The Ropko household has broken out in a winter rash of birthday parties. They have bounced in castles, bowled, played video games, made magic wands with sticks and glitter glue, been repeatedly told to not open someone else’s present, and eaten their season’s quota of cake and icing. Heath, our five year old in his fourth year at the same preschool, is a birthday party veteran. However, Stella, our three year old in her first year at preschool, has experienced a variety of celebration firsts. She was not just an invitee by way of being a younger sibling. She partied hearty at not one, but two affairs in one weekend. And she got some rare one on one time with Mommy, her party chaperone.
The Saturday party was for a boy preschool pal. While her other friends from school bounced and munched on pretzels and grapes, Stella preferred to sit in my lap and attempt to braid my hair. I had a moment of comparing. No one else is sitting with their mom. Should I make her get in to bounce? I’ll just feel her forehead—maybe she’s coming down with something. Nope.
As I mulled my daughter’s clingy behavior over in my head, a fellow mommy noted, “Stella, you probably don’t get a lot of time with just mom. I wouldn’t let her go either.”
The mom was right. As a matter of fact, I was suddenly unable to recall a time when I’d been with just Stella since our third baby was born in September. I kissed her on the neck and sniffed her hair. Eventually, a few trucks were brought out to zoom and roll about on the floor. Unable to resist the sound of a fire truck’s engine, Stella released her mother-grip and joined the crew, and I made a mental note to carve in (somewhere, somehow, whatever it takes) Just Stella Time.
So when Sunday quickly rolled around and the Who’s taking Stella to the party and who is going to stay home with Heath and Baby Forest was on the table, I eagerly agreed, ready to capitalize on my newfound understanding that a girl needs time with her mommy.
This all-girl gathering was honoring yet another preschool mate and the invitation suggested one wear Royal Attire. I was lucky to get Stella out of her Scooby Doo pajamas, and so as to not completely spoil the mood, I’m pretty sure I didn’t attempt to brush out the blond bird’s nest resting on the back of her head.
It was a lovely tea party, complete with fairy wands made out of pretzel rods and star-shaped rice krispy treats, and princess juice served in delicate tea cups. The Princesses gathered round a craft table and made magic wands and decorated jewelry boxes (or as Stella called them, Lightsabers and Pirate’s Treasure Chests). And buckets overflowed with Princess costumes and fairy wings and glass and glittery slippers and beaded necklaces in brilliant reds and yellows and pinks and purples for guests to play dress-up.
As the girls gathered round to choose their attire, Stella hung back and grabbed onto my hand.
“Want to pick out a dress?” I suggested, gently guiding her toward the bucket where two girls exchanged a yellow Belle dress for a blue Cinderella gown.
Stella wouldn’t budge. Instead, she yanked on my arm and said, “Come wif me.”
I held her hand and walked over to the dresses. She yanked on my hand again, pulling me down to her level.
“Do you want to put on one of the dresses?” I asked again, taking note that most of the girls had already been through multiple wardrobe changes.
Stella leaned in and whispered, “They’re going to laugh at me.”
“No,” I whispered back. “They won’t laugh at you. Here, I’ll sit here with you while you pick one out.”
I smiled at her and helped her pull on a turquoise Ariel dress, meanwhile I felt like I had a golf ball lodged in my throat and equally raucous thoughts to go with it. Oh no, she’s got it! She’s got that thing that I have! The thing that plagues you with nagging self-doubt.
I flashed to being five year’s old in a ballet class with four other girls. They were all students at a local Catholic school and carpooled together to dance class. They were chummy, giggly, and dressed in identical plaid, pleated jumpers. And then there was me; outside of them. They never did or said anything unkind. They never said anything at all. Maybe that’s what I found innately offensive. But I doubt it. I think what was troublesome was my own feeling of awkwardness. But at five, I didn’t have the words, and I didn’t know who to tell.
Standing there with Stella as she pulled on some red ruby slippers, I stopped holding my breath for the angst I supposed she was happening, and suddenly found myself relieved to have been standing there with her, holding her hand while she put on the costume. Relieved that at three, in whatever limited emotional vocabulary she has, she was able to tell me, Wow, this is different. I’m nervous, can you just stand here with me while I put this get-up on?
Later that evening, after bath and bedtime books were read, I tried to have a party debriefing to see if she had any unresolved feelings to analyze.
“Was it different to go to a Princess party?” I asked, trying to lightly use my fingers to detangle her hair without her knowing I was actually brushing her blond rat’s bed.
“Pway wif me,” she said, pushing away both my hand and my counseling attempt. Instead, she handed me a blue T-Rex, while holding her own green triceratops.
I tried to use the dinosaurs as play therapy, reenacting the party scene. My T-Rex, named Rexerella, was feeling shy about putting on a Princess costume.
“Not like dat,” Stella complained. “Hold it like dis.” She showed me how to properly hold the dinosaur by the back, then tried to eat Rexerella.
I decided it was best to let the dinosaurs battle it out without a prehistoric drama agenda.
I finally kissed her goodnight and just as I was about to close her door, I asked her the only question that ever needed to be asked, “Did you have fun at the party?”
“I did,” she smiled, crashing the dinosaurs together. “I was a bootiful, bootiful Princess.”