Throwing A Party For My Mother Is Challenging


One month ago, on Dec. 11, I was in Wisconsin attempting to throw an 86th birthday party for my mother, Marjorie. I say “attempting” because mom doesn’t like any fuss, despite the fact that “fuss” is my family’s middle name. We almost need it to survive. But I couldn’t remember any real fuss ever taking place on mom’s birthday, which, unfortunately, occurs during what is arguably the year’s busiest month.

My siblings and I were determined to change all that. Yet, because the 86-year-olds I’ve read about truly do not enjoy melee in any form, we tried to plan a more low-key event — dinner at one of her favorite restaurants seemed appropriate.

Things quickly got out of hand.

In the first place, every single person we invited agreed to come. Mom can’t help it if she’s adorable.

Of the eight relatives who came from out-of-state, six of them were invited to stay at her house. Every bed and couch was taken. There was even a two-month-old on the floor in a dresser drawer lined with blankets.

By 8 a.m. every day, she had prepared a full breakfast “just in case anyone wanted it” — ham, eggs, toast, jelly, cereal, oatmeal, milk, juice, coffee and “schnecks” (the German word for “high cholesterol, sugar and fat disguised as a flaky crust surrounding cherries, apples, blueberries or cream cheese.”)

After breakfast, nobody ran out shopping or visiting. We all stayed right there in the house, underfoot, talking and laughing and milling about until we could see that she was silently praying we’d go out shopping or visiting. Then we made quick exits. “But I’ll see you for lunch, right?” she called after us, and of course we said she would.

Shortly after noon, we all returned, tumbling into a house where the kitchen once again smelled like food. This time it was a huge pot of bouya, a Belgian chicken soup that is more like stew — perfect for a crowd. After cleaning up the dishes, everyone could see it was naptime — not for the kids, but for their great-grandparents — and we hit the streets again. Before we left, we draped streamers and paper lanterns from mom’s furniture and chandeliers while she yelled, “I don’t want any fuss!” But she was smiling.

That night, my husband Mark offered to make spaghetti for the mob, but mom “helped” by defrosting a huge pot of sauce she’d prepared last week for the occasion. We topped it off with eight dozen homemade cookies she just happened to bake.

The next night was the official party. The high point was dad’s speech about how wonderful mom is and how he didn’t know what he ever would have done without her. He cried, we cried, everybody cried. It was quite a tribute.

After the dust settled and the streamers were taken down and our bags were packed, mom said the party had been perfect. As for me, I liked it except for two things:

1. Dad picked up the entire tab (as he always does) and,

2. I want to throw her a party every Dec. 11 for the rest of my life.