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Understanding Limitations 

Mae's turning 5 and it's party time

I need serious professional help. I'm worse than Daniel, even, who is addicted to the QVC Home Shopping Network. He doesn't buy anything, mind you, he just watches it all day and leaves me voice messages about Lauren Hutton's latest offering. "Girl, you have got to get you some o' them instant tanning towelettes," he'll say. "You just wipe and toss, that's all. It's easier than a faceless fuck in a bus stop bathroom stall."

He even signed me up for the QVC e-mail newsletter, and I know I'm not the only one he did this to. "Get you a one o' them propane-powered ionized hair-straighteners with the ceramic inserts," he told me once in an e-mail that must have been meant for Grant, whose hair has fruit bats living in it, while my own hair is already straight. Or almost as straight as it was before the hormone-addled birth of my baby nearly five years ago to this day, which means, that's right, Mae's birthday is coming up!

Hence the need for serious professional help, as I always foolishly think I can do this alone. Like last year was a princess theme, and I set about building her a damn castle, with a giant dragon and everything, and pretty much reconstructed the entire forefront of my home, and was about to dig a freaking moat, I swear, before friends intervened. It was just in time, too, because at the same time I had the Yellow Pages out trying to track down those guys who do the jousting demonstrations at the Renaissance Fair.

But it's the shopping, I tell you, that is the complete crack addiction of a party-planning mom like myself. In the event of my daughter's parties, I immediately cease any understanding of my own limitations. Mae's third birthday, for example, was a tropical luau theme, and I actually used that as an excuse to fly to Key West and collect corroded fishnets and carved coconut heads. In the end, my place looked like a raised shipwreck, which was pretty cool, especially since I put a fully stocked tiki bar on the porch. But beyond that, my friends had to intervene then as well, actually taking the phone out of my hand as I spoke to a professional Hawaiian dance troupe that, for $1,000, would perform fire eating but not sword swallowing.

This year will be a "fairy" theme. Mae always cites the themes of her own upcoming parties herself, which right there might be my first mistake. For example, a 3-year-old might not understand the limitations of recreating an active ocean seabed in the entrance foyer of a house. The parent is supposed to understand that limitation. But as I said, I don't understand my limitations. Already I see no limit, and figure it's fully possible to create, from sticks and crystals, the entire art-deco set you saw on all three Lord of the Rings movies, right here in my living room.

I think this all comes from my own mother who, in contrast, was fairly pathetic about planning parties. Her sole approach to parties was, "Why the hell not?" I once learned that she was planning a surprise party for my 17th birthday and I about melted into a gibbering puddle of humiliation right there. My friend Kathy told me the news, knowing I'd need the warning. My mother planned to serve something she called the 24-hour omelet, which, as far as we could tell, consisted of raw eggs poured over a pan of Wonder Bread slices. "Why the hell not?" my mother had said.

The worst part,though, was the possibility no one would show. My mother did not understand the limitations of her guest list, which consisted mainly of my popular, conceited, small-time drug-afflicted classmates. My mother figured a simple invitation would suffice, which is a hazardous assumption when you're dealing with self-obsessed miscreants in their late teens, and here I was at risk of having a party thrown in my honor to which no one would show, or worse, maybe one or two people would show and they'd, in turn, tell the world what a feeble crowd I was capable of drawing. So Kathy did what any good friend would, she followed up each invitation with a threat to terrorize anyone who didn't come. Soon afterward one of the invitees discovered that all the armpits and crotches had been cut out of the entire wardrobe hanging from the clothesline in her back yard, thereby giving the prospect of my party a fashionably dangerous aspect everyone found irresistible. After that my mother was quite taken with her own party-giving prowess, and credited her 24-hour omelet with all the success.

So in the end, it was not my mother's deficient party-throwing talent I inherited, it was her inability to understand limitations, and - remembering her elated expression as throngs of people passed through her door that day - I think that is the best gift a mother can give her child for her birthday. That is why, when Mae says she wants me to build a fairy village at the base of a big tree in our living room, I immediately start considering my papier-mache options. "Hell, yes," I say, "we can build a fairy village at the base of a big tree." Why the hell not?

Hollis Gillespie is the author of Bleachy-Haired Honky Bitch: Tales From a Bad Neighborhood (Harper Collins), which will be released in paperback in March. Her commentaries can be heard on NPR's "All Things Considered."

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