Survival Tips: Toddler Birthday Party

by Miriam Gershow

Don’t think about fire tornadoes. Don’t think about the insurrectionist who wore horns and turned out to be vegan. Don’t think about the domestic supply of infants. Go to the Dollar Store and buy bubble wands, gummy bracelets, Doc McStuffins Grab N Go Play Pack Coloring and Sticker Set, Frozen 2 Grab N Go Play Pack Coloring and Sticker Set, Encanto Grab N Go Play Pack Coloring and Sticker Set.

Invite everyone from the preschool. Invite neighbor kids. Invite kids from the park who aren’t technically friends with your toddler but aren’t not friends. They go down the slide together. They swing. They spin each other on the large, cockeyed, plastic ring that is the replacement for the too dangerous metal merry-go-round. Not everyone will come and better to have a too full house than you, your toddler, your husband and all those fucking cupcakes.

Make adult drinks. Offer all the Moms—and the one Dad (man bun and egregious levels of lauding)–“daytime sangria” and don’t be insulted when more than a few decline. These are not your friends. You make friends through sarcasm and shared history. These are sleep deprived strangers.

Set up Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Set up Water Balloon Toss. Set up Piñata. Say, “Who wants to do?” “Who wants to do?” “Who wants to do?” Wave your arm like the balloon man in front of the auto dealership. The shine of all those windshields in the summertime always makes you wish you’d remembered your sunglasses.

Drink your daytime sangria. Laugh with everyone when blindfolded three-year-olds wield baseball bats dangerously yet ineffectively at Donkey from Shrek, a movie your child has not seen yet only because they do not sit long enough to watch movies.  Be grateful that the toddler who refuses the blindfold is not your toddler. Be grateful that the toddler who cries when the one Dad with the man bun smashes Donkey with a single, powerful swing is not your toddler.

Argue quietly in the kitchen with your husband (two Dads) about the cupcakes. He wants to serve them outside. You, inside. You do not care but you argue because you are tired and slightly buzzed and would like to get bent over the arm of your living room sofa by the one Dad with the man bun.

Catch sight of your toddler and your deaf, geriatric Manx in a midday sunbeam, one chubby hand on the cat’s rump. Marvel at the patience of your cat. Marvel at the beauty of your toddler. Tell your husband to get the camera. Know your mistake is in not telling him look. Feel bad that he was busy finding his camera and missed it.

Serve the cupcakes inside. Lie when a mother who is not your friend asks if you made them. Shout “In all my spare time!” without meaning to shout and feel bad for the face the mother who is not your friend makes.

Try to keep the toddlers at the table while they eat. Try to get the parents to wipe toddler hands and faces. Watch the toddlers get frosting on the sofa you’d like to be bent over. Say to your husband, “You were right,” and know this is the currency of marriage. Know you don’t really want to be bent over the sofa. Know you want to want it. Know you only want to sit on the toilet without anyone trying to open the bathroom door.

Think you will remember all of this. Forget that memory is happenstance and sometimes cruel. Forget that scientists have proven memory is impressionistic, whole swaths lost. Do not know this is a whole swath: the daytime sangrias, Donkey, the sunbeam, the indoor cupcakes. Do not realize this will become only pictures in a hardbound photobook from the hardbound photobook website where you also order your year-end photo card, the three of you, posing arm in arm year after year, smiling, trying not to blink at the same time, trying not to blink at all, blinking.

Miriam Gershow is a novelist (THE LOCAL NEWS) and story writer. Her stories appear in The Georgia Review, Gulf Coast, and Quarterly West among others. Recent flash appears in Pithead Chapel, HAD, and Variant Lit, where it won the Inaugural Pizza Prize. This story is from her forthcoming collection, Survival Tips, from Propeller Books (2024).


Photography by: Wyron A