I was on the other side of the room so I’m not exactly sure what happened with Penny. I just know I saw her crying and spent the rest of the birthday party comforting her.
Through barely muffled tears, she told me part of the story before we left. Through slightly more muffled tears, I deciphered additional details on the car ride home.
Her and a few of her friends were in the bathroom together. (This is, by the way, super common for them. I don’t know why women use the restroom in packs, but I do know it starts young.) One of them was, apparently, still “busy” when the mother of the birthday girl knocked on the door. When they innocently exited, she reamed them out. She made it clear that they wouldn’t be invited to any more parties ever again.
That was Penny’s perspective, anyway. And she bawled her little eyes out.
I didn’t speak with the mother before we left. I just wanted to comfort my daughter, find out what was wrong, and get the hell home.
But I couldn’t just let it rest.
My baby got hurt and I had to make it better. I had to find out what happened in there, at least. I know the mom and the mom knows Penny. There had to be a good explanation.
I texted the mom that night to hear her side of the story while letting her know how distraught Penny was. I also hoped to subtly convey that explicitly un-inviting a 9-year-old to all future parties is kind of a fucked-up thing to do. (If you really don’t want her at another party, don’t send an invite. You don’t have to be a dick about it a year in advance.)
The mom explained that the girls locked themselves in the bathroom because, apparently, they didn’t like the game that was being played. They were hiding in there, goofing around on an iPhone, refusing to come out even though she knocked on the door repeatedly. She felt like they were disrespecting her (and her time of putting the party together) and being mean to her daughter on her birthday. It was a yell of protection as well as anger.
I followed up, explaining Penny’s side of the story as I understood it and my wish that things had been handled differently. She emailed a sincere and thoughtful apology to me and the other parents involved, admitting that she handled the situation poorly and should have spoken with the adults instead of yelling at the children.
From an objective parent’s perspective, I understood her frustration. She was, after all, throwing a party for her child, and the guests – who are supposed to be her child’s oldest friends – seemed to bail on it. She also explained that she was going through some crap with her father’s health, so under additional stress.
Let me be clear: If my child is misbehaving and I’m not there to witness it, I trust her friends’ parents to reprimand her. Not yell at her necessarily (unless she’s doing something dangerous then YELL LIKE HELL), but to tell her she’s not doing the right thing. In turn, I’m very comfortable telling her friends that they’re being little assholes when they are, in fact, being little assholes. Probably not in those words, of course. But it really does take a village to raise a child not to be a douche and we all need to do our part. Unfortunately, sometimes the villagers fuck up. I suspect that’s what happened in this case.
I’m still not exactly sure what happened in the bathroom, but I know my kid. And I know those kids. And they’re all good kids. And they all take a long-ass time in the bathroom.
I believe my daughter when she tells me they weren’t playing in there avoiding the party. I believe her because she’s given me little reason not to. And, again, I know how long her and her friends take in the bathroom. Frankly, it’s a little much.
I’m not glad this happened, but there were some important lessons. And life is all about the lessons we learn along the way. Here are a few I talked about with Penny and some she’s figuring out on her own.
Penny and the birthday girl have seen and played with each other since the incident. They’ve known each other forever, and it’s all good in the hood, water under the bridge, forgiven and all-but-forgotten.
Our paths have not crossed with the mom, yet. Penny is sensitive and has a long memory. I’m not sure how that interaction will go. Hopefully with a hug. Hopefully with mutual apologies. Hopefully with the parent being the adult.
A version of “Yell” this first appeared on Amateur Idiot / Professional Dad.