As usual Callie's birthday stretched over a space of about 4 days. Wednesday, her birthdate, to Saturday, her party. I don't know why this is, but it seems as if her birthday is always a prolonged celebration!
Wednesday, was the 21st - and the kids had off school. She dictated the menus for the day - Scrambled eggs with ham and cheese for breakfast, egg salad for lunch (good thing I had about 30 eggs) and tacos (a challenge in France) for dinner. We spent a long time doing a scientific experiment together. It consisted of counting how many rocks it would take inside a plastic container to sink it to the bottom of the tub, we then tied a balloon to the box to see if it would help it float again. We got a suprise package for all of us from Miss Tish, Zander's former kindergarten teacher. What a cool suprise! We love getting packages - and the timing was good. It had lots of neat learning stuff inside including a giant science experiment book. We went into action, trying to make plastic using curdled milk and vinegar - but ended up with stinky sludge. We also watched a movie, did a little coloring and opened the birthday package sent from Grammie and Grandpa. Callie loved her heart shaped necklaces of various sparkly colors. She also loved her leopard hat which she wore to school the next day. The most exciting for Zander was the poodle. We were supposed to submerse (in 'french' water only please) for it to grow 600% over a period of 10 days. 600% huh? That would make it the size of an actual dog.... well, this Sunday (4 days in), the dog had probably doubled, or perhaps tripled in size. Well, we still have 6 days to wait, right? Wrong. Daddy got impatient and poured hot water on it (he never saw the 'room temp water only' instructions), resulting in doggie decapitation and a tearful Callesandra. Perhaps the makers know that no small child (or her father) would have the patience to wait 10 days so they can make outrageous 600% size claims with no fear of lawsuits. It was also supposed to shrink right back down to normal size after you were done expanding it. Alas, now we shall never know the truth. Daddy says, sorry!
Thursday I remembered that her other Grandma and her Aunt Jenae had sent her gifts with the Christmas package so I dug them out and we spent some time magically dressing and redressing a felt doll (from Grandma) using the magic wand (from Aunt Jenae) to 'bing' new outfits upon her. We were also excited to get a new purple outfit!
Friday was her party at school. It seems that 6 kids have birthdays in January. 3 had their party last Friday, and 3 (Paul, Evan and Callie) this Friday. That meant 3 birthday cakes (or in Callie's case, chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting (actually it was buttercream but to her, anything white colored is vanilla so I can get away with it). As you may be able to see, I got some creative energy out by making the cupcakes into a picture - green sugar grass, blue sugar sky, sun, trees flowers, rainbows etc.... it was art - and it got chopped up! Why, I made enough for each kid to have one (with extras) Well it turns out they don't even think of giving them a whole cupcake - I guess it makes sense when there are 3 cakes to distribute in one afternoon. I feel the need to do a bit of an aside about French birthday cakes and traditions in schools. First off, the cake is always (and I do mean always) chocolate. Callie, Zander and Griffin all have never had a non-chocolate cake for a birthday in almost 5 months. Second, they don't do frosting or decorating of any sort- the most I've seen is a light misting of sprinkles. Third, they actually allow real live candles to be lit for the birthday song. (Denied to us in philly -fire hazard, dontcha know?) Finally, they make each child in the class do a drawing and the teacher compiles them into a birthday card. Very cute.
Saturday was the actual birthday party. We have a tradition in our family - you can either have a party OR a special day to spend doing your choice of activities accompanied by only one friend and either Mom or Dad. In the past 3 years, Zander had always chosen a party and Callie always a special day. This year, as she has made so many new friends and didn't want to exclude any, she chose a party. There were to be 11 children 7 and younger and we had called our babysitter Natalie in as an extra set of hands. Well, she got sick causing me a minor panic attack! Luckily we were able to get a last minute replacement. The party was supposed to run from 3pm to 5:30pm. I had prepared games, crafts etc... to occupy the time. I wasn't worried. I have run tons of birthday parties and other events in Philly. Granted, all those were outdoor parties - usually run on the circle or in other venues but a party is a party, right? Well, do you know that 'rule' that they have about kids' birthday parties?? The one where you should never invite more kids than your child's age (that would mean no more than 6 right?) Well, there is a reason the wise people out there made that rule.
