Jul 31, 2012 by


1.      clus·terfuck /ˈkləstərfək/

noun:  An event or process which is totally disordered and discombobulated, resulting in a situation of extreme difficulty, and manifesting a state of intense frustration, even anger.


As we so often do as parents of young children, we set a precedent regarding how we celebrate milestones and special events.  Whether we are conscious of this or not, parents think a large percentage of their final parental grade is determined by our performance organizing a birthday party.  When a wealthy family is filmed for an episode of the MTV show My Super Sweet Sixteen, you better goddamn believe those parents are well aware their reputation is on the line.  The birthday party for their shitty privileged teenage disaster better live up to the expectation.

My wife and I have a daughter who turned four in July.  This is the story of her birthday weekend.

Sunday morning began like most.  I opened my eyes and glanced over to see the familiar cast of characters sprawled out on the bed.  The same bed where, not too long ago, belonged the sanctuary my wife and I retreated to for alone time.  It was also a place where sex occurred frequently and a restful night’s sleep was the norm, not the exception.  Today the bed resembles a 24-hour truck stop; a place that caters to those looking to rest up after a long day of travel.   The only difference is the clientele; exchange road weary truck drivers for a preschooler, an infant and two dogs.

We woke our daughter to shower her with birthday wishes.  She looked up with a sleepy glaze and managed to express her gratitude with a smile.  She quickly sprung out of bed with determined purpose and disappeared from the room.  After five minutes had passed, our daughter reemerged from whereabouts unknown, dejected with tears welling up in her eyes.  Her hands held strings tied to balloons she brought home from the party yesterday with her school friends.  The balloons hovered about six inches from the floor, the helium no longer serving its purpose.  These once proud balloons had lofted high above my daughter’s airspace and now moped around like a moody suburban teenager.  Their current condition resulted in an extremely disappointed child.  We dismissed the urge to explain the science of helium or to try and make something positive out of the sad looking balloons.  We took the path of least resistance and told the birthday girl we’d buy new balloons.  My daughter’s distraught feelings subsided and a smile returned to her face.

My wife and I have two guiding principles when putting together a birthday party for our daughter and all her friends.

  1. Outsource all duties
  2. Length of party does not exceed two hours

Birthday party number one was held Saturday at BounceU, a franchise that houses large inflatable devices for young children to jump, slide and run around in for hours.  Their tag line, “For the Happiest Birthdays!” might very well be the most beautiful phrase ever written.   The fine folks over at BounceU run a well-oiled machine.  Parents and preschool children alike leave the premises of BounceU knowing they experienced something truly magical.

In moments of reflection, my mind is filled with vivid images of children and adults in various stages of BounceU delightThis is when I am overcome with feelings of pride towards this great land we call the United States of America.

Birthday party number two of the weekend was held at our home with close friends and family.  My wife, daughter and son were quickly dressed and in the car to run a few errands.  First stop was to Party City to satisfy our daughter’s obsession with balloons.  After a successful Party City trip it was off to the grocery store to order the birthday cake and pick up some items for the evening’s dinner.

Caroline and I thought we could serve cup cakes for dessert.  This idea was immediately vetoed by our daughter.  Instead, she wanted her second birthday cake in as many days.  So my wife and daughter headed to the bakery at the grocery store to choose the cake design our daughter felt best represented her birthday weekend – a cake with balloons on it.  Go figure…..

By my wife’s calculation, the process of picking out this once-in-a lifetime birthday cake took 15 minutes.  My wife, pressed for time due to the day’s upcoming event, swore she was at the bakery counter for hours.   My daughter took her sweet time choosing frosting colors and the exact positioning of the balloons on the cake.

The birthday cake became our daughter’s most important possession of the day.   Maybe it was because her name was announced over the grocery store’s loud speaker when the cake was ready for pickup, unleashing emotions of importance and pride.   Another possible factor could have been the cake had balloons decorated on it.  Either way, she felt some sort of strong connection to it…more on this later.

