The vet’s best guess is that our rescue dog was born sometime in the fall of 2013. Over scrambled eggs and waffles this morning Bug says, “Let’s make her birthday October 12 .”
October 12, as it happens, is a school holiday in the states. Indigenous People’s Day is what the more enlightened of my fellow American’s have begun calling it. I’ve taken off work so Bug and I can hang together, but the neighborhood kids have been asking for him all weekend. I know I’ll be sharing him and that’s just fine — it will provide some needed post-window-replacement cleanup time. Every piece of furniture in every room of the condo is still sitting three feet from where it belongs.
Now it looks like my tidying plans will have to make room for Noodle. “What do we do for a dog birthday party?” I ask.
Bug gets up and wanders through the living room. “Presents,” he says, pawing through her discarded bones. “Oh, wait, I know!” He runs into the back and comes out with his stuffed penguin. “I’ll give it to her and it can be her new chew toy.” He drags out wrapping paper and starts to list out the things we need for a party. “Decorations, a party hat, cake. . .”
A knock at the door.
“Can Bug come play?”
He jumps on his scooter and takes off, leaving a half-wrapped box on the coffee table. This is my chance to make some headway on bringing order to the construction chaos that surrounds me. I haul out the vacuum and start sucking up debris from the foyer. Then Bug is back with one of his friends in tow. His little buddy strides in and announces, “We’re going to throw a dog birthday party!”
Apparently we’re having a guest.
I stack construction paper and markers on the table. “Okay, you two are in charge of decorations.” They get to work and I return to the sports gear and recovered mittens from behind the shoe rack in the entryway. Bug is too wound up to draw. He grabs dog treats from the kitchen and starts wrapping them.
A knock at the door.
“Can Bug come out?”
They both take off now, leaving paper bone cutouts and two half-wrapped presents. I re-cap the markers and wheel the vacuum into the bedroom. Then he’s back with his little buddy and two girls. “Can we help with the party?”
So we’re hosting 3 guests.
“Yep, we need lots of decorations. Here.” I dig out poster paper, tape, ribbon. They all get to work. Bug finishes wrapping the gifts.
A knock at the door.
Another pair of kids. “Where is everyone?”
“We’re getting ready for the dog birthday party!” Bug hollers from the living room.
The two abandon their scooters and come in. “Can we help?”
Apparently we’re having five guests.
So much for cleaning house. I pull out oats, eggs, whole wheat flour. “Okay folks, what kind of cake ingredients can work for dogs and people?” We tick off options. Bananas? Yep. Chocolate? Nope. Butter? Yep. Hamburger? Nope. One girl pops her head in. “I love to bake,” she says. “I’ll be right back.” She heads out. I throw a bunch of stuff in a bowl, mash it together, grease a pan.
A knock at the door. This time I just shout, “It’s open.”
She has, indeed, come right back. “I brought helpers!”
Maybe eight guests?
Someone has discovered our craft table. Glue is out, glitter too, and a pack of small balloons. I blow up a couple but the kids are short on lung power. “I have an idea!” Bug cries. He races into the bathroom. Two of the boys gallop down the hall after him. Bug comes out with a big grin and an even bigger water balloon. The two smaller boys are struggling with the faucet. “Can someone help me tie this?”
“Can someone get the door?”
“Is there string?”
“Do you have safety pins?”
Noodle is tip-tap, tip-tap to the door and back. I drag her crate out of the bedroom and park her in the middle of the action. Then I tie balloons, find tape, unearth stickers, pour batter into pan, locate Mardi Gras beads, and spell the dog’s name four times.
The vacuum’s been abandoned somewhere in the back of the house along with my illusion of control.
The door stands wide open. A path of discarded shoes and scooters leads to our threshold and beyond. Water is splashed all over the sidewalk, the entryway the bathroom. Our old curtains are draped around the stairwell outside, and paper signs with directional arrows and glittered flourishes flutter around the courtyard. Boys with nerf guns and water balloons pound into the den, tumble across the couch, slam into Bug’s room then careen back out. A group is making personalized VIP passes for everyone who is coming to the party.
A tiny girl pokes her head in the front door. One of the fourth graders goes to take her hand and help her inside.
I give up counting.
“Can I help frost the cake?”
“Can we do an experiment?”
“I need a trash can!”
