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You're Allowed to Say No to Birthday Parties?

Photograph by Twenty20

The party is in two hours and I'm on the floor wrapping the present. I'm annoyed because I lost the gift receipt. I know nothing about the little boy whose party my son was invited to, so I have no idea if he'll like the toy car we got him. He and my son are new classmates this year, and I couldn't get my son to answer any of my questions about the birthday boy's tastes.

Trains?

Super heroes?

Science?

Books?

Games?

Nothing. My son provided zero assistance.

When I RSVP'd yes, I assumed that my son's other friends would be there, too. I like them, so I was visualizing all of us all standing around the sidelines while our kids burned off some Sunday afternoon steam at the soccer-themed birthday.

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A week before the party, I asked other parents about their plans. "We aren't going to make it," one said. "My son doesn't really know him, so we're not going to be there," another told me. Through rigorous text polling, I discovered that none of the parents I knew were attending the party. Maybe that had something to do with the fact that the party is in a suburb about 20 miles north of our house.

According to Google Maps, it's going to take roughly three hours to get there in traffic.

As I'm taping on the card, my back spasms in pain, and a spark of anger flashes through me. I don't really want to drive 40 miles round trip to a birthday party for a child who I don't know and neither does my son. I can't pawn birthday duty off on my husband because I already promised him that he could stay home and have some down time.

The truth is I didn't realize you could say no.

I'm not actually mad at the generous hosts of the party who included my son, even though it's a little inconsiderate of them to live so far from my comfort zone. I'm not mad at the traffic patterns or my wonky back.

I'm mad at myself.

The truth is I didn't realize you could say no. Like, no, for no reason at all. None of the parents in my scientific poll gave a winning excuse. There was no "Our family is is town from Siberia," or "We have once-in-a-lifetime tickets to see the Pope." Nope. They just assessed their calendars, energy levels and children's zeal for the party and made a decision.

I've never done that.

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I've never paused to ask myself if I want to drive a super long way on a Saturday afternoon for a party my son's indifferent to.

But next time I will. I'll check in with myself and use a better criteria for saying "yes" to a party than simply checking if the calendar is open. And if I can't say no, at least I won't promise my husband he can take the day off.

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