Last Friday afternoon, Hector called to invite Thing Two to his little brother's birthday party at their house today. The family is from Mexico, and although the father speaks pretty good English, for some reason Hector (who is probably in his early twenties, at a guess) is the family member designated to handle all official communications with gringos.
I attended this party with Thing Two last year, and learned a few lessons. First and foremost, this is a marathon, not a sprint. Unlike most birthday parties around here, which last only a couple of hours, these are multigenerational extravaganzas that last well into the evening and feature live entertainment, music, and phenomenal food. Since I was unaware of this going in last year, I had to leave while things were in full swing, to my great regret. This year, I knew what I was getting into and planned accordingly! The other thing I figured out last year is that whole families attend this party, not just the friend of the birthday child. As the fortunate adult who happened to chaperone Thing Two last year, I feasted on amazing food while texting Himself pictures of all the home-cooked deliciousness he was missing. :)
Hector told me that the party today would start at 3. I was running a little late leaving the house with Thing Two and Petunia and had to make a quick stop at Ed the computer guy's house on the way (he ended up refusing to take payment for fixing my computer, calling it a favor for a neighbor, so I brought him a homemade sour cream chocolate chip pound cake as a neighborly thank-you in return.) It was about 3:20 when we got to the birthday party house, and there wasn't a soul around except for a few grandfatherly types occupying chairs in the shade under a big tarp-tent in the back yard and one younger guy supervising a group of kids in the trampoline. The younger guy is a friend of mine and the dad of what turned out to be the only other Caucasian children present: he'd shown up punctually at 3 and was very disconcerted to find the yard deserted! Note to self for next year: come an hour after whatever Hector says is the start time. Second note to self for next year: park the car on the street (or at least facing outward) so that I can get my car out while the night owls are still going strong in the evening!
Around 4:30, people really started coming in numbers. Old, young, in between. Hamburgers and hot dogs appeared for the kids, then a clown, big shoes, red ping-pong ball nose and all, wearing a clown suit that had Spongebob decorations all over it. He made balloon animals for the kids while a colleague did face-painting. Petunia emerged with a flower on her cheek, while Thing Two's face was covered with a full black Batman mask. While all of this was going on, a laptop hooked to a huge speaker sheltered under one corner of the tent was pumping out song after song of dance music in Spanish. I didn't understand a word of it, but darned if I could keep from moving with the beat!
Last year's party was a joint celebration for the birthdays of two children, and featured a live mariachi band, a pit-roasted pig, and various other indulgences. This year's party was just for the one child, and was accordingly scaled-back, but still pretty amazing. Once the kids were finished eating, the clown led them in dancing and singing and games on the lawn. As I was compelled to Tweet while watching part of this, "You have not lived until you've seen a Spanish-speaking clown in a Spongebob outfit directing a bunch of kids in the Gangnam Style dance!" And I didn't have room in the tweet to mention that this was taking place right next to the massive homemade chicken coop filled with squawking hens in the backyard. A somewhat surreal moment. And at that moment (as for a good chunk of the party) I happened to be the only Caucasian adult present.
Given that this was a smaller celebration than last year's, I wasn't sure what the dinner situation was going to be, so I snagged a hot dog when the first plates of food went out. I ended up glad that this was all I'd eaten, because no sooner had the kids finished their dancing and crazy games and scattered back off to play than huge trays of adult food were carried outside from the kitchen and set up under the tent on one of the tables. Homemade corn tortillas, flaky and still warm. A spicy and delicious green sauce. Pulled roasted pork. Chicken in some kind of oily red sauce. Yellow rice. Beans. A feast, I tell you. I wish I knew what to call the dishes--I'm sure they have official names--but they were just amazing. I discovered to my great joy that the parents of the birthday boy have just opened a Mexican restaurant not too far from my house. If the food they serve there is half as good as what they serve at home, we will be loyal and enthusiastic customers!
By the time I was finished stuffing my face, it was after 7. I reluctantly began the processes of dragging Thing Two and Petunia out of the trampoline and finding their shoes and trying to figure out who owned the blue SUV that was blocking my car into the driveway. When I turned back around, the pinatas had come out, and it was clear that we weren't going to be leaving anytime soon! I was just hoping that we'd be able to tactfully head out before Thing Two melted down completely, as he was beginning to look not only crispy around the edges but also completely black of face, where sweat had made his Batman facepaint run! He looked like an exhausted London street urchin who'd just crawled out of a coal bin by that point in the evening.
He didn't even have enough energy left to whack at the pinatas...Petunia was right in the thick of the candy wars, though. And yes, I am saying pinatas, plural. There were either two or three of them, all filled with Mexican candy. And bless Petunia's heart, when she saw that her brother was too pooped to participate, she walked up and handed him half of the candy she'd collected, cheerfully and without so much as a word or glance from me.
Thing Two said his goodbyes and thank-you's, as did I. This is when the remarkable kindness and generosity of our hosts really became apparent. It took a good fifteen minutes for us to be allowed to leave, and all because they were giving us things to take home! First, we had to wait for the guy giving out the goody bags to find us. Then, they needed to cut pieces of birthday cake for us to bring home, since we weren't able to stay. And at the last minute, the father, who was standing with me in the driveway, insisted that he send home portions of dinner with me for my husband, who'd gotten stuck in traffic on his way home from work and never made it over. I was expecting a plate. He reappeared a few minutes later with a stack of five plastic containers!!
This family is not by any means well-off, but the thought was so kind that I hesitated to offend him by not accepting. I will have to find something delicious to put into those containers when I return them.
The green and red stuff on the paper plate, incidentally, is the 'birthday cake.' I'd forgotten about that from last year: they had both this and a more American-style cake. It is a stiff version of something like Jello, with cubes of what I at first thought was fruit but appears to be other colors of Jello inside it. Upon Googling this just now, I see that it is traditional in Mexico to serve jello/gelatin desserts at birthday parties. What do you know??
One other thing that the father said to me I was leaving has stayed with me for the rest of the evening. We were talking about the other party guests, and I'd asked if they were his relatives. He said no, that most were just friends from the area, but that he considered everyone there to be his family and was blessed to be celebrating his son's eighth birthday with them all. Those weren't his exact words--I don't remember precisely what he said--but I remember thinking at the time that whatever words he chose were meant to include us in his definition of family, and I was deeply honored. What a wonderful way to spend an afternoon and evening.
And darnit, I still need to learn some Spanish!