Crashing the Party
photo credit: www.sentimentalheartphoto.com
I once crashed a little black girl’s birthday party at a city park. It was quite a while back, not something that has crossed my mind in ages, but I thought about it this weekend while my family and I were at the park picnicking under the pavilion.
Years ago, when we lived in Florida, I took my little girl to the playground. She was still in diapers at the time, probably not even two years old. I’d intended for her to run around, climb and swing, but instead she became fixated on a man grilling hot dogs and decided to panhandle.
“Hot dog!” she yelled to the cook.
“Mmm hmm,” he answered. “Hot dogs.”
“Mine!” she yelled, flapping her fingers inward, the international gesture for gimme gimme.
“Caroline, those aren’t for us.” I corrected. “We’ll eat once we get home.”
After a couple more rounds of this, the man at the grill told us he was having a party for his daughter. He invited us to join. “We have plenty.”
The birthday girl was turning four, and like I said, she was black. I know I’m not suppose to do that, to define someone by the color of her skin, but I am a bit of a straight shooter, and I mention her skin color deliberately because on this day, for what ever reason, her family’s race had a impact on my thought process as I reached a decision. To be honest, it made me more anxious about how my answer would be received.
If I said yes and crashed the party, would this family think I was too stupid to recognize an un-vitation when I heard one? Would they think I was taking advantage? That I had poor parenting skills and was caving to my toddler’s demands? And what if I said no? Would I appear to be stuck up? Racist?
Isn’t it amazing, the speed at which your mind can generate worries? Isn’t it foolish? He was offering us a hot dog, for goodness sake, not one of his kidneys.
I said yes, and I think it was because of the way the man asked. He didn’t appear to be particularly extroverted or outgoing – didn’t seem like a the-more-the-merrier kind of guy. He was quiet. He seemed bashful, a little uncertain of himself for having asked, and I equate that demeanor with sincerity. He was a dad. He looked at my daughter and saw his own.
“That’d be nice,” I said, “If you’re sure you have plenty.”
The birthday girl sat at the head of the table. My daughter and I sat with a group of adults who, like the cook, were somewhat shy around me and very polite.
Older children, siblings of the birthday girl, I assumed, or perhaps cousins, assisted the father in serving lunch. They all put on clear plastic gloves before they handled the food. I had never seen that done at a casual little family cookout, and I wondered if this guy was some sort of germaphobe. Maybe he worked in the food service industry and the gloves were a habit. Should I be ashamed that I never put on plastic gloves for parties? Would this man be disgusted to eat with me if the picnic tables were turned? Would he say to his wife on the drive home, “Did you see her put her bare hand in that chip bag? Nasty!”
We sang “Happy Birthday.” The little girl beamed the way kids do when it is their special day and all attention is on them. Her mother passed out cupcakes – a little plastic rhinestone ring placed in the frosting swirl of each. The kids licked the rings clean, slipped them on, and enjoyed their cake.
We left after the little girl opened her gifts. I gave the dad a couple of bucks.
“I didn’t bring a gift, obviously, but maybe she can get something at the dollar store with this.” I said.
He accepted the cash in much the same way as I had accepted his invitation for lunch. He tucked the bills into one of the birthday cards and thanked us.
Look for this guy when you’re out at the park. Look for him at PTA and on the ball field. Look for him when it seems like there is no courtesy to be found in your fellow man. Emulate him, and watch the civility reflect back.