At 2:30 P.M., my wife walks up to me, her eyes darting back and forth. She leans in close to my face, her words hushed, but urgent. "It's 2:30," she says.
"I know," I answer.
"They aren't here yet."
"Do you want me to call?" I ask.
A few tense seconds pass. "I don't know," she says. "Yes. I think so...yes."
"Okay," I say, and go into the house. As I search the computer for the phone number to CJ's Ranch, I'm thinking, "God, what am I doing? I mean, who am I? I'm one of THOSE parents. That's who I am. God, I've become one of them..."
In 1979 I celebrated my 8th birthday. My mom made a cake, the relatives came over and talked amongst themselves while the kids played with the new toys. It was a really nice time. A few years later, my mom made an awesome snowman cake for my sister's birthday. We all loved it, and the adults talked amongst themselves while the kids played with the new toys.
One year we got to go to a McDonald's party. If you were a child of the '70s or '80s, you may have experienced this glory. Basically, a dozen ecstatic preteens were stuffed into a local McDonald's, given hats, balloons, toys, Happy Meals (remember, Happy Meals were new back then), and best of all, a TOUR OF THE KITCHEN. A store manager took us into the heart of the restaurant, where the underpaid teenagers, senior citizens, and immigrant workers smirked at us knowingly (one in eight Americans has worked at McDonald's*). But we didn't care. We were eating Chicken McNuggets. With DIPPING SAUCE. "This is amazing," we all thought. "This is the greatest day of my life. We're at a party. At McDonald's. This could not possibly get better."
Now I'm listening to the answering machine at CJ's Ranch. It beeps, and I say, "Hi, yes, this is Dave. My wife and I ordered two ponies for a birthday party today... Um, we didn't receive a confirmation call from you this morning and were expecting you at 2:00, so we're hoping you'll be able to make it today... Okay, talk to you soon." I hang up the phone and go back outside.
"Well?" my wife asks.
"I got the machine," I say.
She purses her lips in an expression that says, "We're going to have an angry mob on our hands if two horses don't show up in the very near future."
"Everyone's having fun," I say, pointing to the frenzied throng of 4-year-olds in the backyard. "How could they not?"
Birthday parties are my wife's Superbowl. And each year, she gets a little crazier. We spend weeks making signs and rigging up games, all within the chosen "theme." They're events, really — something you'd want to get tickets for. We almost need a stage manager on headset. Have you ever seen the movie Parenthood with Steve Martin? There's a birthday party scene in that movie with balloons, performers, and all sorts of over-the-top antics. My wife's parties are kind of like that. This year we decided to add ponies to the mix.
I grew up in the city. To me, a birthday party with ponies was about as familiar as one with space aliens. Pony parties were reserved for blue blood debutantes in the suburbs.
Today I find myself glancing up the road for any sign of Casper and Starbright. Finally, I hear someone say, "They're here." Sure enough, there's a truck with a horse carrier in my front yard. I greet the owner as his two workers lead the ponies onto the grass. Their tails are braided and ribbons are tied into their manes. Glitter has been sprinkled onto their backs. The kids gather in front of the house. They're beside themselves with excitement, grinning as if they are about to receive dental exams.
Grace climbs onto Casper and smiles so wide that I almost implode. "Look, Daddy!" she manages to get out. Her hot pink cowgirl boots dangle above the stirrups and she grips the saddle's handle as if she were born in a stable. She's so darn cute I'm afraid I may lose consciousness and drop my camera.
As they walk down the lawn and turn to follow the road, I think, "Yes, I am one of those parents. And it's pretty nice."
*Leo J. Shapiro and Associates, June 2005.