“Want to go to your friend Jake’s birthday party next month?” I casually asked Eli, my just-turned-7-year-old son, as I perused a stack of overdue bills and snailmail invitations. “It’s a magic party.”
“I don’t really like magic,” he countered.
“But Jake is a really good friend. He came to your party, and I know he’s not that into sports.” I calmly reasoned.
“Whatever,” he seemed to concede. “Can I go outside and play football, mom?” and just like that, he was off, bounding around the backyard, tossing himself buttonhooks, streaks and his very own version of a “hail Mary.”
I quickly emailed our RSVP to my friend, tacked the invite onto the bulletin board and entered the event in my iCal. As a recovering scatterbrain, I need to follow this type of rigid protocol to keep my life and my family in some semblance of order.
Fast forward to the day of the party.
Eli is ready. Gift is wrapped. I have my GPS set to the birthday location. All signs seem to be a go. “I don’t want to go,” says Eli.
“Well, the party starts in half an hour. You already said you would go. You cannot back out on a commitment,” I answered unwaveringly.
“But I don’t like magic,” he added.
“Well, you should have thought of that when you agreed to go in the first place. Come on, let’s get in the car.” I felt I had adequately squelched potential rebellion and Eli and I drove across town to the party.
When we pulled into the parking lot, Eli, becoming more insistent, said, “I really don’t want to go, mom. Please. Can we just go home?”
I’d already eyed and acknowledged the birthday boy’s father at the front door, greeting guests. “Eli,” I firmly stated, “We said we would go to this party. Please get out of the car and let’s go in.”
His dejected, slumped stance as he exited the vehicle was heartbreaking. Was I doing the right thing? Jake was a friend, and sometimes you have to do things for your friends. Wasn’t that a valuable lesson? But making him attend a festive event looking like Eeyore on Benzodiazepines? It just didn’t feel right.
“Please mom, I don’t feel right being here. I want to go home.”
Jake’s mom approached and offered a plate of Eli’s favorites, (fresh strawberries and grapes), and suggested we sit out in the hallway for a few minutes to help Eli regain composure. We followed her advice. When the last berry was gone, Eli asked for more fruit. “We can only have more fruit if we go back into the party,” I quietly asserted. Eli loves fruit more than anything in the universe. I thought maybe this would get us over the hurdle.
He slowly stood up, dumped his plastic birthday plate in the trash, and said, “Can we please go home now?”
There’s always a point in childrearing where the parent comes to the sad realization that whatever battle she is waging is simply not worth the energy she’s expending. This was my moment.
I held out my hand. Eli grasped it tightly. We left the building and headed for the car. “I’m sorry, mom,” he said with heartfelt sadness. “But I don’t like magic and I didn’t want to go.”
Suddenly the memory of my asking him about attending the party grew hazy. Had I asked him? Had he told me he didn’t want to go? Had I simply ignored him and followed my own wishes without his consent? It all seemed blurry and vague to me.
“Are you mad at me?” he asked as we pulled out and headed towards home.
“No,sweetie,” I answered. “I think I’m just…mad at me.”