Chart Number 173

June 5, 2015

By Ekta R. Garg

Last weekend Eight got invited to a birthday party for a classmate. The invitation came sort of at the last minute. The classmate’s dad called me on Thursday for a Sunday evening party. Despite the fact that I’m not a fan of social gatherings on Sunday evenings, I accepted on Eight’s behalf. This particular classmate wasn’t a really close friend, but he has always been nice to her and because he’s really intelligent he helps Eight (and other kids) with classwork when he can.

I didn’t have anything on hand Eight could take as a birthday present (even though I troll the clearance aisles at stores and buy books and toys, I usually lean more toward girlie things.) The kids had another commitment for earlier on Sunday, so their father took them to that and I headed out to buy a birthday present. I also made a quick milk run, and somewhere during my errands I had a yearning to go home and just hole up in my bedroom for a little while.

It probably had something to do with the fact that my parents had left that morning after a week-long visit. I left home at the age of 18 to go to college, which led to grad school and then marriage. I haven’t lived with my parents full time since I moved into the freshman dorm at the University of South Carolina, and in some ways the rhythms and routines of my day vary to a great extent from how I lived in my childhood.

But I still miss that sense of home, that safe place where you feel centered and you know that everything is taken care of by someone bigger and stronger than you. That steadiness that comes from the presence of two loving parents who devote all of their time and energy—their entire selves—to raising and supporting a person.

I strive to give that to my own children, and I think I’m succeeding. Sometimes, though, it’s nice to have someone take care of me in the same way. To receive that tangible reassurance that someone older and more experience stands just behind my shoulder in case I need someone with those qualities.

So I pulled out of the grocery store with a grand plan to ask my husband to take Eight to the birthday party, but when I got home I could see tiredness in his face. I asked once, and he expressed mild surprise. Hadn’t we already talked about this, he asked. He would take the kids to the other social commitment and I would cover the birthday party…right?

I got a little annoyed (admittedly because he was right; we had divided things up that way,) and I told Eight to hurry up and get her shoes. My husband asked from his spot on the sofa whether I wanted him to go and I told him no, I’d handle it. I was pulling out leftovers for dinner, so that wasn’t an issue (or an excuse I could use) and I called out to everyone that we’d be back in a couple of hours.

After a quick check on the directions on my phone, I pulled out of the garage and away we went. Eight and I chatted briefly on the way to the party, and about 10 minutes later we got to her classmate’s house. Three cars sat in a prim arrangement in the short driveway of the small home. We walked to the front door, and I rang the doorbell.

About two minutes later the little boy’s father answered the door, a huge grin on his face. We followed him inside, and Eight and I took off our shoes to the side of the entryway. Loud voices greeted us from the living room, which we entered after about 10 paces. Eight scooted in and sat next to the birthday boy, the other invited classmates, and the neighborhood kids who had also been asked to the party. Everyone sat in a circle on the floor, and a girl was asking the kids whether they wanted chips and what type. A large bag of Doritos and another bag of potato chips sat open nearby.

I looked around the small house. We’d passed a bedroom on the left that clearly belonged to Eight’s classmate, judging by the boy-themed décor. Right after that came a half bathroom, and then we entered the living room—all within those 10 paces. The birthday boy’s mother smiled from the kitchen to my right, and an elderly woman (a grandmother, I thought) nodded at me from the breakfast table that sat in the space adjacent to the kitchen. A door straight ahead and on the far side of the living room showed a hint of another bedroom, which I guessed to be the master bedroom.

A tall standing lamp provided the only illumination in the living room, and someone had also turned on the overhead fluorescent lights in the kitchen to provide extra light. Sheets with a dated flower print covered the two sofas in the room, and someone had spread more sheets on the floor to act as mats for the kids.

The family had hung a few balloons on the wall along with a birthday banner. Two small bouquets of plastic flowers hung from the wall close to the ceiling. A pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey poster also hung on the wall. When I directed my attention to the breakfast table, I saw bottles of soda and Hawaiian Punch.

The girl offering everyone chips, I found out, was the older sister of the birthday boy. She looked at and listened to her brother’s friends with interest and care, pulling out generous handfuls of chips. The elderly woman at the breakfast table turned out to be a great aunt; she worked and lived at a hotel close by, the boy’s mother told me, but the family had wanted to include her in the festivities and had brought her over.

I chatted with the parents. The father works as a lab technician; the mother holds as a job as a diet clerk (an assistant to a dietitian, from what I could gather.) Despite their humble home—it couldn’t have been more than 1300 square feet—the family all shared huge smiles. Clearly this event was the highlight of their week.

Their warmhearted greeting and openness to all the kids in their home embarrassed me; how could I have been bickering with Eight’s dad a scant hour or so earlier and trying to put my own needs first? Yes, I missed my parents. I wished they would have spent a longer amount of time with us. I wanted one more hug, one more piece of advice, one more moment of shared history.

But I had gotten a week’s worth, and I needed to make my peace with it. I had to turn my attention to giving my children what my parents gave me. Because that’s the best way to make their love and support endure.

I didn’t think I could explain to the boy’s parents what their invitation gave me that evening. So I just watched the kids whack a piñata and then dive for the candy. One boy lay on top of the candy and declared it to be his. The other kids began to protest his capture of the sweets.

Just then I saw Eight open her plastic baggie and pull out some of the candy she’d managed to grab before the other boy laid claim to it. Eight began offering the candy to a few of the other kids who hadn’t gotten many pieces. And right there—after seeing the small home and the welcoming family—my perspective shifted back to where it should be. Where it needs to be.

Who said parents are the only teachers in the home?