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September 26, 2022

Oort Cloud Oddities: Birthday Worms

By Alexandra Queen

She's only three, but I'm already ruining my daughter's social life. Just by being me.

Where I grew up, there wasn't much in the way of preschool, so my parents found a pack of wolves with affordable hourly rates and decent references. I still fondly remember some of the kids I went to wolf daycare with. A hairy boy named JoJo who loved the circus. A kid named Jack who was always playing records for us. A set of twins who were always building elaborate cities out of blocks and talking about how, to be done right, that sort of thing couldn't be done in a day.

Though I learned a lot, there were two things the wolves didn't offer: Cooked meat and birthday parties.

It's not that the wolves didn't celebrate milestones in the process of coming of age. But instead of a specific day on the calendar, they would occasionally pause their activity of gnawing on a caribou carcass or passing out milk and cookies before nap time to look at one or the other of us. "Does JoJo look bigger to you?" they would say to each other.

"Why, yes, I do believe he's big enough to graduate from eating mice to something a little larger, like a lemming." Then there would be a small celebration where JoJo would be presented with his first whole lemming, while the rest of the preschoolers snacked on mice or other live prey of an age-appropriate size. There would be plenty of laughter and games, but none of the elaborate hoopla that makes me so uncomfortable with kid's parties these days.

My daughter Lillian has received six or seven invitations to birthday parties already. I find that remarkable, since she only really knows four kids well enough to remember their names, and two of those have yet to hold their first party.

People we hardly know have invited us to attend huge events that rival the antebellum south or idle British aristocracy for extravagance and pomp. Clowns, pony rides, gift packages, face painting, rhinoplasty, live Neil Diamond performances, the works.

I think it's very kind that the parents staging these events don't want any little children within a seventy-five mile radius to feel left out. I believe I saw one efficiency-minded mother hire a crop duster to blanket a residential area with invitations, just to be sure she didn't miss any kids. I suppose it would be crushing to be the only kid west of the Rockies not invited to little Peyton's 3rd birthday masque.

But back in my day, if everyone was celebrating Romulus and Remus being big enough to eat a whole rabbit by themselves and a kid didn't get a party vole, the wolves would just look at you and say, "God gave you those milk teeth for a reason, kid." We'd take our blankies off into the woods, catch a squirrel, and be back to the party before it was time to play "chase the crows from the carcass".

So I normally weasel out of the party invitations Lillian gets. My peace of mind depends on there being, pound for pound, more tonnage of adults present than children in any given situation and me knowing at least one person present well enough to say the word "hemorrhoid" in front of.

But then we got an invitation from one of Lillian's closest little friends.

I've known this kid since before Lillian could walk or he could be trusted not to go #2 in his pants. We used to dig for worms together at the playground. We adore his entire family. His fifth birthday was not something either Lill or I could bear to miss.

We came up with the perfect gift. Fisherman's Warehouse carries little worm farms that will turn live bait a gorgeously gross green. We wrapped one up with a 12-pack of nightcrawlers. At the pizza party, Lill's little friend opened them and then gave me a look that said, "What's wrong with you, woman?"

"Look," I pointed out to him. "They're... DISGUSTING!!!"

His face suddenly lit up with a smile like a high-intensity halogen spotlight. It made his day. And mine, too -- because when word of the worms gets around, I'm betting the only invitations we get will be from people like the little boy and his mom, who know us -- and love us anyway.

Comments and court orders to stay at least 100 yards from your own child's birthday party to Alex.Queen@gmail.com.

This article first appeared in the Manteca (Calif.) Bulletin.

Article © Alexandra Queen. All rights reserved.
Published on 2006-03-20
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