My daughter Jane's 10th birthday was on January 18th, but her party was supposed to be this past Saturday. Zoe, one of her good friends from sleep-away camp, has a birthday on January 19th, so we'd planned a joint slumber party at my house. All their camp bunkmates were coming from three different states, and the girls couldn't wait for their reunion.
Sure enough, Jane woke up on Friday with a bad sore throat, but her temperature was normal. She often gets strep, so I took her to our pediatrician's early morning walk-in hour for a strep test. I told the doctor that I had seven girls sleeping over the next night. "Uh-oh, let's hope it's strep," she said. "That way, Jane can start antibiotics and in 24 hours, she won't be contagious anymore." But the test was negative.
When we got home, her temperature was 99.8.° Although her school's policy is that kids have to stay home if they a fever over 100,° I let her stay home anyway to take it easy—maybe she'd feel better soon. For most of the day, her temperature fluctuated a little below and above 100,° and we agonized over whether we should cancel the party.
In my heart, I knew that would be the right thing to do. After all, I hate it when a kid comes over for a playdate who's sneezing and coughing all over the place. But I didn't want the girls to be disappointed. Maybe Jane just had a run-of-the-mill cold, like tons of kids at school have all the time. I hate to admit it, but I was seriously tempted to just quietly give her some Tylenol and hope she felt fine enough for the party.
Zoe's mom and I delayed our decision for as long as possible. She reminded me that one of the girls who was coming had a brother who'd just gotten home from a long stay in the hospital after spinal surgery. But after dinner, Jane's temperature started rapidly rising up over 101,° We had to cancel.
At first, Jane was furious with me. "We've been waiting to have this party for months!" she cried. I said I was sorry, and told her I understood how frustrating it was to be sick. I promised that we'd reschedule the party. Zoe—who could have been just as angry—was an understanding friend. On Saturday afternoon, she and her family sent Jane (whose temperature was then 102.5°) a big bunch of get-well-soon balloons.
All the other moms were great. They sent texts with smiling emoticons, and we found a new party date a month from now when all the girls were again free. One of the moms emailed: Good life lesson! Things don't always work out!
That made me think of the smart books, The Blessing of a Skinned Knee and The Blessing of a B Minus, by Parents advisor Dr. Wendy Mogel—about how disappointments help kids become more resilient, but parents often protect their kids from them. Maybe this was the blessing of the cancelled party: Learning that disappointments are part of life—just like winter germs—and we just need to deal with them best we can.
Diane Debrovner is the deputy editor of Parents and the mom of two girls.