Life’s a party. Go ahead and call me shallow – I’ll still be having more fun than you. Oh sure, we’ve experienced some poopers, and have held parties for pity. But most of the time, we know we’ve got something to celebrate.
My son, Cowboy, is the President of Partying. Not only does he know a good time when he sees one, he’s happy at not-so-great parties. Where two or more are gathered, it’s a party. He’s working the room in less than two minutes after arriving, shaking everyone’s hands.
Apparently, my baking a cake also constitutes as a party. For years, whenever I made one, Cowboy assumed a party was planned. He’d walk around saying “happy birthday” in sign language before the treat was out of the oven. The cake-always-means-a-party philosophy was problematic at times. And when we attended someone else’s birthday party, Cowboy thought everyone was singing to him; he’d grin from ear to ear, squealing with delight. Then, when the song ended, and the real birthday kid was ready to blow out the candles, Cowboy would beat him to it. On a few occasions, it took several re-lightings for the correct child to make a wish and extinguish the flames. Of course, in our immediate family, we'd let Cowboy help with that part, regardless of whose birthday it was.
Even non-cake desserts had to be explained. Following in my mother’s footsteps, I rarely bake without an occasion demanding it.
“No, Cowboy, these cookies are for lunch tomorrow. We’re having company over,” I explained after he signed “party.”
He signed “party” again.
“No, it’s not a party. It’s just Sam and Lorene coming over to eat lunch and play cards.”
Again, he insisted it was a party. He’s hard core.
“Okay, we can make it a party,” I finally conceded. I searched the pantry and found some long-forgotten Batman paper plates to use for lunch. He was ecstatic.
Every year, we have end-of-season parties for soccer, basketball, and baseball, in addition to more birthday parties, autism support group parties, Christmas parties, and swim parties. And once. we had a hotel party.
Cowboy loves hotels with swimming pools and hot tubs more than I love to binge on coffee-flavored ice cream while watching Columbo. So when he turned 13, we surprised him with a celebration at a Drury Inn close to home. I blindfolded him for the ride to the hotel, but worried about being pulled over by a police officer who might suspect I was kidnapping an extremely happy child.
When Cowboy turned 16, he had his first slumber party; his long-time friend Casanova came over to spend the night. When we picked up Casanova that afternoon to take him to our house, he jumped into the back seat, hugged Cowboy, and repeatedly said “I love you, Cowboy” for the duration of the ride.
We started the night with chicken nuggets, then the guys climbed into the hot tub for a water gun fight. I stayed in the house, since it’s not cool to have your mom hanging around during guy time. After four hours of playing Wii Sports Resort, then watching a movie, they were worn out. At bedtime, I explained to Casanova that he could sleep in the guest room. What was I thinking? Of course Casanova wanted to sleep in the same room as Cowboy. So we moved him. After an hour, Cowboy was ready to sleep, but his friend wasn’t. Being one who catches on quickly, it took me another hour to realize Casanova was scared to go to sleep in a house other than his own. It was his first time away from home at night – a huge accomplishment for any kid, and much more for a child with special needs. Finally, Casanova explained, "I usually sleep with the TV on." Five minutes after tucking him in on the couch with the TV on, he was snoring, and slept all night. His mother, Flower, was delighted that his first sleepover was a success, and she survived it quite well, too.
Cowboy comes by his love of parties genetically. For years, I’d start looking in November for New Year's Eve parties to attend. December 31 is my favorite night of the year. After waiting 364 days for it to get here, when the big night comes, I celebrate with family and friends. I have a wonderful time, but where I really want to be is at a huge hotel party, dancing the night away.
When Flash and I were newlyweds, he brought home a flyer about a hotel party near our home. “Do you want to go?” he asked.
“It says buffet and live music.”
I envisioned us having a magical moment like the final scene of When Harry Met Sally. We got all decked out; me in a sexy black dress, Flash in a suit and tie. We’d skipped lunch that day, anticipating a feast fit for a king and queen. When we walked in to the hotel club, the band hadn’t started yet. That was perfect; we’d have time to eat before dancing began. After standing in line at the buffet, we looked down to see a few egg rolls, some finger sandwiches, and, of course, chicken wings. It was only a slight step up from Happy Hour snacks. We ate the socially acceptable amount, even though we were starving. But it was okay. We were together, and there would be dancing. It’s always about the dancing.
Two hours later, we were still waiting for the band to start.
“Maybe they’re running late,” I told Flash. “I don’t see any equipment set up, but we’re at the back of the room, so maybe we just can’t see them.”
We gazed into each other’s eyes, listening to pre-recorded tunes playing over speakers.
