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2003-08-31 | 10:16 a.m.



The party's over, and I am a wreck. The house is a wreck. It was a wreck before, but now it is a different kind of wreck, with lots of dirty dishes and half-eaten pieces of chicken. I think I already got up all the chocolate cake-prints on the living room floor.

During the limbo contest, I forget about my bum knee and, on the sidelines, attempt to demonstrate proper limbo form to a contestant. Big mistake. "You've got to spread your feet apart like this," I begin, then shout "Ow!" and convulse. Something to do with my patella, suggests Frank's sister the veterinarian, up from Southern California for the long weekend. She is a sweetie.

Someone tells me he's never seen such a big birthday party before, at least not at anyone's house.

At the last minute I invite the Abbondanzas, who have one little girl and five boys. The mother isn't sure she's hearing me right when I say the boys can come too. But I hate leaving out siblings, even in a case like this. Mr. and Mrs. Abbondanza make plans to go to dinner and see a movie, and don't come back for their brood until 10:30. Not that I blame them. The boys sit quietly enough, watching the extended version of Fellowship of the Ring, while the girls play upstairs.

Two of the girls get into an argument about a notebook. Both swear it's the one she received as her limbo contest prize. Neither will budge in the face of diplomacy. Finally, like the American I am, I abandon foreign policy altogether and leave the room, hoping they will work it out on their own.

As the night wears down, there are seven girls left, including my two. They are not going gentle into that good night. They are boisterous and wide awake and bickering. I make them all go upstairs to the bathtub and wash their feet, which are caked with dirt. When they come back downstairs, they snarl each other's hair into rats' nests with one of those horrible hair-twisting devices. The littlest girl complains that no one will let her do their hair, so I let her twist a hank of my hair into a Gordian knot and decorate it with snap-on beads.

I try to clear the table, but my bad knee buckles slightly and I realize that both my legs are wobbling ominously. Not only that, but they hurt like hell. I retire to my bed, fully clothed, and beg Duff to set out cereal bowls and spoons.

Duff gets out of bed at least six times between eleven o'clock and two in the morning, trying to get the girls to settle down. Finally, shortly after two they are quiet. Jasper starts fussing around a quarter to four, which wakes me up, and I realize I can hear some of the girls talking in the other room. What kind of child sleeps from 2 a.m. to 3:45? The kind of kid who is never sleeping over at my house again, I resolve. I carry Jasper in to the room and sit down in the armchair and try to wait them out.

"Annabel, can I get up and put on some deodorant?" asks Hysteria. "I feel musty." Proof that other people's children are aliens. Usually I let the kids walk all over me, but I am grumpy with sleeplessness and tell her no firmly.

By eight a.m. they're all up again and it takes two hours to pack up their gear. Hysteria is madly in love with the kitten and wants to know if she can come back again, today. I put her off as gently as I can. The last three trundle into the van so Duff can drive them home, and I say a little cheer. There is nothing like a big messy birthday party and saying goodbye to a long parade of other people's kids to make you love your quiet life and the splendor of its everyday banality.

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