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Another birthday party, another war

My daughter Lekha turned 5 recently and we celebrated her birthday with a party for her preschool friends in our backyard. Unfortunately, several couldn’t make it. They had other appointments and commitments. I thought four-year-olds had tight schedules, but 5-year-olds are busier than Prince Harry in a bar.

More dismaying to me was that a few of their parents didn’t even bother to reply to our invitation. I’d like to assemble them in a room and give them a lecture on etiquette. “Ladies and gentlemen – and I use those terms loosely – do you remember seeing the abbreviation R.S.V.P. on the invitation card? Well, despite what you might have thought, it doesn’t stand for ‘Refreshments served very promptly.’ Nor does it stand for ‘Receive some vanilla pudding.’ R.S.V.P. stands for ‘Respondez s’il vous plait,’ which is a French phrase that, literally translated, means ‘Reply please, you thoughtless idiot!’”

Actually, it means just “Reply please,” which is much too polite for most people, except perhaps the French. Next time I’m going to write “R.S.V.P. (Reply soon, vagrant punk!)” That should get their attention.

Perhaps I’m being too harsh, but when people don’t reply to an invitation, it means more work for the hosts. My wife and I had to be prepared, just in case a couple of extra kids showed up, demanding to be fed vanilla pudding.

Not only did we need to have enough food, we also had to have enough favor bags. I don’t know who started this tradition of giving parting gifts to the guests, but I’d like to track her down and give her a piece of my mind (preferably the piece where I’ve stored all the information I don’t need anymore, such as “calculus,” “algebra” and “how to get the most out of your 8-track player”).

Organizing a birthday party is stressful enough without having to worry about favor bags. Besides, I know what happens when a kid returns home with a bag of goodies and his brother or sister wants some. As I keep telling my wife, “You cannot hand out favor bags and also say that you’re for world peace. It’s hypocritical.”

With three children, we’ve certainly seen our share of armed conflict over favor bags and other gifts. The kids don’t have guns and bombs, but they do have nails and teeth, which create much louder sounds. Ear-shattering screams. Bloodcurdling shrieks. Daddy-awakening squeals.

It’s usually the girls, Lekha and 3-year-old Divya, declaring war on each other, while our 14-month-old son, Rahul, can do little else but serve as an embedded reporter. Every now and then, he gets caught in the line of fire and ends up as “collateral damage.” It isn’t easy being a war correspondent.

If kids are willing to wage war over the candy and trinkets in a favor bag, you can imagine the scale of conflict that erupts when one of them has a birthday party and receives a dozen gifts while the other receives a dozen reminders that her birthday is “only eight months away.”

Lekha, basking in the glow of new toys and other gifts, completely forgot the meaning of ‘share,’ a word that had been such a big part of her vocabulary just four months earlier – on Divya’s birthday. Divya, having just re-learned the word, was only too willing to educate her sister on its meaning.

Divya: “Share, Lekha! You need to share.”

Lekha: “Share? There’s no word like ‘share.’ Stop making up words.”

Divya: “There IS a word like ‘share.’ It’s in the dishnary.”

Lekha: “What does it mean?”

Divya: “It means you have to give me all your toys.”

Lekha: “They’re MY toys. It’s MY birthday!”

Divya (grabbing toy): “No, it’s my birthday too!”

Lekha (pinching Divya): “No, it’s not! It’s my birthday only. We’re not twins. I’m 5 and you’re … you’re not!”

Divya: “Mommy, Daddy! Lekha doesn’t want to share her birthday with me!”

Rahul: “Yet another war has broken out between the two sides over disputed toys. Casualties are mounting on both sides. Calls for a ceasefire are coming from the kitchen and living room, but the fighting remains intense. It’s almost as if the two sides are trying to act like grownups. I’ll have a full report for you at 11.”

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