The last crumbs of cake have been swept up; the last of the balloons have popped; the new gifts have finally all made it upstairs to bedrooms. A trip to Build-A-Bear, a gift from a beloved aunt and uncle, has been completed, and 3 new animals added to the collection (Abel decided he wasn’t a “stuffed-animals-wearing clothes kind of guy”, so he got 2 animals instead and was very happy).

The party was definitely loud. By 2, our not-that-big house was overflowing with screaming children, and there was already a fierce competition started over which side, girls or boys, had more people present. My friend Sarita had agreed to play La Diamant Rouge, international jewel thief, and she showed up all in black, with crimson lips and nails, a beret, and black-and-white spotted glasses (frames only). I was wearing all black myself; swishy linen pants, burgundy lipstick, high heels. I completed my outfit with a “diamond necklace” (glittering rhinestones) which drew envious stares from the mothers dropping off their children. Actually the stares were more incredulous, prompting me to murmur, “Mild-mannered suburban mother? Or…international jewel thief?” Surprisingly, no one seemed to want to stay.

Donn and his friend Ed, who was dropping off his two kids, hung out making coffee. I was tempted to bag the whole theme and just drink coffee and let the children run screaming through the house until they left, but Sarita had gotten all dressed up and didn’t actually want to stay longer than she had to, so I slapped a sticker on the back of each child with a famous movie character. The idea was that they could only ask YES and NO questions of each other to figure out who they were, and the broader idea was that they’d all get to know each other a little bit, since these children represent various parts of our lives and many don’t know each other. One little brat went around telling people who they were, rolling his eyes at the game, but others got into it (especially the girls, who were NICE). While they were occupied, I ran upstairs and hid my necklace and left a fingerprint…in blood? Or lipstick?…on the little partition that divides off my grandly-named “Laundry Room” (actually a tiny corner that only fits the two machines). Then, as the game was winding down and most people had figured out who they were, I suddenly clutched at my neck and shrieked in my best movie-star manner.
“IT”S GONE!! MY NECKLACE!! IT”S GONE!! AUUUGGGHHH!”

The children clustered around me, wide-eyed. “It’s not funny,” I told them. “It’s gone! Help me look for it!” They believed me for a minute. I found a fingerprint or two, and they all trooped behind me up the stairs, at which point the penny dropped. “You’re a good actress,” one or two of them told me.

Thence commenced the hunt, following clues. In retrospect (I HATE hindsight! I really do!), I can think of many ways I could have made it cooler. The clues led one to another, when really they should have pointed to a person. But give me a break–I wrote them all the night before when Abel’s cake was in the oven.

The clues led upstairs and down, then up again; the goal being to wear them out. But there were a couple of mishaps. For one, we had 14 screaming children rushing up and down, and our house is actually not very big; I can stand in Ilsa’s room and touch her bed with one hand and her dresser with the other. Once a clue had been figured out, everyone would rush together and we had some pretty serious bottlenecks in the hallway. People couldn’t get close enough to see the clue and get to figure it out, and I think they got frustrated or bored; at least a couple of girls drifted downstairs to sit it out on the couch. Matters weren’t helped by the Case of the Disappearing Clues, which occurred when Elliot decided to see if he could solve the mystery himself, found a clue and thought it was trash, and threw it away. Yeah. I was a little annoyed. It was a corner of one of Ilsa’s schoolbooks (which of course led to the box in the kitchen where the schoolbooks are kept), a scrap that said “CNED: Ilsa, CM2.” I had hidden it under her glitter lamp. But when a search revealed nothing, the kids turned her room upside down, emptying out her jar of glitter, which made for a fun game of vacuuming later. I had to TELL them the clue.
Finally, a scrap of an Australian map fluttering on the car’s windshield led to Abel’s koala bear puppet, with the necklace tucked up inside him.

But who had hidden it? There was a greasy, smudgy lipstick fingerprint on the largest stone, but still. They all began to check each other’s fingerprints. Then Sarita grabbed the necklace and took off towards the door at full speed. They tacked her, which I felt a little bad about…I didn’t realize they would take her down! She was a very good sport about it though, even making a second run for it, then flinging the necklace into the bushes and leaping into her car!

Then we had cake and ice-cream, etc, then I made them all go play outside, which I think was the best part of the day. They came in again for presents, and then parents came and almost everyone left. The few that remained watched the new Pink Panther movie, the one with Steve Martin in it, and ate pizza and Welsh cakes. It took me two days to recover, but I’m getting old.

In conclusion, I think the idea wasn’t too old for them, but there were certainly ways I could have made it go better, more smoothly, and involved them a little more.

Too bad I’m never giving another birthday party ever.

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