I like being the center of attention, just not on purpose. As such, parties have long played a complicated role in my life.

Eating cake is a tremendous way to pass the time, but I prefer that the name written on it be someone’s other than mine. I’m always surprised when I hear of people throwing themselves parties because I turn bright red at the idea of asking people to fête me, and would agonize in advance about the possibility of no-shows. Clearly I should be investing any disposable income into daily affirmations with Stuart Smalley.

However, the anniversary of my daughter’s birth, which will be formally observed for the second time next month, is something that genuinely merits a celebration. Except for that one hour when my ob-gyn shut off the epidural (claiming, rather unjustly, that I wasn’t feeling the urge to push hard enough), Aug. 9, 2008, was easily the happiest 24-hour period of my life, and one that I would eagerly recognize daily, particularly if it involved paper plates and throwaway utensils, and somehow didn’t make me look like a groupie or stalker.

When looking for party invitations for little girls, the majority I came across reeked of princesses, precious gems and castles. But since my daughter mostly wears her tutu on her head and doesn’t know royalty from her elbow (and actually doesn’t even know her elbow yet), I figure the tiaras and scepters can wait.

Besides, I feel a little conflicted about the princess trend. A real-life one who got married in Sweden last month looked terribly awkward in her crown. And other modern-day aristocrats haven’t become objects of my envy, either. Like the one who was mocked for getting fat, divorced and then was killed in a car chase. Or the one who was mocked for getting fat, divorced and then pathetically tried to make a fast buck by selling out her family connections. Or the one who mocked others for not being elegant enough, divorced and then sang without an ounce of intentional irony about having class.

So which princesses are little girls supposed to emulate at their birthday parties instead, exactly? The martyr who mopped floors alongside rats? The slutty one who shacked up with seven men? Or the lazy one who slept all day long? The Fresh Prince of Bel Air might actually be a better role model.

But sometimes it’s just the basic party rituals that turn me off.

It must have been somewhere in between my rotation as the A/V monitor in first grade with the uncomfortable task of turning out the lights before the class would sing happy birthday to me, and the dread of kids misbehaving at my bat mitzvah (which would have understandably triggered the rabbi’s ire), and the fear of my husband’s friends not RSVP-ing to our wedding (which would have understandably triggered my mom’s exasperation), that I probably started feeling anxious about being the guest of honor.

My dad always compares weddings to buying a Mercedes, cruising around in it for a day and then driving it off a cliff. When I got engaged he teased that the wedding reception might be in my parents’ kitchen, and tuna fish (Bumble Bee, not blue fin) would be the main course. (I was all for it, and that I didn’t bristle at the suggestion undoubtedly disappointed him.) While my sister’s nuptials were being planned, he kept threatening to put coded chits in each invitation: one good for a free drink, one for the ceremony only, another just for the cocktail hour, and one good for dinner, but not dessert.

I was once invited to a wedding for dessert only. In other words, I was on the B list; but in actuality, I was on the C list because I received the invite only two weeks before the event — a clear signal I was included only after others declined. I have little shame and went anyway. After all, cake is cake.

Thankfully I was spared a bachelorette party in my honor, and cringed a tiny bit at the notion of my bridal shower. Not because it wasn’t lovely (which it was), or because I’m ungrateful (which I’m not), but because sitting in front of an audience on a makeshift stage and opening gifts while acting uniquely thrilled upon each reveal is challenging. I can fake it with the best of ‘em, but feigning surprise when receiving something that I registered for that I already knew from e-mail alerts had been purchased was even hard for a professional BS-er such as myself.

As party preparations for my daughter continue, I struggle a little with the planning spirit in my heart, which seems to fluctuate somewhere in between Jackie Gleason’s character in “The Toy” and Judd Nelson’s dad from “The Breakfast’s Club” (“I got a carton of cigarettes. The old man grabbed me and said, ‘Hey, smoke up, Johnny.’”).

Thankfully it’s just her second birthday, so if I can manage to do something in between those two extremes it’ll still be years before she’ll be eligible for a party hang-up, which is the complex that keeps on giving.

More at MeredithCarroll.com.

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