I. Star of the Week: Friday
“Have a good time, star of the week,” I called out to June as she and Beth headed out the door at 8:15. Beth was taking her to school because she was chaperoning the second-grade field trip to Air and Space. It was the first event in an almost unbearably exciting three days: first the museum trip, which corresponded with June’s birthday party theme—outer space—followed by a school fundraiser at Chuck E. Cheese that evening and then June’s birthday party, which would start late Saturday afternoon and last until Sunday morning, on June’s actual birthday.
“You were star of the week?” Beth inquired. Star of the week is a rotating position in June’s afternoon class. Mainly it consists of being responsible for classroom chores, but Ms. K has done a good job selling it. Beth wanted to know if it was a coincidence that it was the week before her birthday. It was, June said.
While they were gone I read a few chapters of a P.D. James mystery, cleaned the kitchen, exercised, worked on the outline for a brochure, and gathered June’s early birthday gifts. I’d bought her a sweater and a skirt with starts on them to wear at her party, and a pair of pajama bottoms with glow-in-the-dark stars, also for the party. June has two pairs of much loved and now ragged glow-in-the-dark space pajamas (hand-me-downs from Noah) which would have been perfect for the party if not for the fact that one pair no longer glows and the other has a huge hole in the crotch I’ve mended multiple times and which is now beyond fixing. So clearly, new pajamas were needed. It turns out glow-in-the-dark space pajamas are harder to find than you’d think. I spent several evenings looking online and finally found a pair (bottoms only) in her size on eBay. I put everything in a dark blue gift bag, which I decorated with outer space-themed stickers. These were for a build-your-own solar system craft for the party but we had more than we needed. In fact, June and I had spent much of the previous afternoon sticking identical stickers back to back, punching holes in them and suspending them from the ceiling with fishing line for party decorations. June also drew Saturn (sans ring) with marker and glitter glue and then made rings for the Pin-the-Ring-on-Saturn game.
Beth got home from the field trip a little after two, reported it had been a success, especially the IMAX 3-D movie about the Hubble space telescope and then she started baking the cake. June decided she wanted a three-tier cake with sky blue frosting and roses on it before she settled on her party theme and she could not be swayed to a more space-themed cake, even after I found out through a photo posted on Facebook that one of my local friends owns a star-shaped cake pan that would have been perfect. June did agree to some star-shaped candles and picked out black plates, cups, and napkins with gold stars on them.
Once both kids were home from school and June had showed me her rainbow-striped coloring page of the space shuttle, she opened her early presents, which also included some fabric and sewing patterns from YaYa, a clue that June was getting the sewing machine she asked for from us. Then Beth and June set out on their second trip to Party City in less than a week, this time to get the star and moon-shaped balloons we’d already bought filled with helium and to procure additional balloons, including a huge one that says, “another year of fabulous!”
When they returned, it was off to Chuck E. Cheese. We ate pizza and June ran around with friends and played games and had several pictures taken of herself, with and without a statue of the mouse. Beth, Noah, and I played a lot of skee ball and I shot hoops, too. The tickets we earned playing games with twenty dollars worth of tokens netted June a bookmark, a container of purple play dough, a glow-in-the-dark plastic snake, a box of Nerds and a roll of sweet tarts. No one ever said the prizes are a good deal, but we had fun and we also raised $9 for June’s school between the tokens and our meal and Noah didn’t complain too much about being forced to set foot in Chuck E. Cheese, the very concept of which seems to offend his preteen sensibilities. There’s a Fro-Zen-Yo next door so we had dessert there (except for June who opted for an ice cream sandwich plucked from a machine by a robot arm at Chuck E. Cheese).
After June was in bed I wanted to make sure Noah and I had some one-on-one time during a busy, June-focused weekend, so we started reading The Martian Chronicles, a book I used to teach. He liked the part where the astronauts from the second expedition end up in a Martian insane asylum.
II. Out of This World: Saturday
Saturday was a whirl of party-related chores. We cleaned and reorganized the living room so that there was enough floor space for five sleeping bags and cleared everything on the porch to one side to make room for the piñata and the Pin-the-Ring-on-Saturn game. June and I cleaned the kids’ room, filled the goody bags, and worked on the party timetable. Beth and Noah hung a paper curtain in the living room and practiced projecting a movie onto it, and Beth and June frosted the cake. In the excitement we forgot that June had a make-up violin lesson, but her teacher dropped by with a small gift for her (polka-dotted rosin).
All day June was singing “Let it Go,” because we were going to show Frozen at the party. June had not seen the movie because with rare exceptions she was not allowed to watch PG-rated movies until she turned eight and Frozen has been the hottest movie for kids June’s age for months. She’s watched the video of the most famous song many, many times and has it down pat. She was also wearing a small tiara like Elsa’s from the time she got dressed that morning.
The party started at five, but June had asked if Megan could come an hour early, ostensibly to help with last-minute preparations. I remember my sister and I doing this when we were kids; the real reason is to affirm best-friend status, and as Megan is without question June’s best friend, I said yes.
Once the rest of the guests began arriving, June directed them to page through a book about the moon she’d set out on the living room rug along with one of Beth’s old astronomy textbooks from college. Noah started a playlist of songs about the moon for atmosphere. Then we directed them to the table I’d covered with newspaper and set out clear plastic sun-catchers in the shapes of the moon and stars, along with paint, brushes, and cups of water. This proved a popular activity and the girls painted a few each before Beth and Noah returned with pizza and we had to clear off the table to eat.
