, they would have surely whatever wickedness South Beach has to offer.