I write this post with swollen, puffy eyes, still raw and burning from crying myself to sleep on my pillow. What was supposed to be a fun-filled birthday party weekend complete with pizza, cake, games, prizes and friends, went horribly wrong.
To understand my devastation, I first need to tell you about our newly turned nine-year-old son. Mae Mae (nickname used for his privacy) is a bright, sensitive, caring little boy who loves animals and babies. We jokingly call him the baby whisperer as he has this incredible ability to calm a crying baby.
He’s also an avid animal lover and a vegetarian by choice. While his peers may be busy being wrapped up in their cell phones and video games, M’s prized possessions are his stuffed animals and plushy characters from his favorite movies and shows. He’s also a naturally funny boy who loves nothing more than to make people laugh. He’s known by friends and family as a future Will Ferrell in training.
In our large, chaotic family, he’s the peacemaker child who’s easy to please and looks at life with hope and optimism. He’s the kid who would give the shirt off of his back to a stranger, hand over a beloved toy to make another child smile, and would give his mom his favorite candy bar without hesitation. He’s a bit of a rare breed these days in an ever-changing world where the majority of communication is done online, invitations to events consist of a social media announcement, and manners and etiquette are becoming obsolete.
As a home schooled child, he’s never had a real birthday party. Don’t get me wrong, he’s had parties, but they were limited to his mom and dad, siblings, grandpa and occasionally a family friend, but usually just his siblings and parents. This worked well for many years as he was young and didn’t really know what he was missing, but last year on his eighth birthday, he started to notice that he didn’t have any friends.
We held his party at Chuck E Cheese, but couldn’t think of anyone with kids his age to invite so we did the best that we could and invited a couple of family friends. Unfortunately, no one showed up and even though he was used to only having parties with his siblings, my heart ached for him and I vowed that his ninth birthday would be different.
After his party ended, I patted him on the head and said, “Next year you’ll be in public school. You’re going to have lots of classmates to invite. Don’t you worry buddy.” He smiled and his big brown eyes sparkled with excitement as he replied with “Yay! I can’t wait!” This ninth birthday was supposed to be his year. His special day. His first real party with friends.
His favorite book series is Diary of a Wimpy Kid. Since his dear old mom is severely challenged in the crafty department, I ordered him custom invitations on Etsy, an edible DOAWK cake topper, and turned to Pinterest for DOAWK-themed games. He handed out multiple invitations to his friends at school, invited one friend from tae kwon do and eagerly counted down the days, hours, and minutes until his party.
When his birthday finally arrived, he was up before the sun. He hung streamers, blew up balloons, cleaned his room, took a bath, picked out his outfit, set the table, and carefully assembled the treat bags for his friends. “Only three more hours until my friends arrive” he yelled. “This is the happiest day of my life, Momma. I can’t wait until my friends get here!”
Hours before the party, still very much full of hope and excitement while waiting for guests to arrive….
When the party time came and passed, and none of the party guests were here yet, I started to get a little nervous. I’d asked parents to RSVP on the invitation, but hadn’t received a single reply. Since we’re new in town (and school just started a little over a month ago here), I didn’t have phone numbers for any of the parents.
M rides the bus to and from school, and unfortunately none of his friends are at our bus stop, so I don’t have the opportunity to see the other parents (add in a super fussy baby to the mix and some days I’m lucky if I even get to leave the house).
I expressed my concerns with my husband the night before his party but he reassured me that “Nobody seems to RSVP these days. Don’t worry, they’ll come. Kids love birthday parties.” I considered canceling the party, but M told me that five of his friends had told him they were coming so I worried that if I cancelled, they’d show up. Our daughter had a birthday party earlier this month and none of the girls RSVP’d but four of them still showed up, so we were cautiously optimistic.
At first I hoped maybe they’d gotten lost or were running late, but we live near the elementary school and our house isn’t difficult to find. I’d included our contact info – address, phone number, etc. on the invitation. I was most definitely reachable.
M was starting to get a bit anxious. He went outside and began to run up and down the street. Each and every car that turned down our street he craned his little neck to get a better look, while hoping and praying it was a missing party guest.
But no one came. Not a single child.
When my husband arrived home with enough pizza to feed a small army, the party should’ve been in full swing. Instead, M hung his head, and his tiny shoulders began to shake. “No one came Dad. I guess I’m not very popular at school.” He sobbed.
Words cannot describe the utter and complete devastation that washed over me, my husband and my nearly 70-year-old father who was almost brought to tears himself. Seeing my heartbroken little boy sitting all alone at his brightly decorated, empty party table was more than I could take.
I excused myself to my bathroom and sobbed quietly, as I didn’t want to upset him any further. My dad and husband did an excellent job of distracting him and we made the best of it.
One of our family friends did show up and even though he’s an adult, M was really happy he came. We ate as much of the pizza and bread sticks as we could stomach, sang happy birthday and ate cake, and even played a silly game that M was eager to play with his friends.
He opened presents with a big smile on his face, because, well, that’s our boy.
Despite his pain, he tried his hardest to have a good time. My dad offered to take him bowling, something he’s been wanting to do for a while. We showered him with hugs, love and kisses in a feeble attempt to salvage the disastrous day.
We packed up and went bowling…he loved it! We came home tired and exhausted. Once the kids were safely asleep, my husband and I fell apart. There’s only been a few times I’ve seen my tough, manly husband tear up, and last night was one of them.
I don’t blame the kids who didn’t show up, and I’m trying very hard not to blame the parents. I’m honestly too devastated to be angry. There are a million excuses and scenarios that could explain why no one showed. Perhaps they didn’t feel comfortable sending their kids over to our house for a couple of hours, perhaps they already had plans, perhaps their child was sick, or perhaps their child’s invitation never made it home and is crumpled up into a ball at the bottom of their backpack. Who really knows?
What I do know is that M will likely never forget his ninth birthday. It will forever be etched in his memory bank as that one year when no one came to his party. And that kills me as a parent. It could’ve all been avoided by a simple RSVP, via phone call, text, email, whatever. I know I will definitely never ignore those four little letters ever again.
Parents or caregivers, please, I beg you not to ignore “RSVP” either. I know you’re busy, tired, stressed, have a million other things to do. I’m right there with you, but the next time you’re tempted to ignore a handwritten invitation from a classmate, please remember that there could be a child sitting at an empty party table, crying into his napkin, feeling unloved and rejected.
Let the parents know one way or the other if your child is attending. If you have other plans or don’t feel comfortable sending your child, that’s fine, but do the right thing and let them know! Had we known that no one was coming, we would’ve changed the date or time, or we would’ve planned something extra special for him with the money that we instead spent on the party. We would’ve done anything to avoid the pain and devastation he experienced.
This morning as he woke up and got ready for school, he seemed to be in decent spirits. His main concern was making sure that his friends still got their treat bags that he made for them. That’s our boy though, always thinking of others instead of himself. He’s a good kid and we definitely did something right with this one. So please, please, please, do the right thing and RSVP!