After pizza, the beautiful blue tiered cake, and ice cream, June opened her presents. Marisa got her a book about space. There were several presents of fabric and a sewing kit and Lego and Lite-Brix kits. Maggie made a nice card with chalk drawings of outer space on black construction paper.
The piñata was the last order of business before the big event—getting into pajamas and watching the movie. This year’s model was star-shaped and covered in shiny gold foil. It was actually quite pretty. Last year was the first year one of June’s guests broke the piñata without maternal or fraternal assistance and it was after everyone had a had a few turns so I was unprepared when Megan, only the third girl in line, broke it. In retrospect, I should have only let each girl hit it once during a turn so more girls had a chance. Live and learn.
I was a little worried before the party started that in an effort to fill sixteen hours, we’d actually planned too many activities. Beth looked over the schedule right before the party started and said it was “ambitious,” but I ended up glad for the full schedule because the party, surprisingly loud considering the small number of guests, always got louder and more chaotic whenever there was a down moment. And as it turned out, we had all the girls in pajamas and sleeping bags, supplied with popcorn and ring pops and ready to watch the movie at 6:55, five minutes ahead of schedule. I noted this with some satisfaction and Murphy’s Law immediately took effect. The movie wouldn’t start. It wasn’t compatible with one of the devices we were using to project it. Beth and Noah tried several fixes and finally Beth had to purchase a new copy online, which at fifteen dollars was totally worth it. The film began at 7:03. Luckily, speedy tech support is Beth’s specialty.
There was some chatter during the movie and many admonishments not to give anything away because June had not seen it already (it’s possible all the guests had). They certainly knew the songs and there was some singing along. When “Let it Go,” was about to start they all sat up in their sleeping bags. I told Beth it’s like the anthem of their generation, and she predicted they will all be belting it out when they’re thirty and going through bad breakups.
Marisa was not spending the night so her mom came to pick her up when the movie was over and everyone else brushed their teeth and got back into their sleeping bags. I explained the rules, everyone was to stay put unless they needed to use the bathroom but they could converse until ten. It was around nine-fifteen, an hour and half past June’s bedtime and she said she was tired and just wanted to go to sleep and not talk at all. Her friends all wanted to stay up and June was starting to look upset. Someone suggested reading and she went and got an armful of books for her friends. I supplied flashlights to those guests who had not brought their own (a surprising number of them had) and soon everyone but June was reading quietly and she was snuggled down with her eyes closed.
I was surprised by this turn of events and wondered if getting them quiet for the night might be as simple as that but by nine-thirty I was hearing voices, including June’s, now sounding cheerful. Shortly before ten I came to remind them it was time to sleep. I returned with a similar message shortly thereafter and then Beth went in at 10:15, got water for everyone who was thirsty, and spoke somewhat sternly about the need to stop talking and by 10:30 they were all asleep or doing a reasonable imitation of asleep.
III. The Sun, the Moon, and the Stars: Sunday
I fully expected them to all be up at the crack of dawn, but they surprised me by sleeping until almost seven and they were sluggish and disinclined to get up even then. The girl who’d kept the rest up after they wanted to go to sleep was complaining that she wanted to go back to sleep, but everyone was talking. I put in a Magic School Bus DVD about the solar system and they watched it, still lying on the floor, while Beth made pancakes and I sliced bananas and set the table. June wanted a candle in her pancake because it was her real birthday so I put one in and they all sang “Happy Birthday” to her in English and Spanish.
Breakfast perked the girls up and they got dressed and went outside with their moon observation journals (the fact that they are studying the moon at school might have inspired June’s party theme). Although it was supposed to be out at that time, it was too cloudy to verify and they all dutifully noted that in Spanish in their journals. Next they played Pin-the-Ring on Saturn on the porch. June had the first turn and went several feet wide of the mark, taping her ring to the front door, making everyone including her laugh. Zoë went second and almost walked off the porch steps before I grabbed her jacket, so from then on after blindfolding and spinning each girl I took her by the shoulders and gently pointed her in the right direction and then they got more accurate. We had an extra ring so I let June have another turn and she got hers onto the paper with the rest of them.
The last two scheduled activities were making a solar system map with stickers and playing a game Megan had invented especially for the party called Catch-the-Star. It involves chasing a beam of light from a flashlight around the living room. I didn’t quite understand the rules, but the girls all did, and that’s what mattered.
We ran out of activities just ten minutes before the end of the party so we sent them outside to chase one of the balloons. One guest’s mother thought the party ended at ten instead of nine, and she had to come all the way from Rockville so she was just setting out when I called at nine-thirty to inquire if she was on her way. The girl and June worked on building the car from the kit she’d gotten for her.
Once the party was finally over, June opened her presents from immediate and extended family: the sewing machine and a case to carry it, a kids’ guide to herbs, a shawl she’d admired, a saddle for her American Girl doll’s horse, two Edgar and Ellen books, and a lot of clothes. I went overboard with clothes this year because June’s new favorite colors, light blues and greens are easier to find than orange, her old favorite, and blue and green are also my favorites.
Becky, June’s preschool music teacher and the mother of her favorite babysitter, came by in the afternoon with more presents, a historical book about women’s basketball, and certificates for activities with Becky and Eleanor—a manicure, gelato, a tea party, and a game of Horse.
June spent the day quietly playing with her new building kits, reading Harry Potter, which I wouldn’t let her read until she turned eight, watching Frozen again and singing “Let it Go,” under her breath. After dinner we ate leftover birthday cake and June wanted us to put candles on it and sing to her again, so we did.
Happy birthday, dear June. As your card said, I wish you the sun, the moon, and the stars.