“Babe,” Flash said.
“This is the band.”
“This. The music being piped into the room. That’s the live band.”
“No way. They can’t advertise a live band and then pipe in music. That’s criminal.” I looked around. Still no band. And no DJ was present. It was a far cry from Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve. We danced to a few songs, then gave into hunger pains. Jack in the Box was our semi-formal affair that night.
After Cowboy was born, it was easier to have New Year’s Eve parties at home rather than going to friends’ homes. As he got older, he stayed awake to ring in the New Year with us, then hugged everyone goodnight before he turned in at 12:03 a.m. But when he was 17, it was Cowboy’s turn to host New Year’s Eve. He helped plan the food, select which CDs we’d play, and pick out party favors. Some of his closest friends and their parents came. The kids played the Wii, danced a little, and ate a lot. The parents danced for hours and laughed like kids, leaving their cares behind for a few hours. The party ended only because the kids got sleepy.
One Saturday afternoon six weeks later, I was excitedly looking forward to a laid-back night at home. It had been a busy week; I was exhausted. I walked to the kitchen for a snack and glanced at Facebook on my phone for the first time all day. I read, “Heading out to Mardi Gras on Main Street tonight,” posted by my friend Ginger, the mom of Cowboy’s friend Paige. It was 6:50 p.m.; the party had started at 4. I ran to my old-school calendar on the wall and saw “Mardi Gras” in red letters on that day’s block. The key to keeping appointments is to glance at my calendar each morning, but I had neglected to check it that day.
I felt guilty we weren’t there, but Cowboy and I were already in our pajamas. I was getting sleepy and contemplating watching a movie to break up a hectic day of reading and watching the paint peel off the walls. It’s a challenge to change out of jammies once you’re in them, even if you want an evening out. I’m not sure when we, as a family, started wearing pajamas every waking moment we’re home. We step over our threshold and go directly to our respective rooms to change clothes. Even Cowboy does it; we’ve warped our teenage son with our senior-citizen ways.
A decision had to be made quickly. I could keep my mouth shut, and Cowboy would never know about the celebration. I could stay enveloped in my heated waterbed. I could set a world record for greatest number of consecutive hours spent accomplishing absolutely nothing, except maybe another level or two of Candy Crush Saga on my phone.
But motherhood was stronger than lethargy that evening.
“Do you want to go out or go to sleep?” I asked Cowboy. It’s always like asking a man lost in the desert if he needs a drink of water.
But, surprisingly, Cowboy signed that he wanted to go to sleep. I wasn’t convinced. As I stood there holding my pillow and blanket, with dark circles under my eyes, I sensed he had given me a sympathetic answer. So, I asked again. “Really? Do you want to go out or go to sleep?”
That time his answer was different, and I could tell it was what he wanted. “Go change your clothes and get your shoes on. We’re going to a party on Main Street.”
We heard the band playing long before we arrived on the scene. I was energized by the atmosphere, and we quickly found Paige. For the next hour, with no break, Cowboy danced in the street with Paige, with Ginger, and with a stranger wearing a Mardi Gras mask. I filled in as needed. I was fading fast; he was, as usual, Fred Astaire looking for his next dance partner. Watching him party is always worth the effort.
Sometimes I recollect Mom’s observation when Cowboy was 10, “I don’t think people realize how socially isolated y’all have been.”
People didn’t realize it? I didn’t even know it. Living in a situation different from the norm, we had adapted. Our “normal” was what others would consider bizarre. During the days of Cowboy’s aggression and unending energy, we could no longer attend church often. It was too much work. Everything was work. And we were tired. Had it not been for our senses of humor, and my mother’s unending support, we might have ended up in a family suite with padded walls.
Thank God we’re not in that lonely place anymore. Social events are no longer exercises, literally, in keeping up with Cowboy. Breaks from school are relished, rather than dreaded. And parties are a joy that never last long enough. We’ve made up for all the years of being home too much.
Every August, as summer ends too soon, we cram as much partying as possible into the three weeks before real life starts up again. Sometimes, Cowboy makes a list of friends to invite and food to serve at yet another hot tub party. Then Labor Day comes, and with it, cookouts with friends. October brings Fall Festivals. And finally, December, the Month of Monumental Merriment, ushers in parties galore, including our favorite, the Jingle Bell Ball.
Soon, we’ll turn the page to a new year. But not before Cowboy hosts another New Year’s Eve party. Then, we’ll start filling a new calendar with sleepovers, birthday parties, and celebrations for absolutely no reason. We might even have that dog party we’ve talked about for years. And, no matter what tomorrow brings, we’ll fight the cares of this life by exercising our right to party.