Family and friends began arriving at our home just before 5:00 PM.  Caroline and I had already opened a bottle of wine, as we prepped for the birthday meal.  Kabobs, mashed potatoes, corn on the cob and a salad would be served within the hour.  At approximately 5:15 all the invited guests had arrived.  The exception was my mother-in-law, who would arrive later as she was still in route back from a business trip.

The Cast

The Birthday girl………………………..My daughter

Birthday girls’ infant brother………….My son

My wife………………………………….Caroline

Mother-in-Law………………………….Farrell or sometimes referred to as Nana by my daughter

My brother………………………………Mike

My brother’s wife……………………….Angel

Screaming infant………..………………My brothers’ son

Silent infant……………………………..My brothers’ daughter


Fiancée of sister-in-law…………………Jenne

10 Year old boy…………………………Jenne’s oldest son

8 year old boy…………………………..Jenne’s youngest son

Friend Marcus………………………..Marcus

Friend Sarah…………………………..Sarah

Black lab…………………………………Lily

3 pound Chihuahua…………………….Manny

Chihuahua/Jack Russell mix…………..Frankie

Everyone piled into the kitchen to snack on some appetizers and enjoy a cocktail or two.  All seemed to be enjoying themselves.  I headed out to the backyard to grill the kabobs as Caroline finished up the last few duties regarding the prep of the side items; we were fifteen minutes away from seating.  Those 15 minutes represented the calm before the storm.   The birthday party was about to turn ugly.

My daughter set the tone for the remainder of the evening.   Everyone began to dig into their food, when the first set of the night’s tears began to fall down her cheeks.    I placed a chicken kabob on her plate and you would have thought I’d handed her our pet goldfish to eat.  She looked at the chicken chunk filled stick with horror as she told me she doesn’t like chicken and questioned why the stick was burnt at the ends.  The four year old, who eats chicken three days per week, has now decided she doesn’t like it.  Four year olds don’t know shit, I thought to myself.  There was no way I was giving in to this unreasonable line of bullshit and kept the kabob on her plate.   That’s when Farrell walked through the door.  She planted a big kiss on my daughter, pulled up a seat next to the birthday girl, and whispered something in her ear.  Some sort of grandmother Jedi mind trick was used which resulted in my daughter immediately beginning to eat chicken off a stick.

Dinner was nearing its conclusion when disaster struck.

When you have a newborn added to the family roster, you quickly realize how little they care for your time to eat.  Throughout the dinner, Caroline and I passed our two-month old son back and forth.  We took turns feeding him, while the other ate.  Jenne noticed our continued infant handoff, and volunteered to lay him on her lap so Caroline and I could finish eating.  She stayed seated at the table and laid our son on his belly in her lap.

I got up to get another bottle of wine, so I was unaware of what caused the commotion I heard beginning in the dining room.   Ginny and my daughter cut me off in the kitchen doorway before I could make it back to the dining room; it was time for cake and ice cream.  When I went to open the fridge to retrieve the cake, I saw my daughter on the verge of her second meltdown of the night.

“What’s wrong, honey?”

“Daddy, please don’t take the cake out.”


“I don’t want anyone to eat it.  I want to eat the cake when I turn five.”

Ginny overheard the conversation and quickly tried to reason with her to no avail.  I tried as well.

“Everyone is looking forward to seeing you blow out the candles and enjoy your delicious cake”

She just looked at me, arms crossed, not budging.

Ginny began envisioning a night without dessert, and tried to reason with her once again.  What is it about family, so sure they know your kid better than you do?  It was time to explain things in a way she would understand.

I kneeled down and looked her straight in the eye. “Honey, cake is made from eggs.  If we don’t eat the cake tonight, the eggs will rot and the cake will be ruined.”

“Ok, Daddy.  We can eat the cake.”  She took Ginny by the hand and sat at the kitchen bar carefully plotting out where each of the four candles would be placed on her cake.


