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Unexpected turn of events provides perspective about throwing parties

November 23, 2008 - Kelly Valeri
We counted down the days leading up to my daughter’s first birthday party on a magnetic dry erase board on our fridge. Every morning we wiped it clean and wrote in a new number.

As the digits got lower, my stress level got higher.

I had spent weeks worrying about invitations, deciding what food to serve, picking a theme, getting decorations and making sure she had a pretty dress to wear and shoes to match.

I made numerous trips to a variety of craft stores to prepare activities for the kids. And because I need my house to be spotless for guests, I moved furniture to vacuum underneath, cleaned windows and even dusted the baseboards.

To top it off, my husband and I were in the middle of an ongoing argument about my decision to purchase our daughter’s gift on eBay. For a savings of $20, I will now have to admit I was wrong every time he feels the itch to retell the story. The present arrived four days late.

The party came and went in a flurry of wrapping paper and frosting. I have a few home videos and a bunch of photos to commemorate it, but the most memorable moment was something I never could’ve anticipated.

I had just made myself a plate of food, and as I took the first bite, my mom ran over in a panic telling me to call 911.

My grandmother had opted to lie down before guests started arriving, but I hadn’t thought much of it. I guess we figured she would tell us if something was seriously wrong. Now I know I should never underestimate her fortitude and stubbornness — two traits that have served her well over the years, but apparently not always a winning combination.

I ran upstairs, dialed the numbers and provided my address. Time unfolded as if in slow motion.

Within minutes, the paramedics arrived. My husband removed the baby gates so they could get the stretcher through. My parents accompanied her to the hospital, and I was left with a house full of people expecting a good time — and a daughter who deserved it.

But all I wanted to do was cry.

It was only a few hours, I told myself. So I managed to go through the motions. With enough distraction, it wasn’t too difficult.

But as soon as the last guest left, I raced to the emergency room. That night, my grandmother underwent surgery for a ruptured hernia below her stomach and spent the next three days in intensive care, then a few more in a regular recovery room.

I’d be lying if I said the event didn’t change me in some way. The night before the party, I remember feeling overwhelmed that this would be something we have to do every single year. And if we have more kids, more birthdays. More streamers. More menus to plan.

But now I know the parties are so much more than that. They’re celebrations of life. A reason to gather loved ones and a great excuse to eat cake. The festivities are much less important than family and friends.

Next year when we use our dry erase board to count down the days before the party, I won’t be concentrating so much on the remaining tasks.

I’ll be looking forward to a full house and getting to celebrate the event with my grandma.


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