Refresh. Refresh. I checked the inbox again. No invitation had come. My son was not invited.
I had been told and fully believed that graduation from high school would be the end of feeling the full force winds of social insecurity. For years before my eldest son’s entrance into first grade, that had largely been the case. Sure, as a twenty-something I struggled with feelings of social isolation and now, with social media, I find entire days ruined by insufficient likes. But, by and large, I have come to my social angle of repose. I have friends, not a lot, but good ones.
Then, bam. This kid in my son’s class turned six. The news came toward me like a knuckleball pitched by the mother of a kid in his class. “Hey,” she said casually, “are you going to Aaron’s birthday party at Bounce U this weekend?”
On the plus side, the sting of discovered rejection immediately made me feel much younger. The resin of middle age was wiped away. On the downside, however, my skin felt pimply all over again and my beard retreated to a few patches above my lip. I could only hope the woman in front of me didn’t notice as I tripped backwards over puberty.
There are plenty of parties to which I am not invited as an adult. Most parties. These slights, if that’s what they are, have ceased to have any real venom. Meh, I think, I’d rather stay home and watch PBS anyway because, a.) fuck other people and b.) I’m smart. (Cut to weeping.) However, when it’s my son who is not invited to something, that smarts like crazy.
Pre-K and Kindergarten birthday parties are their own special type of Hell. The sheer level of screeching must violate some provision of the Geneva Convention. The entertainment is either so good it makes you feel bad or so bad it makes kids feel bad. (I once saw an old arthritic clown trying to have kids count from 5 to 1 but, due to his condition, stalling out at two.) But, by first grade, groups of friends, natural affinities, and cliques start to feel kind of important. All of a sudden, Paperless Post brings social cachet. Those dumb-ass animations of an envelope opening mean something. And when they don’t come, it’s an indictment of not just my child Tony — who is young for his grade and can be annoying, but, GODDAMMIT, is a good kid — but of my entire family. We were not political enough in play-date detentes nor sufficiently shrewd in the formation of alliances to ensure that this Saturday, my son would be red-cheeked and hyper in the bouncy fields of our Lord.
So grasping onto the chain-link fence with one hand and holding a coffee so tightly the lid pops off with the other, I lie, just like I did as a teenager when Jeff Comer asked me if I had been invited to Max Rose’s party and I was all, “Nah, I have stuff to do anyway. But it sounds fun.”
The indignity isn’t so much not being invited as it is the compulsion to lie about it. One thinks that, like tubes of Pernox and an interest in figurines, one leaves those impulses in adolescence. But the fact is they just lie dormant until you have a kid of your own.
Thrown into despair, I drank many coffees and became even more emotional. I opened up my computer to drown my sorrows in memes, when I saw, in my junk folder, an invitation from Paperless Post, cruel dictatrix of standing. “Come Celebrate Aaron’s Birthday!” it read. I clicked on the link and the invitation exited the envelope in a beautiful swoosh of animation. I felt, once again, in the warm embrace of inclusion.
Yes, I indicated, we would be going.