RSVP: Four little letters that mean répondez s’il vous plaît, AKA: let me know if you’re coming to my thing. When we see RSVP on an invitation, we know that means get in touch with the hostess and let them know if we’re going to accept their invite. I mean … we all know that, right?
Sometimes I wonder.
As a “seasoned mom” and the organizer of too many parties to count, I know RSVP is out of fashion, although I don’t really get why that is. I try to stay on top of whose coming and who isn’t in the hopes that I have enough cupcakes and food. Inevitably, someone who hasn’t RSVP’d will show up. I’ve scrambled to throw together enough last-minute goodie bags with stuff I have on hand to know to plan for guests whose parents suffer from the mysterious malady known as I-can’t-properly-use-modern-communication-itis.
Then there’s the other side of the coin — anxiously watching the minutes tick by before party time. That nagging voice inside my head that whispers, What if no one shows up?
This has never happened to us. We’ve had low turnouts but never no turnout, yet every time we plan a party, I “what-if” this scenario to death. Would I be pissed because I shelled out time and money to plan fun, games, and massive sugar overload for a bunch of ungrateful no-shows? You bet, but the real thing I dread is one day consoling my crying child because no one came to his party.
When I read Kristen Layne’s account of her son Mahlon’s 9th birthday party, I felt like someone wearing steel-toe boots kicked me in the stomach. She was describing one of my worst parenting nightmares in vivid detail. Kristen is the blogger behind Life on Peanut Layne, mom of six, and contributor to the bestselling parenting humor anthologies I Just Want to Pee Alone and I Just Want to Be Alone. In her post titled “Parents Please Don’t Forget to RSVP,” she told the story of her sweet and gentle son who’d been looking forward to his first “real” birthday party for a year.
You see, this is Mahlon’s first year in public school. He’s been homeschooled and birthday celebrations had up until now been family-only. The admittedly un-Pinteresty Kristen helped her son plan a Diary of a Wimpy Kid-themed party, complete with custom invitations from Etsy, games, and all of the things that go along with a birthday party for a 9-year-old.
Kristen wrote about how her son was up with the sun on party day hanging streamers, spiffing himself up, and posing for pictures of his party table that was set just so — and we instantly fell in love with him. There were pictures of a sweet-faced blonde boy visibly bursting with excitement because his friends were coming to his house. That’s a big deal when you’re 9.
As I scrolled through pictures of balloons, streamers, and an untouched birthday cake, I started to cry. I’m no dummy and neither are you, and we all know where this is going.
Not one single guest showed up. Not. One. Single. Kid.
Kristen and her family consoled Mahlon as best they could. They ate as much of the “enough pizza for a small army” as they could. They ate cake. They sang. They opened presents.
They even organized an impromptu bowling trip. We see Mahlon posing with a bright orange bowling ball wearing a brave little smile and our heart breaks for him just a little more.
“We showered him with love in a feeble attempt to salvage the disastrous day. We came home tired and exhausted. Once the kids were safely asleep, my husband and I fell apart. There’s only been a few times I’ve seen my tough manly husband tear up and last night was one of them.”
Remarkably, Kristen and Mahlon weren’t bitter. Kristen gave the other parents what I can only call a miraculous amount of grace, naming possible scenarios that would have prevented children from attending the party. At the start of the next school day, Mahlon’s main concern was making sure his friends got their treat bags.
“He’s a good kid and we definitely did something right with this one,” says Kristen who goes on to beg parents to take the time to RSVP to birthday parties. “This birthday will be forever etched in his memory bank as that one year when no one came to his party … it could have all been avoided by a simple RSVP.”
There’s a silver lining, though. Kristen’s post went viral and the Internet rallied. Mahlon received birthday cards from people around the world — strangers who read his story and were moved by it; strangers who shared stories of “this happened to me, too” that were incredibly validating to this sweet family.
And even cooler? Author Jeff Kinney who wrote the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series got wind of what happened and offered Mahlon a personal tour of his office and studio via Facetime. Kinney also sent an extra-special birthday gift, but if you want to know what it is, you’ll have to follow Life on Peanut Layne on Facebook because they’re keeping it under wraps right now because “it’s unbelievably awesome.”
Mahlon’s 9th birthday will remain memorable for more than one reason, but silver lining or not, this didn’t have to happen.
“The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” Kristen Layne told Babble. “We’ve received a few gifts which we’ll probably allow Mahlon to donate to a children’s hospital or other charity when things settle down. Gifts are nice but the cards and birthday wishes mean just as much. Mahlon was most excited about having his friends over to our house, to play games with them and show them his room. It was never about the gifts.”
The takeaway for parents is simple: freaking RSVP. Like many parents, I’ve accepted that RSVPs have gone by the wayside but I shouldn’t have to and neither should you. When your kid gets an invitation, take five minutes, read it, and determine whether your child will attend. Make a call. Text or email. Your phone is never far from your hand, I know it’s not. This isn’t hard but the ripple effects sure are. You don’t want this to be your kid. You don’t want this to be anyone’s kid. That party invitation you find in your kid’s backpack? There’s a kid behind that piece of paper and that kid has feelings.
If you want to take a minute and reach out to this family, you can do so via:
Kristen P. Layne
PO BOX 8141
Bend, OR 97708
I have no doubts that a message of encouragement would mean the world. But I think your resolve to do your part to make sure this doesn’t happen to another child would mean more.