I was a social little girl the year I turned 8. I had my imaginative alone moments though. Perhaps a book held me captive in another world. Maybe I was so captured by the movement of some bug or the shape of some length that everything around. And there was the time I decided to be a fashion designer and drew pages and pages of dress designs that looked almost identical but were colored in the most glorious designs. But that was the moments. The center of joy for me was playing with friends.
In grade school we were still young enough for cops and robbers or adventures in the wilds of the world or unpacking our cases of Barbies and clothes for one more day in that high fashion paradise. A few of us also loved the giggly flirting with the boys in our grade by visiting with them while they chased snakes in the empty lot. When they would put them in our hair to send us off squealing, I would err by taking the snake off my head and looking at it. Or maybe it wasn’t an error. There was more than one little boys who would walk me home from school and stay to play chase with our street group. Paul even held an Easter craft contest in our class. When I got first prize for my basket, he whispered in my ear that he had the contest so he could give me a present.
So when my birthday neared I was excited thinking about who to invite to my party. Only, every time I asked about a party I was told that my parents were going to be too busy that day, I would have to wait. Mom and dad both worked so I knew that was a part of life. That is okay, you can still plan and dream while you wait.
When the day came I was sent out to play because everyone was going to be busy and I would just be in the way. Only, they forgot some details for a social little girl. They invited all the neighbor kids who were not going somewhere that day over to the house to help with what was keeping everyone so busy. Even my books, bike and drawing pads were out of reach.
I had heard the whispers so knew that whining about it wasn’t a good idea. I found out for sure when, bored, I risked going into the garage to see if there was something I could do to help and saw them blowing up balloons. One of the people there quickly jumped up and pushed me back out, slamming the door in my face.
I went to the house and, being more wary, yelled in to ask my mom if I could go see Joyce a few streets over. Not now, was the reply. You need to stay near home.
It was the most miserable day of my life. All my friends from the street were either away or busy at my house. I leaned against the wall forlornly, knowing that I wasn’t allowed to feel mad because, it was easy to see that they were making the surprise party I had heard whispered in the night between my sisters.
Finally my other friends started coming to my street and rushing to my house. No one stopped to talk to me as I smiled and tried to chat seeing them. They were in a hurry. By the time they came to tell me it was time to come home, the anxiety in me because I didn’t feel the excitement I was supposed to feel was at an all-time high.
“Surprise!” They all yelled gleefully as I was led into the back yard. That I had already learned the use of a pasted on smile came in handy that day as we played the games and had the cake and opened the presents was something they never guessed as a giddy anxiety exhilarated my energy. I can’t imagine I was as gracious about it all as I would like to think. My memory of that party was a feeling of franticness in my laughter, and trying too hard at the games. I can remember the background of others around me in a blur of self-blame as I struggled to feel the joyfulness that was supposed to be a part of that day.
Somehow, when I hear the word “Surprise”, my instinct is not joy but is searching the faces of those around me to get the clue as to how I am supposed to feel about this. I never have been able to enjoy surprise parties though I am always glad when I find people have prepared ahead by giving the guest of honor a happy activity to be involved in while preparations are made.