Yesterday, we celebrated my kid’s 10th birthday with friends in the park. (Um. Let’s just take a moment to note that this small human I helped create, carried around inside my body for the better part of a year, and then expelled from an exceedingly small orifice in my body is now A DECADE OLD. This is the most radical madness I have ever gained awareness of.) There’s this excellent, huge gazebo pavilion thing at one end of the park, and a massive playground at the other end. Which means kids and whichever parents stick around arrive at the pavilion and the kids take off for the playground, leaving the adults in restful silence to fill with awkward barely-know-each-other conversation. I wondered why we put up balloons.
After about an hour-and-a-half of this, it was time for cake and ice cream. We summoned the horde back to the pavilion, where my mom and I herded sweaty 7through11-year-olds into something resembling an orderly line and sanitized the mud and sand and plant matter covering their hands. I retrieved the plastic tub of Neapolitan from the ice chest, where it had acquired a layer of ice that made prying open the lid a quest of monumental proportions. My mom took the tub and slammed it multiple times against the concrete floor of the pavilion, proving yet again that the women in my family are nothing if not resourceful.
As children milled about in increasing disorder and my septuagenarian mother abused Italian-style ice cream, I armed myself with paper towels and scoops. Properly equipped, I stood waiting for my serving job to commence, when a near-ish voice, growing louder as the speaker approached, said from behind me, “I didn’t get my invitation. Is this the party? Can I have some cake?”
It was a brash, swaggering sort of voice, so I wasn’t surprised to turn around and find a teenage boy slouching at the bottom of the pavilion steps. Now, having once been a teeanger and knowing their behaviors and habits, I am understandably terrified of them. I could already feel my heart speeding up a little with alarm. I was ever so glad not to be the only adult present. But I was the one closest to the steps and was also the de facto host even though, being an introvert, I don’t host parties, I just throw them and hope a more gregarious guest will take over the proceedings.
But in this case, nobody was gonna do it if I didn’t. As for what “it” was, I hadn’t a clue, but my mom was sliding a finally liberated tub of half-melted Napoleon under my nose and I was up, so I faced the ice cream soup, glanced over my shoulder, made eye contact with the audacious teenager, and tossed over my shoulder a careless “sure! You want some ice cream with it?”
My brief glimpse of his face showed me a comically perplexed expression, but then I had to attend to who wanted chocolate, who wanted vanilla, who wanted both, and who might lose their excrement if strawberry contaminated anything (nobody). Somewhere behind me, the juvenile interloper said something about “buddy turned 15” and “no cake,” but I was trying to deposit onto a green paper plate a chocolate gob apparently cemented to my 1979-era metal scoop, so I couldn’t turn to ask him politely to repeat himself.
We served the kids, most of whom eschewed the chairs I’d pulled out for them and sat dribbling ice cream on the steps. Because milk products that haven’t had all proteins and nutrients scorched out of them make me feel like I’m going to vomit for a month, I couldn’t have any Napoleon. But I was just starting to salivate at the prospect of a piece of fluffy chocolate-flavored sugar batter slathered in creamy vanilla-flavored sugar goo, when a large child-human hove into the final place in line.
This was a new one. Quickly followed by the previous one. I’m sorry y’all, I couldn’t help it, but other than intelligence, which I naturally couldn’t judge, they were as George and Lenny a pair as I’d ever seen. Dimly, I was aware of a third one cycling quickly away on a bike I associated with BMX styles of the 1980s. But the vast majority of my attention belonged to the two now standing in front of my mom, gratefully receiving blessed sugary sacraments like she was the Pope.
The first one, the instigator, was about two inches shorter than me, so about 5’3ish (~1m 60cm). Stocky but skinny. Clearly the ringleader. The new one was at least 5’9, bespectacled, pimply. I could tell at a glance that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with this sitch, to which I gave silent commiseration. But I grinned up at him and stuck my hand out. “Hi, I’m Courtney. What’s your name?”
He smiled a little. “Carmelo.”
(Obviously, I am changing these kids’ names, because safety of minors and whatever, but they did both start with a C.)
“Nice to meet you, Carmelo.” I turned to his buddy, the brasher one. “And what’s your name?”
He grinned. “Casey.” He stuck a thumb in his friend’s direction. “He just turned 15.”
“Oh,” I said, turning back to the second one. “Well, happy birthday, Carmelo. What kind of ice cream do you want?”
Carmelo wanted chocolate, and he thanked me very courteously. When Casey stepped up, he said he wanted strawberry. I told him he was the only one to ask for strawberry, which he thought was funny. He didn’t mind that some vanilla ended up on his plate too. They both thanked me again. I wondered if they’d settle in for the duration, and whether they’d ask for seconds, and whether their friend would be back with reinforcements, and I had me a little imaginary Beorn-greeting-dwarven-mob-a-pair-at-a-time moment.
But Casey and Carmelo wandered away, practically inhaling their culinary blessings as teenage boys will do as they walked. Last I saw them, they’d settled on a bench some distance away from the playground. Next time I looked, they were gone, and I didn’t see them again. I wondered if their friend on the bike had simply been too embarrassed by their bravado to stick around.
My dad took their picture, which will be immortalized in 10yo’s as-yet-nonexistent scrapbook, which will become a reality if I ever get around to finishing her baby book.