"You're encouraged to bring spouses and children" said the invitation to the Physics Department's end of the year party. I immediately signed us all up, excited to be included. The party was to be at the chair's house, dinner, I thought, without really looking closely at the invitation past the part where it said "very informal." I pictured a breezy cookout in the back yard where no one would notice that all Wes ate were hot dog buns and where Charlie could feast on as much watermelon as he could steal off of our plates.
Then I got another email. "Will you please email me your husband's and kids' names for the place cards?"
The next time I saw the chair I voiced my concerns. "My children are quite young, I'm concerned about their behavior at a sit-down dinner party. Please tell me if you'd like me to find a sitter for them. It would really be no trouble."
He assured me it would be no problem. I knew they were capable of being polite little angels on a completely random, short term basis, and that those moments almost never happened after 6 pm, certainly not on a weekend. The rest of the time they act like normal children. With the loud and the sticky and the knocking things over. The party was at 6:30 on Sunday. They are usually in bed then.
We arrived at the house at the appointed time and made our introductions. "You guys are the only children here!" exclaimed the hostess. We were those people, with the kids at the adult party! Mortification!
Ryan and I talked with the other guests about their summer plans while Wes stood backwards on an upholstered chair gleefully shrieking "Puppy!" and pointing at a cat on the porch outside. Charlie refused to be put down and instead draped his whole upper body over my shoulder as if I was a fireman rescuing him from a burning building. Later they would join forces in a game of "You touch it no you touch it no you touch it" with a litter box they found in the laundry room and had to be exiled to the porch for the remainder of cocktail hour.
All the pestering I'd done in the car about good manners kicked in when it was time to eat. Charlie sat in his chair and exclaimed "Oh! Doesn't this look NICE?!" Then "Oh Mama! Thank you for cutting my meat. That is VERY NICE of you!" Then, for good measure, "What a SPECIAL dinner this is!"
For his part, Wes, Mr. A-Waffle-a-Day-Keeps-the-Doctor-Away, ate three-quarters of a cup of curried zucchini and several slices of roast beef (it was delicious. Maybe Wes just won't eat MY food!). Somehow I managed to contain myself--I have a feeling the other assembled, childless, academics were not interested in the specifics of Wes's normal protein- and plant-free diet--but I was quite pleased.
Fortunately the hostess had stuck a number of lollipops in Charlie's placecard holder, so when they had finished eating and wanted to head back to the litter box we were able to keep them happy at the table. GENIUS! Even when Wes started LICKING HIS OWN CHEST to make sure he didn't miss a single drop of that sticky lollipop goodness, at least they were quiet and contained.
Five lollipops later it was time for dessert. Which was un-be-lieve-able. Charlie ate his so fast that I was offering up fervent prayers that he would at least make it to the car before throwing up. Wes was also very enthusiastic, picking up his whole piece of cake on his spoon then turning his head sideways to bite a chunk off the side. When they finished, mercifully, Ryan took them outside for a few minutes while I schmoozed with my colleagues a little more before it was time to go.
I got many compliments on their good behavior. Many "There is no WAY my kids would have been so good at a sit-down dinner." I stumbled over an explanation of the paper I'm working on, told some of the graduating seniors about what grad school was like, compared GRE experiences, and came up with a number of project ideas that will likely keep me with too many balls in the air well into the twenty-teens (haha, that would be great, wouldn't it?).
Finally it was time to say goodbye, which I did very graciously with a screaming Wes held tightly across my body. Right before I closed the door he remembered himself and said "Thank you! Bye bye!!" Then I gushed about how proud I was of them all the way home.