Last night, the three of us went to the birthday party of the daughter of my wife’s co-worker. Normally, I pass on these types of events, as most of the time, I am the only one who speaks English, and my wife and son are the only people who I actually know. But when I saw that Flor had gotten all dressed up (with makeup and everything!), I decided that I should probably tag along, at least for the sake of appearances. I threw on a suit, and was ready to go when our ride arrived. Years ago, when I started working mornings, I had the perfect excuse of needing to get up early, and normally Mexican birthday parties keep rocking until well after midnight. Actually, based on my experiences, they don’t even really get going until the sun’s gone down. I’m not implying that Latinos are some sort of vampiric entities, but I’ve never seen a birthday party happen in direct sunlight. Putting aside all of my misgivings, I hopped up into the car which came for us, ready for the evening, and knowing that I had a decent chance of getting enough sleep. There are always bouncy houses at these parties, and I knew that if David played hard enough, he might be so exhausted upon our arrival back at home, that he’d sleep a proper number of hours, and perhaps not wake up at the crack of dawn. Sadly, he did, but that is nothing new.
For those of you not intimately familiar with children’s birthday parties in Latino culture, let me run them down for you:
First, the mother spends an ungodly amount of money on the rental of the bouncy house, chairs and tables, and a DJ (This is not because the fathers do not care, or feel that it is women’s work, but rather, they have made the argument (and lost) that there is no need to spend upwards of $200 just to set the stage for a party for a toddler).
The mother then spends most of the day of the event preparing enough food to feed upwards of fifty people, and calling on her friends to make and brings several other dishes as well.
She will begin to grow agitated when no one shows up at the time she has announced, fretting about social standing until her guests begin to trickle in, in what I can only assume is an attempt to arrive fashionably late… to a children’s party.
The mother will then proceed to not sit down for the remainder of the evening, flitting here and there, always rotating through the crowd in an attempt to make sure that everyone is having a good time. Just like small child to whom the party is ostensibly dedicated, she will not remember anything about it.
There will always be too much food left over at the party’s conclusion, so everyone will have a doggy bag thrust upon them.
There is a disturbing trend toward alcoholism at these events. The budget for beverages is usually around $10 for sodas, and $40 for beer, and there’s always that one dude who drinks an entire box of Corona all by himself. The first time I ever came to one of these, I was shocked at how much alcohol was being consumed. At a party for a kid.
No matter how exhausted the hosts have become, they are honor bound to keep the party going until the final guest has finally found a clue, and decided to depart.
The mother will then look out upon the chaos that once was her backyard, and suffer a moment of paralysis at the sheer magnitude of work facing her when she wakes up in the morning.
You may have noticed that I was only writing about the mothers. This is because most of the fathers I have spoken to, would rather spend the money on gifts for their children, instead of competing to win the title of Event of the Season. I’ve had this argument with my wife, every year that my son has been alive. Every year, she almost kills herself making everything absolutely perfect, just to see an underwhelming turnout, an overwhelming mess, and a checkbook that is reduced to whimpering for mercy. And every year she tells me that she finally sees what I was going on about, and how next year, she’s going to do something smaller, for just the family. But I know that her convictions will begin to fade by April of the next year, as the weather warms, and she begins to feel that she needs to show the other moms just how much better of a mother she is. I’ve learned my lesson, after all these years, and now just shut my mouth, and offer what help I may provide. There is nothing that I can say which could possibly change her mind, so I’ve decided that I’d rather not get into a fight with her when passions are running that high.
For me, I’d rather just buy a cake and a goodly amount of toys, and tell my son that I loved him, and then hit the sack at a reasonable hour. I’m trying to learn all the ins and outs of the culture which I’ve married into, but there are so many levels to everything they do, that I feel like watching telenovelas is a form of basic training. I am not cut out for all of this political posturing, as anyone who’s ever worked with me will readily attest. I have neither the time nor patience to play politics, especially when dealing with the nebulous dance of social status. I appreciate the family aspect to the Latin culture, but I also like small, non-mandatory events which end on the same day in which they began. I like getting dressed up and going out with my wife, but not if it’s only to hang out in someone’s backyard to be bitten by mosquitoes.
I don’t know if I will ever truly understand where my wife is coming from. As she is so fond of saying, we are from completely different worlds. But I love her, and every time we do something, it’s an opportunity to learn something new. I moved two states away from my family, and enjoy the distance, but Flor is an entire country distant, and I can see that these little get-togethers are her way of beating back despair. And showing all her friends just how a party should be done. Oh, and if you will be in the Bay Area this summer, please drop me a line. I have a feeling that the Event of the Season may be happening toward the end of June, at least that what my instincts tell me.