The two girls didn’t drift apart, though: The Birthday Girl has a Skype account, and The Child and she spend a lot of time video chatting after school. I tried to warn off The Child in the futile way parents do, but she brushed me off: It’s just that Birthday Girl is having a very hard time. Things are hard for her. Her mother died. Her father and stepmother are getting divorced.
Her determination to hold on to her elementary school friends is renewed after the failed Niagara Falls trip, and for her own birthday party, The Child decides to gather together her elementary school girlfriends for a sleepover. Although several of her friends have moved on to the same middle school The Child attends, the others have not. She waxes nostalgic: I want a night with my real friends.
I plan a simple sleepover on a very unfortunate night, right when school starts. Many of the girls can’t stay overnight, but the mothers all call and make plans for their girls to attend and stay as late as they feel they can. We make party food and arrange gift bags filled with silly striped kneesocks and the usual candy. The Child carefully decorates the plain bags, each one personalized for its intended recipient: six girls, six bags.
The Stepmother’s email is the only one I have for that family, but I receive no response to several email inquiries. I am reluctant to call Birthday Girl’s father, since the subject of the iPad repairs I paid for will likely come up, or worse, not come up but linger in the frosty air. The Child informs me the girl is coming, though. She’s positive. They’ve discussed the party plans on Skype.
A few hours before party time, The Child comes downstairs in tears. She’s not coming, she wails. Birthday Girl.
I had assumed this would be the case, but ask, Why not?
I don’t know, wails The Child. She didn’t make sense. Her dad has to work so she has to be at her sister’s house.
I inquire, Why can’t her sister bring her? She can stay here as well as there.
This thought had not occurred to The Child, who disappears back upstairs, reappearing a while later, even more distressed.
She can’t come! She has some friend over at her sister’s house. She hesitates before the next statement: She doesn’t even seem to be upset about missing it.
I try to soothe the child, but her plans for an elementary school reunion are ruined: she will not be consoled. I try to help her understand the difference between reasons and excuses, but she wants no part of it. Birthday Girl’s life is so hard, she tells me, and things are so complicated. She finally cheers up when her other friends arrive.
After the party, Birthday Girl’s gift bag remains on the table for several days, but when I attempt to remove it, The Child says no, she will give it to the girl when she sees her. I wonder when that will be, if ever, but put the bag on a side table, where it remains for several months before I rearrange some furniture and it finally disappears, unnoticed.