With 14 boys coming to our house for my son Michael’s fifth birthday party, I developed a plan that detailed every moment of the two-and-a-half-hour celebration. It was designed to create the impression that ours was a well-run, loving, organized household whose youngest member was deserving of summer play dates. I had somehow failed to convey this message during the school year, when I often picked up Michael while I was either sobbing over the untimely death of our dog, Lucy, or wrestling with our four-month-old Golden Retriever, Hudson, whom I had hoped would fill the hole in my heart.
During the school year, I found it difficult to chat with the other moms about schools for the talented and gifted, or their home-renovation plans. While the other women conversed on the playground, I choked back tears about memories of my Lucy romping with the children near the slide and swings. I missed her wise presence constantly beside me; I missed the sound of her “purring” when I petted her, and her honey-maple smell when we snuggled.
Not only did the memories of Lucy make it difficult for me to chat with the moms at the playground, I also labored to prevent the puppy from scarfing up the bark chips and nipping at the children’s hands.
What’s more, I was hurt by the fact that only a few of the moms had shown up for our “Remembering Lucy” celebration, an event intended to help us heal from the pain of her sudden and premature death due to cancer. I naively believed that the kids who saw her every day would need a “Remembering Lucy” event as much as I did.
While I planned Michael’s birthday party, I told myself it was time to move on. My scheme was to win over the moms with my gracious 15-year-old daughter, my funny 24-year-old musician son, and my just-washed, well-trained puppy.
My daughter’s role was to help lead the kids on a treasure hunt, showing off her social and organizational skills; my older son’s role was to be charming and full of humor. And Hudson was cast as the greeter. He would meet the guests and warm them up with his kisses. Otherwise, his job was to stick close to my side.
I, of course, was the leader. I would ensure that the party would go exactly as planned and I would reap my reward: playdates for my son.
The party began with the treasure hunt, during which the kids raced around in teams, gathering rhyming clues hidden in the garden, under flowerpots, and in the clothes dryer, looking for the treasure: a box of homemade cookies hidden in a closet.
The minute I yelled, “Go!” Hudson leaped out of my grasp. He galloped around the house with the kids in hot pursuit, jumping up and lapping up the hummus, crashing into the pile of birthday gifts, and yanking the clues from kids’ hands, then guzzling them down. The kids followed him with delight, laughing and chanting, “Hudson baby.”
Miraculously, one of the teams discovered the cookies before Hudson did, and the treasure hunt — aimed at keeping the kids busy for at least half an hour — was over in a few minutes.
The sweat dripped off my forehead and my head ached so much I felt dizzy. I had hoped to impress our guests with my creative clues, our homemade cookies, and my adorable new puppy, who had been through countless hours of training.
Many of the parents gathered on our deck with “so, what now?” looks on their faces as the kids, following Hudson’s lead, embraced anarchy, grabbing food off the table, pushing each other, and yanking cookies from one another’s hands. Worst of all, one of the boys freed all the helium-filled balloons from their tethers and let them fly off our deck while half the children burst into tears.
“Can’t you keep that puppy under control?” snapped one of the moms who was trying to comfort her crying son.
Up jumped the crying kids as they tried to save the balloons, which sailed into the sky and disappeared. With them went my hopes of a playdate-filled summer. I had failed as a playdate-making mom and now as a party hostess. I imagined a lonely summer in the park — just me, Michael, and a puppy I couldn’t control.
That’s when Hudson made his next move. I confess that I saw it coming and didn’t react quickly enough to stop him. Or maybe I didn’t want to stop him. He put his nose to the deck and sniffed around to identify the appropriate spot. As the guests gathered on the deck, Hudson deliberately found his spot in the middle of the group, lifted his leg, and relieved himself, leaving a puddle so big I was sure the kids could swim in it. He sat down and gazed at me, and I was convinced he was smiling.
Many of the party guests stepped back with looks of shock, disgust, and horror on their faces.
The puppy didn’t move. His eyes, framed with adorable eyelashes, still gazed at me. “Screw them, Mom!” he was telling me. “If they can’t have a little fun, who needs them as friends?”
To my surprise, one of the guests, an older boy who lived in our neighborhood, rushed in and started to clean up the pee, with the help of his mother, who looked up and smiled at me. Michael, surrounded by a few friends, pointed at the puddle and laughed. Michael and two or three friends high-fived each other.
The puppy approached me and nuzzled my hand. As I stroked his fur, I suddenly saw Hudson’s point of view. Right in front of me was Michael, enveloped in the love of a few buddies. Beside me were a few moms — those who had come to our “Remembering Lucy” event. These were our friends; they stood beside us, and who cared if the other parents didn’t ask us for playdates? I couldn’t scheme my way into friendship with a stilted display of control. A party was a party, a time to romp, lick faces, laugh, and bust open the presents.
I knelt down and hugged Hudson, and kept hugging him while the party-poopers stared in disbelief.
Award-winning writer Lisa Cohn is co-author of the children’s picture book Bash and Lucy Fetch Confidence, in which a dog has lots to teach a kids’ soccer team about sports, teamwork, and life. Visit her online at Bash and Lucy.