I live between cultures. I grew up in America and raised my kids in America, or started to anyway. I have an Israeli husband whose parents are American. And now we live in Israel and while there are some days when I can kid myself into feeling like I belong here just as much as I belong there and it's all good, there's nothing like hosting a six year old girl's birthday to make you remember you are a stranger in a strange land.
We had asked our daughter weeks before what she wanted to do for her birthday. I mentioned that we could do something fun, just the family and she seemed to be on board with that idea. I lobbied heavily. But then two weeks before her birthday she told us she wanted to invite everyone from her kindergarten. Now, I'm no dummy. I know that is a recipe for disaster, but I also know that Israeli teachers are hung up on this idea that you have to invite the whole class or either the boys or the girls. So I said we could invite all the girls and the moment that sentence was out of my mouth the panic started to set in. What would I do with them for two hours? I considered hiring someone to entertain, as most parents here do. I had seen magicians and fairies and storytellers. I even had a number of someone to call. But we've never hired people for our parties and it just didn't feel right. I decided I could manage on my own. We would do a rainbow themed party because I had seen super cute rainbow cupcakes on Pinterest and a friend of mine had shown me these beautiful puffy rainbow tissue paper pom poms that I could make for decorations. And since Purim was coming up we could decorate masks with all kinds of sequins and felt and feathers and then play some games like the one where you run toward the bin of clothes, put something on and run back. I had visions of little girls wearing all kinds of hats and boas and tutus running around giggling hysterically. This vision kind of got me excited about the party and I started planning everything. Rainbow fruit skewers and a rainbow vegetable platter. Rainbow cupcakes. Rainbow pom poms and balloons. The dress-up game. Simon says. Mother May I. Musical chairs. It would be old school and I liked it. Mr. Rosen was on board, although it's hard for him to muster up the enthusiasm required to pull this kind of thing off and me with my conversational Hebrew, well I knew it would be challenging to wrangle in a group of six year old Israeli girls. I didn't know it would be Dante's inner circle.
We passed out invitations five days ahead of time having made the mistake of giving advanced notice with our son's birthday and people showing up a week early. Israelis don't plan ahead. I mean, what with the threat of total destruction at any moment...but I digress. I asked parents to RSVP. Of the sixteen girls we invited, four mentioned to me that they were coming. Then on the day of the party only eight girls came which should have made me happy except that we had planned on twice as many so we had too much of everything and I hate excess. But I had rolled out the red and white polka dotted oil cloth that I'd purchased for the occasion which looked as festive as Minnie Mouse's underwear so this party was ON. As the girls arrived their parents left by wishing us good luck. I should have known we were in for a nightmare. I sat the girls down at our fully extended dining room table teeming with crafty notions of every variety to make their Purim masks. The party was soon in full swing. The Purim music was playing. It was festive. But then twenty minutes into the craft, the girls were mostly done. They wanted to know what to do next. So I collected a bunch on the floor of the living room and attempted to play telephone with them while other girls were finishing. Some girls didn't feel like it and lumped themselves onto our couch. In fact I didn't ask what they felt like, I asked them to sit down in a circle. But that's how the party went on for two hours. I'd introduce the next game/activity and invariably several girls would say they didn't feel like it. Um, I'm sorry. These games are not up for a vote. Just stand in two effing lines you whiny little apple-cheeked turds. This isn't YOUR birthday party. It was maddening.
Here is what I came to understand. Israeli parents (maybe this happens in the States too but we have had our share of successful birthday parties over there so I'm not sure) have mostly thrown up their hands at birthdays. They pay for entertainers and feed the kids candy and now they expect it. They come into the house knowing they will sit down and watch a clown and when there's no clown, and the party requires their active participation, they are confused and become listless and lump themselves onto the couch. The two hour party felt like a six hour party in a parallel universe where planets don't rotate around a sun and time stands still. And the kicker was that my daughter was no better than the other girls. She's turned into one of them. Despite my near constant reminders about manners and about how we host people graciously in our home, she was pouty and "didn't feel like it" either. She would have rather had a magician. I would have rather been the magician and made myself disappear.
But no experience is without its life lessons. Here is what I learned:
1. I will never host a large group of kids from school at my house again.
2. We will have borthday parties only every other year.
3. Birthday parties will only be with family friends who have similarly-aged kids.
4. Off years will involve a fun dinner or hike or play or concert for family members.
The irony is that the pictures I took convey a group of delighted, cheery little girls and, truth is, thirty years from now we'll look at those pictures and remember how much fun we all had. And my adult daughter and I will wonder what the hell is wrong with kids nowadays. So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.*
* I wish I could claim I'd written that last line. Alas, it's the last line of The Great Gatsby. I could probably use it to end every one of my posts.