Everyone remembers the jerk who didn’t invite that one kid to his birthday party. They sneaked around birthday invitations, but we found out (we always found out), and the teacher was powerless to help. Sometimes it was us. We remember the pain of being left out, the embarrassment of everyone’s side-eye. We had been branded unwanted.
That jerk who excluded one kid? This year, that’s my son. And the boy he excluded used to be his best friend.
Blaise has been excited about his birthday party for months. That’s partly because he was born around Christmas, and every year, we have a postponed party sometime in April. He’s gone back and forth between themes: Star Wars! No, Harry Potter! No, Star Wars again! Right now, we’re at Harry Potter again, not in the least because his five-kid family of good friends does a mean Harry Potter ensemble, and he can disguise his stuffed eel as a basilisk. I’ve promised a golden snitch cake I didn’t Pinterest, thank you very much, but I know I can pull off amazingly. I think.
We’re easy. We’ll have the party at our house, with a strict no-present policy. The kids will get homemade wands as party favors and spend most of their time dismantling my sons’ rooms and playing in the front yard. The adults will drink moderately and munch absently on veggie trays. We’ll talk politics, movies, video games, and various kid things, like growing out of clothes and eating Brussels sprouts and pooping. My youngest son’s godmother will take photos, because she likes to do that, and upload them on Facebook with tags for the parents. People will admire our fossil collection, and someone will try to ride the giant Melissa and Doug giraffe. You couldn’t ask for a chiller party.
But A will not be there. Neither will his mother, formerly one of my best friends.
His mother and I have (had?) no problems with each other. That’s where the issues begin. We planned a playdate at our favorite park. Six-year-old A didn’t have school, so it offered a rare occasion for him to play with homeschooled Blaise.
Blaise and A stalked off to the edges of the park. They seemed to be playing their favorite games — going on a journey, stick-fighting, hiding in the bushes. A few times I heard Blaise cry out, but no sustained crying. Once they had a tiff over a particularly wonderful stick, which A’s mother and I arbitrated.
She and I sat on the picnic table and watched the kids. A’s mom is a prodigious knitter; I don’t remember what she was making that day, but it was something intricate, multicolored, and wonderful. Our other friend, R, hung out as well. She also did some kind of needlework. We talked. We checked our phones. Nothing seemed amiss.
Until Blaise ran over to us, weeping. “A says I have on girl jeans!” he cried.
“Yeah, see, there’s a heart on his pocket,” A sneered. I buy almost all the kids’ clothes used. And when I stared, I realized the brown stitching ran into a vague sort of heart on the back pockets. They were girl jeans.
I enfolded Blaise in my arms. “It’s okay, baby,” I said. “It’s okay.” And I murmured all those comments you say when your child’s crying. I had homeschooled my son so this type of thing wouldn’t happen to him when he was six. And here it had come, in a familiar park, with a familiar friend.
Blaise snapped something back at A. I don’t know what, because he was mostly incoherent by that point. A kept laughing at him.
A’s mother HANDLED. IT. She took him aside. She told him that he had upset Blaise, because look how he was crying. She reiterated all the right things about apologies and meanness and kindness. I couldn’t have done it better. A apologized. We left soon after, and because of the vagaries of school, haven’t seen him since.
As soon as Blaise’s birthday party came up, so did A. “I don’t want A at my party,” he said immediately and adamantly.
Something flip-flopped in my chest. “Why not?” I asked.
“Because he’s mean. He hits me with sticks and takes my sticks and made fun of me.”
No matter what we tried, the answer was the same. He hurt me, and I don’t feel safe around him. We tried to talk to him about A apologizing. He snapped back that A hadn’t apologized for everything. This went on for months. As a parent who places respect for her child feeling safe above almost everything, I didn’t have a choice.
I had to send his mother a note:
I know you realize that invitations for Blaise’s birthday party have gone out, and A didn’t get one. Ever since the last time they played, Blaise has said he doesn’t feel safe around A. We have tried to talk him out of this for weeks. I am so so so so so sorry … I want you to know that this was completely his decision.
Obviously, she wasn’t happy. Who would be? She said none of the rest of the family would be attending, and that this wasn’t something she would have liked to talk about over the Internet. I responded that we hadn’t seen each other to do otherwise.
And that was it. We were the mean kids. We were the ones leaving someone out of a birthday party. It didn’t feel good, but we had good reasons — Blaise didn’t feel safe around A; I had to respect Blaise’s feelings. I feel grateful, at least, that A won’t know he was excluded.
Though I assume it’s the end of their friendship. And the end of my friendship with his mother. That makes me sad. She’s a wonderful woman, a dedicated volunteer, the first to offer help to anyone. I hope we can get past this.
But I’m worried we won’t.