Wednesday, March 14


I have a love/hate relationship with birthday parties. On one hand, they're great because I get to let my kid run around like a mental patient without being judged by other parents, and also there is the likelihood that I can score some birthday cake. Ironically, these are the same reasons dislike birthday parties. Just once I'd like a parent to send me an honest invitation: "Come celebrate Suzi's birthday! There will be no structure, even if there is structure, and we plan to send your kid home hopped up on goofballs. Good luck with that nap."

This doesn't mean that I won't take Piper to a party, I will, but for me it's the preparation for the party that makes me resent it. With a five-year-old and an almost two-year-old, traveling is like packing for a trip up Everest and takes about as long. Some days I feel like I'm on the load in/load out crew for a band that isn't making any money.

Plus, poor Piper has been cursed with a mother that gets lost everywhere. It's so bad that she'll ask me about 57 times if we are a) late and b) know where we're going. Usually the answers are "yes" and "no."  For our latest excursion, I planned ahead, got my mother-in-law to watch The Boy, mapped out our course and left 30 minutes before the party. I was feeling confident in part because we'd already beaten the odds that morning by being on time (actually a little bit early) to Piper's gymnastics class. I should have known.

We zoomed out to the address on my handy sheet of paper (my goddamn iPhone's little blue button can eat it), and turned  right just like I was supposed to. All I had to do was find 30th street. That's it. As we passed by 26th, 27th, and 28th streets, I told Piper that we might actually get there early. Yea! That is until I couldn't find 30th St. I drove in little circles looking for a street that apparently didn't exist. The whole time I kept my eye on the clock. Plenty of time I told myself, plenty of time. It was then that I spotted the elusive 30th street.

My optimism was short-lived as 30th turned into a street with a name. What? Another click around the block cemented the fact that where ever I was, it wasn't the right place. I finally saw signs of life and pulled over to ask directions from a dude who's dreadlocks made him stand out like a stanky hippie in the nice, suburban brown neighborhood. When I asked him where 30th St., was he pulled on his beard and pontificated for a minute or two. "Which one?" he said. I asked "what do you mean which one?" He tilted his head and said east or west? I looked down at the invitation that clearly said 'east.' Oh. My. God.

See this is exactly the type of situation where it becomes crystal clear that I'm not from the Midwest. I grew up in a place that is strictly left and right. You ask someone which direction they're coming from, and then you tell them how to get there. Is that so hard? Granted, sometimes they assume that you know where the old general store used to be but still, you know to take a right once you get there.

When I heard 15 minutes, I glanced at the clock. We had just enough time to get there, and I knew from experience that it would actually take me about five minutes if I drove irresponsibly. Sure enough, we arrived on the right side of town with about ten minutes until go time. Since I took 31st street to speed across town, I figured that we were close to our destination, and I was really looking forward to seeing that number 30 next. Oh I did. Except it was a parking lot for city buses. No house, no neighborhoods, nothing. I soldiered on, thinking OK, this is can't be right. I turned around and drove back down the road I came from. Nothing, I turned into the parking lot again, hoping houses would magically appear. Nope.

As I U-turned it in the middle of the road, I saw a cop hanging on the dirt road ahead of me (I don't know why there are so many dirt roads in this story. There really aren't that many in town). It was the first time in my life  I've ever interacted with a cop on purpose. I went up and asked him where the hell this so-called 30th street was. I didn't feel so bad when had to get on his cop map to figure it out. We both stood there, an sworn officer of the law, and me, a former breaker of the law, trying to get our bearings so I could get to a friggin' birthday party. Together finally made sense of his map and he gave me crazy criss-cross directions that made no sense.
You know, the kind that go like this: go back where you came from, take a right. Then when you get to the next biggest intersection take a right. Then on this street veer left and immediately... That's when he lost me. It was one of those times in my life when I knew what I was hearing was important, but for the life of me I couldn't focus in and zoned out in middle of it. When I came-to, I realized all I heard were the major streets. "No problem," I thought. I got this.

At this point we were only about seven minutes late. The policeman led us down the road and pointed me in the right direction. I made the first turn he told me to, and then the second. Once again I was on 29th St. with no 30th in sight. I saw some "gentlemen" working on their van, and also maybe engaged in a drug deal, and asked them if they knew where this God-forsaken street was.

Shockingly, they had no idea and all I could think was "you're on 29th!!!!, how can you not know?" I turned around and headed back to the main road. And there he was. The cop. Waiting for me. He clearly saw me make a wrong turn, and knew that I'd be back. He motioned for me to follow him and I did...all the way to a child's birthday party, where of course everyone was out on the lawn playing some games. The entire party stopped what they were doing and took notice of the police car slowing down and pointing at the house. Naturally, since I was two seconds behind him, it wasn't hard for everyone to deduce that I was somehow involved with the cop in their driveway.

It's safe to say that I'm sure word's going to get around the pre-school pretty fast that Piper and I showed up at the birthday party with a police escort. The good news? We were only 15 minutes late.