First off, these kids were prompt. And by prompt, I mean, early! The first guest arrived at 2:40 and they were all in by about 3:05. Am I even dressed and ready 20 minutes ahead of time? No way! At home, people were always late. The babysitter was actually one of the last arrivals. So, there we were, with 11 kids, trapped in the house and man, were they ready to party! They were bouncing off the walls. I know I have mentioned that French kids play rougher than their American counterparts and several of the kids were literally wrestling, beating and kicking each other. This is all in good fun - but I can't stand it! I live in constant fear of injury. They also don't really listen when adults talk, at least not to me or André; (I don't know how the teachers manage - do they act differently in a classroom environment?) It was a bit of a dissappointment to me, b/c I know all of these kids, like all of them, and have always prided myself over my good way of relating with kids and handling them. My theory is that if you give them fun things to do, they will be fine (worked for the pumpkin party) but these guys wouldn't settle long enough to do the fun stuff. I think much of the problem may have been the language barrier - maybe they didn't understand the games we wanted to play??? We did accomplish a craft, then played animal charades and then toss the smile and keep the balloon up and a balloon relay race but it was literally like 2 minutes of attention and then kids just stopped playing and resumed running around and wrestling. I felt really bad for one little girl, she was just totally overwhelmed and didn't participate in any of the games - the babysitter played with her while the other kids did their thing. The only game that was a total success was one that I remembered playing at parties when I was a kid (thanks mom). You split the kids into 2 teams and then show both teams a tray that contains lots of random items. You let them look at it for 1 minute telling them to remember as many items as they can. Then each team writes down as much as they can remember. Whichever team remembers more, wins. The kids really got into it and I was especially impressed by how much Zander remembered. Then, we gave up with orderliness and herded everyone outside to run around for about 1/2 an hour. (except the one poor little girl, she stayed inside for a break)
Then it was cake and opening presents - At Callie's request I had made vanilla cake with chocolate whipped-cream frosting. Most of the kids didn't eat it (hey, the cake wasn't chocolate and what is this frosting stuff?) but we all did. I never like opening presents at the party but it is definitely part of the culture here so we did it. Callie got some Littlest Pet Shops and their paraphenelia, some play-doh, a few books, a DVD, a castle and a High School Musical 2 doll with microphone. She liked everything and was very polite - kissing each kid on the cheek. Here, they all kiss each other (boys to girls, girls to girls, boys to boys) but no one hugs - they don't even really know how to react to hugs... funny. I think of that classic parental dilemma in the US, going to see a distant relative? To hug or not to hug? You know, when you are taking your kid to see great aunt soandso who they don't know at all. This person is strange, old, smells funny and is going to want to hug and kiss your child. Well your kid, (nobody's fool) will probably not want to get within 10 feet. Well, not wanting to offend great aunt soandso, you try to coach your kid into wanting to hug and kiss this stranger. Lots of arguements are used for persuasion: They are family, they love you, you don't want to hurt their feelings, do you? I'll give you this piece of candy I have in my pocket afterwards... I don't believe there is this dilemma in this culture whatsoever. Here in France, whenever I meet a new child, they kiss me. This is done to all and sundry since birth, I suppose, and Callie is picking it right up. Zander doesn't do it much - and when I encourage him to, he feels a bit strange about it - he usually tries to hug his friends, which they don't get.
Anyway, after present opening some parents started to come and pick up - which they were also prompt at - the first parent arrived at 5:05pm and they were all gone (shoes and coats on and out the door with their bag of candy) by about 5:30pm. For the last half hour I pulled out all the dress up clothes and they had a great time getting all dressed up and running about as ghosts, bunnies, bears, pirates, princesses or whatever - they were very cute. In the end, I think it was a successful party - 10 out of 11 had fun, and no one was injured, right? Callie said she had a great time and she's the birthday girl. Towards the end of the party, one of the little girls asked me when we were going to watch TV. I said 'um, never!' and she asked why??? Well, because you are supposed to play and talk at a party, not watch TV, right? Well, upon further questioning of the babysitter we found out that most people who have parties in their homes just click on the TV for them. I found that very strange but it sure would have been easier!
Several relatives requested that Callie tell what happened at her party - I have tried asking her around 3 times now and she really had a hard time figuring out what to say - but, after a while, I pried the following out of her:
The Callie perspective:
In the morning we decorated with lots of balloons and we had hotdogs for lunch and then the kids came and we made animals on sticks and I made an elephant and then we were playing a cards game and then a game where we taked the animals out of a bag and acted it out - charades - and after that we played keep it up- when you keep a balloon up in the air - and if it falls down you lose - we ate cake but before we ate cake we played a game of le loupe outside and me and Lea stayed in the cabin (house) so we wouldn't get caught. We played dress up and there was a ghost and we were princesses running away from the ghosts. It was a very fun party.
I find it interesting to note she doesn't mention the game I thought went well OR the presents. Just goes to show everyone has a different perspective on this stuff. Well, she is finally 6 - in a few months Griffin will be 4 - they are all growing up so fast.