On the night of her fourth birthday, Sooby sits at a plastic Little Tykes table preparing for tea. Wearing a yellow nightgown printed with frogs and hearts, she tips the tiny teapot into the tiny cup that sits in front of her two-year-old brother. Unfamiliar with the social graces a tea party demands, Pooh imagines she is serving soup, which he pretends to shovel into his mouth with the miniature silver spoon. He gobbles hungrily, adding an interesting auditory quality to the scenario. At (or I should say on) the other end of the table perches Barbie, who is much quieter about the festivities. This is because she is just one of those big Mattel heads sporting a thick mane of hair a little girl is supposed to comb and style.
Luckily, Barbie has batteries and can participate in the conversation, although in a limited and not always quite coherent fashion. "Would you like some more tea?" Sooby asks her, just before pushing the "star" button at Barbie's throat. "Let's give me a new look," Barbie says, making no move to sample her tea. After all, sampling tea can be a challenge for someone without arms.
"I want some more soup," says Pooh, for which he receives a sisterly eye-roll. "It's TEA," she says. "This is a TEA party." I myself am not present at the party. I have the pleasure of listening from my perfect vantage point just outside the door.
For me, these were among the most precious moments of a two-day visit to the kids' house to attend our first fourth-birthday celebration as grandparents, where the tea set and the Barbie head both arrived as presents. I like this so much better than the parties I hosted over two decades ago for my own children. Now, I don't have to plan and execute a meal for company, design the perfect birthday cake, or figure out how to make bedtime look good to two little kids on a sugar high.
I don't have to stress out if things don't go quite as I plan, expect, or hope for. I have passed that torch on to Cookie, the kids' mom. So what if the big rides at the Fourth of July carnival make so much noise that Sooby rides the kiddie cars with a scowl on her beautiful little face and her hands over her ears instead of on the steering wheel? At least Pooh is in the front seat turning the wheel like a madman, convinced that he alone is responsible for keeping their car on the track. That mini-video will go on the thumb drive.
So what if Sooby isn't quite happy (understatement?) with the way the wings fit on her new Tinkerbell costume? She will eventually accept the idea of attaching them some other way. Time and patience will fix whatever problem she is imagining. Just look how hard it sometimes is for even us grown-ups to remember that.
So what if the kids seem to forget, temporarily, that Baby Bootsie's bed is not a trampoline. At least she wasn't in it at the time. Give Pa-pa a set of tools. He can make it better.
It is every mother's curse to want things to go perfectly with her children and to be easily disappointed and frustrated when they do not. Every mommy needs the gratification of knowing that, if she knocks herself out to give her child the best she can on a monumental occasion like a birthday, the child will at least acknowledge and appreciate the sacrifice of that supreme, selfless effort. Here is what I have learned.
She will. Long after the teapot is empty, Barbie's batteries have corroded, and Tinkerbell's wings have flapped their last, she will. Long after Bootsie's bed is folded up and gathering dust in a garage somewhere, she will. That gratification a worn-out, harried mama so longs for comes at last.
It comes years later in the form of a four-year-old who crawls into bed with you at night and snuggles sweetly against your shoulder. It comes when you overhear the disjointed conversation taking place at a quirky little tea party. It comes when you become Googie.
Happy fourth birthday, Sooby. Of all the gifts given and received over the past two days, the greatest has been mine.