Every now and then, when I look at April, I see myself as a four-year-old. Mostly self-assured, a little bit shy, determined, demanding, and more than anything else, a little princess. Yes, despite all attempts to create a gender-neutral environment for my sweet pea, she has become the same glittery, sparkly little girl I once was. She has a new best friend at school, Izabelle. When I asked her what she and Bella play, she told me “Princess, princess.” What this involves I am not sure, aside the fact that April is usually Cinderella, and Bella is Sleeping Beauty.
On Sunday we went to our first Princess Party. There is nothing like the wonderment of a small child’s birthday party. I’m not sure if it’s just that my group of friends in Canada are more laid back, or because they mostly have boys, but the parties here in Cape Town are intense, and exactly as I remember them from my own childhood. The minute you arrive, you are swept into a vortex of shrieking little girls, dressed in their fanciest party dresses, in this case, each adorned with a shiny silver made-in-China plastic tiara. The birthday girl takes your child by the hand and leads her outside to the array of sweeties that would give a diabetic a seizure just to look at. Candies and cupcakes and cookies as far as the eye can see. April picks one up, looks at me, and then considers it.
“I want you to open it.”
“Please,” I say.
“Please,” she says.
When the birthday cake comes out — a little doll emerging from the top of a bowl-shaped cake, complete with pink lacy piping, and made, of course, by grandma, the eyes of the little guests are wide as saucers. They all cluster around the cake, shrieking in the piercing way only little girls can. The singing commences, the candles are blown out, and then twenty little hands simultaneously grab at the four pink and purple candles to lick away the icing. A millisecond before the snatching of the candles, April proclaims that she wants one to lick. The girl beside her — a few inches closer to the cake and with longer arms — grabs one. April sees this, and extrapolates that this girl is giving it to her. The candle, its tip covered in sticky pink icing moves closer to the girl’s mouth. April’s eyes widen. Her mouth straightens into a line, the edges curled slightly downward. Watching from across the room I brace myself for a meltdown. But she recovers. I see her take a deep breath. It’s not her first disappointment, nor will it be the last.
The cake is cut. April, the sweet, patient little girl, who doesn’t scream or grab, much to my and her father’s delight, is given the second piece. (Parents like the quiet polite little girls, thank goodness.) She begins to eat it. The other kids get their cake and swiftly devour their pieces, fluttering away to play on the grass. April, finally alone at the table, surveys her surroundings. There are four more pieces of cake on paper plates. There is also a cupcake. She carefully picks up the cupcake and places it on her now empty plate. Then she pulls another plate toward her and carefully moves the piece of cake to her own. After a quick glance around, she starts on the next piece.
“My tummy hurts,” she says to me about fifteen minutes later.
“Why do you think that is?” I’m curious to know what she will say.
“Because I ate too much cake.”
“Oh, and how much did you eat?”
“Five!?” I exclaim, unsure whether or not to trust a three-year-old’s counting skills.
“Oh, what’s that?” she says, picking up a marshmallow egg from the table beside me.
“It’s a marshmallow egg.”
“Can I eat it?”
“I thought your tummy hurt.”
“Well, it will later,” I say, “But you can eat as much junk as you like. It’s a birthday party. That’s how it works.”
The mother and grandmother sitting beside me laugh.
“It’s exactly the same thing my mom did when I was little,” I tell them. “I remember throwing up after birthday parties. It was just part of the deal.”