Malcolm's 3rd Birthday Party: Fail?
We have one picture from Malcolm's birthday party. In it, the lights are dimmed and the candles are in focus, the spotlight on the cake. Malcolm is about three feet to the right, slightly out of focus and in the background. On his face, he wears a tired, doubtful look, chewing is bottom lip. His body is turning away from the cake, like he was trying to get away, but the candles distracted him.
How do you get such a melancholy shot at toddler's birthday party? And qualify it as a success?
Well, you start by inviting the grandparents. He's the last grandchild on both sides, so everyone relishes in all these firsts and lasts.
Then you give the toddler a nice long nap to make sure he's good and ready for the festivities and joy and cake. The secret to amazingly joyful instagram-able photos is rested children. Everyone knows that.
But then you realize that the good, healthy, long nap is dragging on and you get suspicious. He wakes up from his unusually long nap glassy-eyed, coughing and with a fever. So you load him up on Advil or Tylenol, or maybe both, because the show must go on. You throw in homeopathic cough syrup (a.k.a. overpriced honey flavoured with desperation). You know you're hitting the big time now because (didn't you know?) drugs are the secret to those gorgeous Vanity Fair portraits, too.
Before dinner, you give him his blankey and allow him to stare off into middle space. Its best to save his energy for the main event: the cake portrait. When things are getting a little iffy, like the stare is looking more like its creeping towards unconsciousness, you throw presents at your toddler. Nothing keeps the party alive, literally, like toys. He perks up. You are brilliant.
Hungry toddlers are uncooperative subjects and sick toddlers refuse to eat almost everything, so you dig deep into your arsenal - a.k.a. your freezer - and pullout the ultimate weapon: store brand french fries and cheap, over processed chicken nuggets. No surly toddler can resist the pull of fake food.
It works, he eats. He is drugged, fed and loved. The portrait is within reach. But then he remembers the new toys. He wants out of his high chair. You distract him with one more chicken nugget, but you know its all about to be lost. The older two children are eating way to slowly. You pull out your last trick. You start talked maniacally about the chocolate cake. Who wants cake? Did we mention there's cake? Forget about the rules, yes older siblings, you can have dessert without finishing your dinner!
Finally cake time. Thanks to the coughs, you decide maybe it would be best if you don't put the cake directly in front of him. Because, as much as you want the picture, you've already proven yourself to be a selfish mother and have you seen the cake? He's sceptical anyways. He asks you not to take his picture, so you take "one of just the cake." He does not want to blow out the candles, so Dad "helps him."
And when the picture and candles are done, all he says is "me get down now?"
That is how that picture, in all its apathetic glory, is an epic success. We enjoyed a delicious cake, and he went and played by himself with his new toys.
In the end, I took him upstairs early and rocked him. We snuggled until I realized that his drool was seeping through my shirt and I was the only one still snuggling. I put him into his crib and he drowsily smiled at me before turning back to sleep.
p.s. The next day he was diagnosed with pneumonia. Not letting him close to the cake was clearly the best decision of the day.