Child One turns 16 later this summer. Summer birthdays can be challenging as friends are away and vacation plans trump parties. So, as any good stepmother would, I suggest to Child One that we throw her Sweet Sixteen party a month in advance so that her friends can celebrate with her. School is only just out and neither vacation plans nor summer jobs nor college tours have yet begun. Merrily, Child One agrees that an early birthday party is just the thing to start the summer off with a bang and allow her to celebrate the blessed date with her best friends.
Planning a birthday party for a sixteen-year old girl is challenging at best. No amount of responses to my Facebook queries could provide the answer to the ultimate question: what is the teenage birthday party equivalent of the bouncy house? High tea was a lovely idea until the party became co-ed. We’d just done middle-eastern food and henna tattoos at our wedding so that seemed wholly unoriginal. “Make your own” anything (other than a bong) was definitely too juvenile. I thought back to parties when I was her age. Generally, we’d find a house with no parents and raid the Wine-In-A-Box. Bad idea. So we settled on pool party and barbecue and hoped that the persistent June Gloom would give us a much-needed break.
Party time came and I busied myself making sure everything was set up properly and that children were eating and mingling and not drowning and then, as suggested to me by a younger colleague, I retreated to my room with a script and a pair of dogs. Apparently, the presence of parents, even cool step-parents, is unacceptable at a teenage birthday party. Sig Other had somehow intuited that a subtle disappearance was imperative and had snuck away to another room for a conference call. We emerged, like turtles out of our shells, for key moments of service such as grilling or lighting candles on the mini-parfaits and cupcakes I’d ordered from my favorite bakery in Santa Monica. But for the most part we did a pretty good job staying hidden in our rooms while the teenage whirlwind whirled around the house. I will admit that not much work was accomplished as I’d positioned myself strategically next to the sliding glass door in my bedroom, which led to the pool area. And though the drapes were shut, the sliding glass door was open just enough that I could keep an ear out. I wasn’t spying, exactly. Just making sure no one was drowned or impregnated. To be honest, I was a bit disappointed by the chasteness of the evening.
Hours passed and I suddenly found myself exhausted and desperate for bed. I wondered if this was a midnight curfew sort of teenage pack or the sort with parents that came to collect them at a reasonable hour. The answer came with the ringing phone – parents had begun to arrive by 10pm and so, in spite of my jammies and eyeglasses, I poked my sleepy turtle-head from the bedroom-shell and began collecting children for deposit with their respective parents. It was about that time I noticed Child One sitting on the living room sofa. She appeared to be crying and had her hands pressed to her mouth as though distraught. I called out to her and moved to comfort her when she got up and ran away. Oh dear, I thought. Teenage drama. What friend has hurt her feelings? Who rejected her? Did one of those damned teenagers say something horrible?
I followed her around the corner and caught the tail end of an impressive display of projectile puke. Bright red and plentiful vomit flowed from Angelic Child One as though she had been possessed by demons and transformed into a human Vesuvius. My first thought was, oh God – she’s drunk! This, of course, was ridiculous as even begging cannot force Child One to taste a sip of wine on the most holy of occasions much less consider sipping from the bar on her birthday. My second thought was, wow – that’s bad. I wonder who’s gonna clean that up?
The funny thing about being a step-parent is that you pretty much avoid things like dirty diapers and barfy babies. I actually recommend it highly based primarily on the avoidance of such atrocities. So here I was with a houseful of people, a floor covered in fluorescent red puke and few options. Sig Other was on a conference call, which he paused briefly to comfort Child One. He then took a look at the red pool, looked at me and said, “Wow, you’re gonna have to clean that up, you’re such a great stepmother.”
Later that night I fell exhausted into bed having done a not-so-perfect mop up job in the hallway and having transferred the care and petting of Child One to Sig Other. Sometime in the middle of the night, Child One got out of bed and came down the hall to spurt forth her volcanic flow onto our bedroom floor. She likes to share. Apparently (I swear I do not remember doing this and am rather mortified to admit it), I sat straight up in bed and yelled, “No!” and then promptly went back to sleep leaving Sig Other to clean up the soppy bile. Child One told this story to me tonite, laughing as she did and not at all seeming to mind my utter ineptitude. And so ends another chapter in Stepmotherhood. A successful party, a semi-clean floor and a deep appreciation for Child One’s natural mother who has surely seen her share of Vesuvian vomit.