Lottie birthday party is in two weeks.
You likely already know that; unless you’re reading this from the frozen tundra of Antarctica or the secluded Savannah of southern Africa, because she’s probably told you herself. The baggers at our grocery store know. The receptionist at the dentist’s office does, too.
Turning nine is a big deal.
She and I have been deep in birthday party planning for weeks.
The first Very Important Decision our girl made was that she wanted her six besties to sleep over. That requires some calendar finagling, because our sleepover rule in this house is that you cannot have more than two friends sleep over on a night when all six kids are home. If everyone took us up on that offer, we could have 18 children here at one time, and that feels a bit much.
Because Lottie wants to invite six girls to her slumber party, we had to work with her dad to choose a date she was scheduled to be at his place but would come to ours to host her party. That’s old hat for us, and Billy and I quickly found a Friday night that works for him to have her brothers and Gabe and me to host the birthday girl and her six friends.
The second Very Important Decision the belle of the ball made was on Theme. Theme is critically important, obvs. She chose spa, and spent the next several days scouring Pinterest and googling “pretty tween sleep mask.” (Note to Time: stop stealing my baby. Nine is not tween.)
We explored taking the girls to a salon, or booking a spa birthday event at a local children’s party space, but both were budget busters, and would have required trimming our list or foregoing party favors. Neither option pleased the Birthday Girl.
Lottie ultimately decided to host her squad at home, with cupcakes and Mad-Libs and bathtub pedicures. She chose new polishes and dug out her rhinestone nail stickers. We carefully picked facial masks and wrote out invitations.
I asked Lottie whether she’d like to invite her older stepsisters to her girls-only extravaganza. She’s under no obligation to do so, as we’ll have a family celebration on the actual day of her birthday with everyone, including her dad and stepmom, grandparents and aunts and uncles. After careful thought, she decided to include her stepsisters as spa helpers.
My mom, sister and I will also be joining as spa helpers. We grown-up girls have been vicariously living through our own ninth birthdays as we help Lottie plan this one. We’re looking forward to painting little toes and listening to T-Swizzle’s old stuff and eavesdropping on our gang of fourth-graders.
I was driving down the road last night, lost in thought about the party, when I realized what I’d forgotten.
And what I’d forgotten completely astonished me.
Astonished and embarrassed me.
I had completely forgotten to include Lottie’s stepmother Stephanie.
I pulled over and called Lottie.
“Sweetie, what do you think about inviting Stephanie to be a helper at your party?”
“I’d love that, Mama! I’ll do it tonight when she gets home,” she replied happily.
I hung up the phone and thought of Amy.
I spent last weekend shopping with my sweet stepdaughter. We spent the afternoon together talking about middle school and mini backpacks and the long-awaited sequel to her favorite book. I loved every second of that time with her. I love that gorgeous girl wildly and fiercely and consider myself privileged to be a part of her life.
I thought of Gabe.
How much he invests in our children and how hurt he would be if my dad, brother and Billy were taking one of my sons somewhere and didn’t include him. How hurt I would be if that happened. How much it would feel like overt rejection, like a physical slap in the face to him as the stepdad, and us as a family.
I called Billy next.
“I just wanted to let you know that Lottie is planning to invite Stephanie to come be a helper at her birthday party. She and I have talked about it, and I’d love to have Steph join us if she’s available. She’s an important part of Lottie’s life, and we’d love to share that day with everyone our girl loves.”
Billy, caught in traffic on the way home and distracted by a long day at work, hemmed and hawed about scheduling and kid logistics and then interrupted himself.
“Kate? Thank you. Thank you for thinking of her. Thank you for including her. It means a lot.”
I know it does.
All too well, I know how much it means to be included as the stepparent and how much it stings to be overlooked or shut out.
And I still nearly forgot to include a woman my child loves. A woman I accept and enjoy and am grateful to have in my children’s lives.
I spent much of last night embarrassed and ashamed by what I’d forgotten. This morning? I’m grateful for what I remembered in time.
Yesterday was a reminder to me as a stepmom that inclusion isn’t the only measure of importance. Being overlooked is sometimes just a function of old habit or a busy week or a mama with good intentions who’s still learning.
Yesterday was a reminder to me as a mom of the strength of children’s loyalty binds: Lottie never asked to invite Stephanie, even though it was clear she was delighted to be able to include her.
Yesterday was a reminder not to get too comfortable, thinking we’ve got this coparenting thing down (clearly, not yet). A reminder we are all still beginners sometimes. A reminder that even with the best of intentions, sometimes very important things are overlooked.
And a reminder that mistakes can be corrected.