I’m not Room Mom material, a fact that has never been more apparent than now. School parties have always terrified me — how can you expect to feed and entertain that many kids without provoking mutiny? When Ella and Kate were in elementary school, the answer seemed to lie in providing a vast array of treats (and at every celebration I died a little inside as barely nibbled cupcakes and platefuls of untouched cookies, grapes and Doritos were thrown in the trash). Once students reached the fourth grade, the teachers let them plan their own parties, which involved brainstorming sessions where 80 kids named every food they had ever enjoyed and then assigned their parents to produce a feast of donuts, Pizza Rolls, brownies, Bagel Bites, chips and queso, Oreos, Lil’ Smokies, etc., etc., etc. I always thought the excess sent the wrong message to our overprivileged little revelers, but buying a box of Velveeta and a can of Rotel was easier than bucking the system — or planning crafts and games — so I let it slide.
Maribeth’s preschool parties proved more reasonable: one or two sweet treats and a healthy option (or not — nobody missed the baby carrots when they got to decorate their own cookies with frosting). Little did I know these sugar-fueled festivities were building expectations that would later lead to heartbreak.
The morning of Maribeth’s fiercely anticipated kindergarten fall party, she told me how excited she was for the treats. But when she saw them — a peeled orange made to look like a pumpkin and a “broom” made of a small piece of string cheese and a straight pretzel — she literally had to leave the classroom to weep, and I didn’t blame her. I mean, she’s a notoriously finicky eater, but come on: an ORANGE? (She wasn’t the only disappointed partygoer; I nearly snorted when one little boy asked, “You got anything else?”) I sat in the hall with Maribeth, imagining the other mothers’ judgment over how I had allowed her to become such a monster as I tried to console her with promises of a real treat after school. Then when the party was over, each child received a fancy frosted pumpkin-shaped sugar cookie in a bag to take home. I thought, Good grief, if you’d just handed out the cookies at treat time, we could have saved SO MANY TEARS.
In an attempt to avert similar trauma at the winter party, I volunteered (via e-mail) to bring sugar cookies, explaining that my reason was so Maribeth wouldn’t freak out over unfamiliar foods. I offered to bring frosting so the kids could decorate the cookies but said I would skip it if the other moms thought it was too messy. During the deafening silence that followed, I envisioned the other mothers in the e-mail chain rolling their eyes at my desperate attempts to appease my horrifically spoiled little princess. Several days later, the Room Mom’s e-mail summarizing who had signed up for what said: “Ami — cookies and icing… Maybe to take home???” (Because what kind of parent lets children eat cookies at a party???)
Since I loathe confrontation, my first inclination was to give in to the pressure not to serve the cookies during the festivities. But that made bringing them pointless and meant I would have to explain to Maribeth, “You may not like the food at the party; if not, you’ll just have to wait and eat your cookie when we get home.” (AGAIN.) Reassured by friends that it was reasonable for kids to have a variety of food choices, I resolved to bring my offering (tiny ready-to-bake cookies that wouldn’t cause nut-allergy concerns) on a plate — without take-home bags.
Naturally, the day before the party, Maribeth announced that she didn’t like those cookies. Because OF COURSE. I told her it was too late to switch because I’d already had them approved by the teacher and anyway, they were just like the Frozen cookies that she had loved a couple of months ago. When I arrived at the party, I put my sugary abominations on the food table next to the popcorn (which Maribeth hates) and the strawberry “Santa hats” (also inedible by her standards). At snack time, people put one cookie on each plate with the popcorn and the strawberries as if it were completely normal to give kids sweets at a party. All of the children who weren’t mine liked the cookies (one little girl asked for the recipe); Maribeth ended up eating one tiny nibble and then throwing hers away — but without any tears. Thankfully, a mom who had witnessed Maribeth’s agony at the fall party had brought single-serving bags of pretzels and offered one to her, and to my shock, she was delighted.
Lest I think I had gotten away with my evil scheme, however, after snack time the mom who had brought the popcorn said regretfully, “I can always tell when they’ve had sugar,” and the Room Mom replied, “I just think it makes them hyper and then grumpy.” I guess they wanted to make sure I realized that I had poisoned their children.
I do feel bad. I feel bad that I haven’t been able to cure Maribeth’s picky eating (despite her year in a special preschool program that forced students to try new foods daily). Maybe I have coddled her too much. I feel bad that food is so emotionally laden for both of us. I feel bad that I assume other mothers are constantly judging me based on my appearance (I know I look like a cautionary tale for girls who are overly fond of dessert) and my kid’s behavior. I feel bad that a kindergarten party turned into a power struggle (in my mind, anyway) and exposed how petty, immature and desperately people-pleasing I am. But I’m not sorry that when push came to shove, the person I chose to try to please was my child. Even if she thought the cookies sucked.
And I felt somewhat vindicated in my sugar-pushing when another mom posted a photo from her kindergartener’s celebration on Facebook.
Now THAT’S a party.