“Can someone help me tape this up high?”
I whip up cream cheese icing. One girl comes in and chooses two colors to dye the sugar for decorating. We draw a bone shape and she cuts out a stencil. The cake cools enough to frost. Five girls crowd into the kitchen. I make them all wash their hands then give each a butter knife. “Get the sides too,” I say. They dip their blades into the icing bowl and I leave them to it.
The biggest boy gets to work helping me scoot furniture back towards the walls. Bug and the bone-stencil girl drag Noodle from her crate. “She’s got to get dressed for the party.” They disappear into the bedroom with ribbon and dog. I shout over the din, “Everyone get your VIP badge and go outside! We’ll open the doors for the Dog Birthday Party in four minutes!”
Somehow, this is happening.
This single mama — overtired, overworked, snappish slave to order and protector of solitude — is solo hosting in her construction-zone condo a daylong, unplanned, birthday-party-playdate for a dozen kids ages 4-14.
And this boy of hers — the one who stays late at school for childcare when everyone else here takes the bus home, the one who can only join in half the games because he lives another half of his life with his dad — is keeper of the most porous door in the neighborhood.
How does someone’s life become exactly the opposite of what she feared?
I toss a hodge-podge of accessories on a table in the center of the room and set out a stack of unbreakable plastic dishes. After a few deep breaths, I fling open the door and invite in our guests.
They don sunglasses, party hats, bowties. They shriek and climb on the stools and bounce on the couch. A teenage boy whose name I may have known once shows up, puts on beads and a pair of heart-shaped glasses then vogues for his friends. I pour out 10 cups of apple juice and we’re still short. One kid starts a game of charades. One takes a big bowl of pretzels into the living room and it’s empty in less than a minute. A couple of the girls join me in the kitchen with colored sugar, bone stencil, and candles. One hands out plates, another forks.
Bug carries Noodle in wearing her pink pirate bandanna and crimson rope belt. She immediately heads into the kitchen to lap up spilled frosting. With ample assistance, she opens her presents. A few kids have brought sticks wrapped in bows and one has made her a construction paper necklace. Noodle is especially delighted with the Pupperoni she finds wrapped in a cardboard towel tube.
The kids click off lamps and fight over who gets to light the candles. One collapses into tears at missing his shot at the matches. One burns her finger but shrugs it off. A 5-year-old grabs a match, gives it a sharp snap across the strikepad, and tips the flame to the wick. The room breathes a collective Wow. I carry the cake out to a surprisingly upbeat rendition of Happy Birthday and three kids blow the candles out.
Every child present wants to cut the cake. Each gets a guess at a number between 1-100, and the girl who picks 4 wins the knife. She scores a lopsided grid and dumps the first piece in a bowl for the birthday girl. Someone garnishes the hunk with the last of the broken pretzels. Noodle devours her treat in the kitchen while one of the older kids takes charge of doling out the rest of the cake.
They all dig in, they say it’s great, Noodle has seconds, the littlest girl comes over and murmurs that she didn’t get any. We find a clean plate and fork and let her pick out which piece she wants.
Then it’s 3:00. We’ve been at this since breakfast. A tattooed dad tracks down his little girl. A mom wanders over — one I’ve only met at the bus stop — saying she just realized her kids had been gone all day. “I couldn’t figure out where they’d got to, so I started following the decorations.” She marvels at the disaster.
A few kids stick around to clean up the courtyard, piling signs and balloons in a box. Bug groans but collects the scattered plates and cups to load the dishwasher. Noodle, back in her crate, falls instantly asleep. Bug is hungry but says his feet hurt too much to cook anything for lunch. He eats a bowl of cereal. We leave the rest of the mess and curl up on the couch with our respective electronic devices.
A knock at the door.
It’s the biggest boy.
“We need Bug,” he says.
“Need?” I ask.
“Yeah, these two girls got mad at each other about the nerf gun, and they’re, like. . . they just won’t listen to anyone. We need him to help resolve it.”
My boy? Help resolve it?
All my predictions of disaster, and it comes to this.
Bug hands me his tablet and ducks under my arm with a sigh. “I’ll go take care of it.”
They roll off together.
When he comes back, I ask him if everyone’s okay.
“Yeah, they’re fine now.” He puts up his feet and returns to Minecraft.
A knock on the door.
“Can Bug come play?”