Tee is responsible for
- fruit platters
- a camera
- sending invites
- crafting a scavenger hunt for the playground and nature trail outside the rec center
I am in charge of
- lego cake
- paper goods
- birthday signs
- cheddar bunnies
- goodie bags
- having a stack of pizzas delivered hot at 1:15pm
Tee, Bug, and I meet the first arrivals. Tee introduces me to his new friends and Bug shows them all down the stairs to the locker rooms. Tee goes ahead to lead the swimming. I wait in the lobby to greet the guests. Once most everyone is in the pool, I dig Tee’s camera out of his backpack and snap a few photos, many with Tee helping the littlest friends around the deep parts. The kids zip down the slide and around the lazy river. Some grownups bob in the water with Tee, occasionally chasing their charges around the vortex. A couple of the moms stand at the water’s edge, chatting over the cacophony.
Tee stays in the water so I can change and set up the party room. Once I have draped plastic cloths over tables and the cake is assembled, Tee and Bug tumble in, dry and ready to go. We work together to set up the drinks and pizza. The grownups buzz around, helping lay out goodie bags and cups. Tee calls out for juice requests, and another mom and I dole out slices of pepperoni or cheese.
We light candles. Bug hangs back, hiding while we sing. Then, we remind him about his wish. He approaches the cake and thinks long and hard, his eyes closed in the flickering silence. A beat. Three. Four. Then, he blows.
I make my own wish, of course. And a little promise to go along with it, for good measure.
We cut cake. Tee takes video and makes notes about the gifts while Bug opens them. I strip the tablecloths off and accept generous offers of help to pack everything away. Tee then hands out the scavenger hunts and leads the group to the playground while I pay up and schlep the loaded carts back to the car.
His tasks. My tasks. We fall into a rhythm. We have sorted out some ahead of time, and for the rest, we rely on a combination of nuance and communication.
So normal. So very strange.
Out in the breezy October sun, the kids roam the woods and grass looking for acorns, bird feathers, something purple. The parents cluster in small groups. Tee assembles one of Bug’s gifts. I join a group of parents, two of whom are new arrivals from the U.K. Tee met them somewhere or other, who knows? His story is his own now. Bug has glommed onto their youngest and chases him up a ladder. The parents are caught up in a raucous conversation about American fantasy football with one of my dearest girlfriends. She has been part of my heart since before her son, that lanky 9-year-old hanging from the jungle gym, was born. She knew me before Tee, knew me when I met Tee, helped gather supplies for our wedding-day scrapbook pages, and was one of the first to swoop in with bright and sorrowful optimism when Tee and I separated.
All around, these new and old friends weave a circle around us, around Bug. The mom of the two kids from Bug’s preschool class chats with my almost-sister, another of the precious ones from long ago. They find their common ground, laughing across the light wind about something that has only to do with them. Tee is off in the woods now with a pack of children. They are seeking the water’s edge where a snail might be hiding. Maybe something else, too. Something that didn’t make it onto any list.
The unexpected has a way of revealing itself.
One of the boys who has just moved here from England returns with a stick almost as long as the picnic table. He has had not luck finding a pinecone. From our seats in the sun, we scan the woods together, noticing for the first time the deciduous predominance.
“There,” I say, standing and pointing. “Between those two there, one turning yellow. Do you see?” One lightly fuzzed, darker-hued tree slouches in the shadows of its broad-leafed neighbors. It is most likely an evergreen.
“Oh, yes!” The boy lopes off to dig through the brittle forest debris of this new landscape.
The children emerge from the woods at odd intervals, their shoes wet and their hands filthy. Tee is grinning, telling us they found a snail but the bird feather was harder than he expected.
“It’s good to have a zinger or two in there,” I say.
“Yeah. They got the wood chip for free, after all.” We smile as we kick at the wood chip mulch scattered at our feet.
Last year, one of the new moms at Bug’s party said something-or-other to me about my “husband.”
“Oh, ex-husband. But yes, Tee.”
She stopped. She looked at me, across the park at Tee leading a treasure hunt in the volleyball sand, and back to me.
“I had no idea,” She laughed. “I’m sorry. But this party. You just seem to get along so well. I really had no idea.”
A year later, I gather the scars have healed even more. They may barely be visible to the naked eye.
Tee is in charge of
- his truth
- his path
- his choices
- our child
I am in charge of
- my words
- my future
- my heart
- our child
We say goodbye to our guests. Tee agrees to keep Bug for a few hours after the party so I can lug all the stuff home and clean up. I leave Bug at the highest part of the jungle gym. He does not notice that I am leaving or that his daddy is the one who is staying. Someone is there. That’s all he needs to know.
My wish. My promise.
Together, we are responsible for
- sharing our journey
- welcoming our new relationship
- honoring our commitment to stay
- our child