I was running late for Sadie’s fourth birthday party. I had the location wrong, I forgot to pack a hat for outdoor recreation, and then I couldn’t find the park once I got going in the right direction. That’s the thing about living in the country. Directions typically involve landmarks of the arboreal variety or subtle shifts in topography. Before cell phones and GPS, the nightmare was magnified tenfold. I remember experiences from my high school years. “Ok, now you want to head out on Highway 153, and you’re going to go about, oh, six or eleven miles, and then you’ll see a big hill next to a hydrangea bush. Just past that you’ll see a pine tree wrapped in purple wisteria next to a dirt road, and that’s where you want to turn. No, that road’s not marked, but it’s right across the way from a field of cotton that hasn’t been picked yet. You can’t miss it. But if you get to Big Lee Woodward’s farm, you’ve gone about three miles too far.” Thanks. That’s a huge help. Especially that part about the pine tree. In a county where you can drive for 18 straight miles and see nothing but pine trees, telling someone to be on the lookout for one specific piece of lumber is the equivalent to asking her to pinpoint a certain snowflake in a blizzard. But while my present day experience wasn’t nearly so challenging, I did have a couple of wrong turns before I finally found a hoard of children darting around a playground.
I strolled up to the sheltered picnic area with a paisley gift bag in hand and said, “I’m either fashionably late or as rude as rain, but I’m hoping you’ll be gracious enough to slide me into the former category.”
Shannon looked up from arranging containers of cupcakes and replied, “You’re fine. We’re still waiting on Kenny and his crew.”
I worked my present into a pile so large it needed its own rental agreement and then surveyed the scene. Preschoolers crawled over monkey bars and thick ropes nets, and little bodies popped out of a corkscrew tunnel at regular intervals. A few diehard athletes aimed Nerf balls at a basket that towered six feet over their heads, and I saw Sadie just as she released a soccer ball into the air.
A word about my Sadie Bug. With her strawberry blonde curls; big, blue eyes and flawless skin, she’s one of the most beautiful children you’ll ever see; and when she’s happy, the world is a Walt Disney musical. But let her get angry, and well, you better assume the fetal position and protect your soft organs. One time Shannon and I were chatting upstairs when she ascended the stairs fresh out of a nap. Sadie does not wake up chipper. Her hair spiraled in eighteen different directions for a look to rival Medusa, and she glared at us with a ferocity that would have made Mussolini soil the Fruit in his Looms. Thankfully, I could tell just by watching her now that we were in the Snow White singing in the forest phase. She spotted me, and given that Sadie has never considered proximity a necessary factor in effective communication, she started running and talking at the same time.
“Traci, you haven’t had a chance to swing me yet.” How about that. I’d barely arrived, and I was already behind in my duties.
“Happy birthday, little girl. You want me to push you right now?”
She clamped down on my hand and began towing me to my area of ministry. I helped her secure her seat on the hard strip of plastic and told her to hold on tightly. I put my hands on the chains and started to draw her back, but I was called on the carpet for my technique.
“No, you’re not supposed to do it that way. You’re supposed to push me by the feet.”
I took one look at the bottom of her sneakers and decided we needed a plan B. “How about I grab you by the ankles?” She considered my request, and since she was in a festive mood, she decided to humor me.
I have obviously grown rusty in my pushing skills over the past couple of decades, but Sadie was magnanimous enough to give me a refresher course through subtle cues.
“No! Don’t slow me down; I need to go more higher. Push me from behind now. Don’t use the chains; push me on my bottom. Higher, Traci, higher!” If we could outfit her in a pair of pantaloons, cravat, and a five o’clock shadow, we’d have a reincarnation of Napoleon.
Other party goers wandered over, and a brother and sister took a swing on either side of us. The girl was years older than the boy, and they were arguing over who was the most annoying. After listening to them yell over the top of us, I wanted to declare it a draw and award them each a medal.
Big sister started them off. “You’re just mad because he beat you.”
“Uh, uh! I don’t like him because he’s mean!”
“Well, you’re a jerk sometimes, and I still live with you.”
“Well, you’re a jerky, too!” He was so proud of his rebuttal that I didn’t have the heart to tell him that jerk didn’t need a Y. Unless, of course, he meant to compare her to a dehydrated meat product, and then well, that was a pretty good comeback. Besides, he was adorable and passionate in his stance, and she had a five year advantage on him. Rock on, little guy. Right before I lost all feeling in my arms, Shannon called us in for cake and presents.
Sadie was the perfect hostess. As she opened each gift, she screamed her gratitude whether the donor was across the pavilion or eighteen inches away. After every gift had been opened and admired, she stood on the wooden bench, exclaimed, “Thank you for the fun!” and then leapt straight into her mother’s arms. One thing you can say about Sadie, that girl sure knows how to throw a party.
© 2012 – Traci Carver