This story takes place nearly two decades ago, but it still makes me uncomfortable to think about it, and I still remember it well, despite being five at the time. I don’t remember the theme or location of my sixth birthday party, but the guests were (as was typical for my family) my cousins, a few of my parents’ friends kids I’d grown up with, a couple neighbor kids, and a small bunch of kids from my new kindergarten class that I’d become close with.
The invitations went out to my friends at school (maybe 5 or 6 kids from a class of 60), and a few days later I received a phone call from a girl in my class I didn’t know very well. We had never played together outside of school, or even really in school, or on the playground, and we never really spoke. We didn’t dislike each other, but we just had different groups of friends, which is what makes the whole thing so strange.
I remember her voice being quiet and unsure, and she asked if she could come to my birthday party. I was completely taken aback, because even at a young age it seemed to me inappropriate (although I didn’t know the right word) to invite yourself to a party. She said her mom said she should just call me and ask if she could come, which is clearly where things had gone wrong. I can think of a million ways the awkward little situation could have been my fault. I could have passed out the invitations in class, in front of other kids (I’m almost positive they were mailed), I could have invited the majority of the class and excluded this girl (I didn’t), I could have been good friends with her and excluded her anyway (nope…) As a little girl then and a bigger one now, I am baffled as to why the mother thought that this course of action would be good for either of us.
It’s clear to me now that the girl probably overheard me and my friends talking about the party, which for adults would have been the height of rudeness but for a few five year-olds at playtime seems pretty normal.
I put the phone down for a minute and described the situation to my Mom, who also seemed taken aback, and I can’t remember exactly what she told me to say but it may have involved letting the girl know if someone else couldn’t come. Probably not the best response, but I don’t think either of us really knew what to do. After I hung up, I got a miniature (and at that point, unnecessary) lecture from my mother about the etiquette of inviting one’s self to a party.
At five I was perplexed, but at 24 it sort of makes me sad, and I’m not sure why. I feel, though, that the violation in etiquette belonged to the other girl’s mother. Not only had her instructions to her daughter been potentially damaging to the girl’s sense of etiquette later in life, but she also succeeded in confusing me and making me feel bad for reasons that at the time, I didn’t really understand.
Thank you for letting me get that off my chest! Every so often when the subject of etiquette (especially involving children) comes up, this story comes flooding back to me, filling me with an old, yet somewhat renewed sense of shame. 0105-11