Riley’s 1st Birthday, Part I

Riley’s birthday party was yesterday, and in the wake of all the hectic excitement, I can’t help but feel a deep appreciation for people who throw parties in the Philippines. I add in the Philippines because I’ve thrown many, many parties in the States, and I don’t remember any of them being half as chaotic as Riley’s first birthday party. Maybe I’m wrong, and the nervous energy was all in my head (though it’s not new to my Philippines experience, thus making me doubtful that it’s all in my head). Or maybe I take this particular party more seriously because it’s my son’s first birthday party (though the ideas of serious and party just don’t mix in my mind). All I know is, if you asked how the party went, I’d probably smile and shrug. “How’d the party go?” I’d likely parrot. “I guess it depends on who you ask.”


We were an hour late to our son’s birthday party.

Even though it was at our house.

And the celebrant was with us.

There we were in bumper to bumper traffic, clouds of brown dust being kicked up by hiccuping jeepney engines and lines of pedestrians weaving through traffic like schools of  fish. I sat next to Riley in the second row of our SUV, feeling my anxiety exponentially multiply by the second. A canker sore had developed on my inner bottom lip, and the single meal I’d consumed seemed to have been quickly burned up by my adrenaline. The hole being made in my stomach was quickly being filled by anxiety and adrenaline. Not a good mix.

The day was supposed to have been simple: Pick up lechon (in our case, a 100-lb. whole roasted pig); pick up the cake; take Riley for a haircut; pick up my grandma; pick up the balloons. We woke up at 6 a.m. to complete everything and the party started at 2, so really, this should have been a piece of cake. Unfortunately, it was anything but a piece of cake.

First off: Should it really take half an hour to claim food? Nope. But when your mom insists on holding all of the receipts and then loses them, that’s how long it takes to pick up a cake or 100-lb. hunk of pork. Apparently. Not that that’s a bad thing per se, because it would royally suck to pay for all that food and then have someone else haul all of it home. But shouldn’t two forms of government ID and a signature check be enough to secure the food? I’ll let you guess on the answer to that one…

Also? Nobody ever told me that a kid’s first haircut could take up to an hour. This is something that I probably should have guessed since my kid in particular is a bundle of activity, but it still surprised me. I figured, 20 or 30 minutes tops, and we’d stroll out of the kiddie barber shop with a cute head of hair on my little boy’s head. I didn’t count on the jumping and jerking and spinning and turning taking a total of 68 minutes. My bad.

And the balloons? Well, by the time we’d gotten around to them, I’d had enough and decided to send my brother to collect them on his own. What I didn’t count on was that he had to pick up the clowns as well. I thought they’d show up at any minute, and three hours after they were supposed to be here, they finally arrived (after my brother picked them up). Why they couldn’t just commute over here is beyond me. We would have gladly reimbursed their fare.

Once the clowns finally arrived, they were unprepared. They weren’t wearing their make-up or costumes, they didn’t bring a mic or a kid’s music cd, and they weren’t in the least bit jolly. We had to force the clowns to smile. Read that again then tell me it wasn’t fucked up. I dare you.

While the clowns ate their fill of food and got ready, we gathered the guests, cut the cake, gave goody bags to the kids, played some party games, and took pictures. Just as things started to get really good, it started raining. We realized then that the pinata and the pabitin couldn’t be played outside even though we’d rented a tent for the express purpose of battling inclement weather. The thought behind renting the tent was that the kids wouldn’t get rained on. We’d totally neglected the possibility that they’d drown in a sea of dirty rainwater.

Luckily, the rain thinned out the guests dramatically. The neighbors went home, the people who showed up for food and to check out our house went home, and the only people left were good friends and family aka The People Who Really Matter. They all fit into our house, but the adults made their way outside to drink their fill of liquor while the kids were being entertained. They made due under the tent while the clowns did their thing in the downstairs living room.

Meanwhile, the clowns found their groove. They improvised with Riley’s kid’s cd’s and our videoke sound system, did magic tricks, played games with the kids, and hung up the pabitin and pinata. All you could hear within a 1-mile radius of the house was the laughter and cheering of three dozen kids as they enjoyed themselves. That’s how bananas our surround system is. I’m still hearing only half of what people are saying.

Riley was a pure ball of Happy. He cheered and clapped for the magic tricks, ate his fill of cake, pancit, and other Filipino yumminess, and played with all the kids. Everyone admired his new haircut, his sweet and easy-going nature, and his dimples. The birthday boy fell asleep around 8 o’clock, just as the last of his pint-sized guests made their home.

And just as the trouble started brewing.

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