I remembered the commotion.  I found Caroline in our living room clutching our crying son in her arms.  While pointing to a red mark on the side of his head she explained he bumped his head extremely hard on the edge of the table when Jenne had him in her lap.  Jenne came in to apologize and see how our son was doing.  He had not stopped crying, which led my mother-in-law to enter the room and inquire about her first and only grandson.

Here is the dialogue that occurred between my wife and mother-in-law with Jenne ever so present in the room.

Farrell:  “Do you think he’s going to be okay?”

Caroline (Directed at me): “Can you please go get Angel to have her check his head?  Thank god we have a trauma nurse here with us.”

Me: “Sure.”

Angel walks in and begins to feel for the bruise on his head.

Farrell (Directed at Angel): “Why did Liam Neeson’s wife die when she fell and bumped her head a few years back while on that skiing trip?”  “What was her name, again?”

Me: “Jesus, Farrell, was that question necessary?”

Jenne left the room visibly upset our son might have the same fate as Liam Neeson’s wife.  She was so upset she left the house altogether.

I headed back to the kitchen.

I saw my daughter and Ginny putting the final candle on the cake.  I told Ginny what had happened and that Jenne left.  Ginny and my daughter stopped what they were doing and went to go look for Jenne.  Jenne’s two son’s had already found her and had begun the process of cheering up.

Angel assured my wife and mother-in-law that our son was going to live.  As soon as that good news was told, I heard a scream followed by hysterical crying.  The noises were coming from my daughter.  I met Ginny again in the doorway leading into the kitchen.  We both could not believe what we were witnessing.

At some point my daughter lost all interest in Jenne’s hurt feelings and potential manslaughter rap.  She could not contain her excitement anymore regarding her very special balloon-themed birthday cake.  So without Ginny she returned to the kitchen, stretched out her arms and grabbed for her birthday cake.  She fumbled the cake and it landed upside down on the kitchen floor.

It was a disaster scene of the grandest proportions, a four year old crying uncontrollably, her tiny body shaking in terror as she glanced down at what was left of her cake.  Three dogs charged in taking turns licking frosting from the floor, while two adults tried like hell to think how we could turn this negative into a positive.

Ginny was first to act.  I had to hand it to her, what she lacked in foresight she made up for with action; she quickly picked up the cake from the floor and told my daughter we would make it all better.  Ginny grabbed a butter knife and carefully went to work smoothing out the icing.  The balloons were no longer.  Now the cake was decorated like someone threw up glitter all over it.  It was a gallant effort but fell short with my daughter.

“I didn’t want a rainbow cake!”

On a side note: during all the drama of cake gate, the head wound, and Jenne storming out, my brother’s infant son screamed at the highest known pitch imaginable from the dining room.  Not because he was upset or anything, but because this is just what he does.

Anyway, back to the kitchen.

Our good friends Marcus and Sarah walked in to the see what all the noise was about.  Sarah saw my visibly upset daughter and made the first intelligent statement since the cake met the floor.

“Cora, do you want to get another cake?”

She nodded yes between rivers of tears.

“Do you want to come with Marcus and me to pick it out?”

I’ve never seen my daughter run as fast as she did to their car.  The three darted off to the grocery store.  Sarah was particularly grateful she would not be eating cake picked off the floor after being licked on by dogs.

Things began to settle down.  However, my brother’s son was still belting out his high falsetto sounds, while his twin sister sat in silence staring at him with a look of embarrassment for the family.  Marcus, Sarah and my daughter returned with a new cake.  My daughter seemed in good spirits.  We were now finally going to sing happy birthday and blow out some fucking candles!

The worst of the worst behind us, we still had a few more minor hiccups.   My daughter was so excited to open her gifts she forgot to notice how bad she had to use the bathroom.  She told me to tell everyone to wait first as she ran for the toilet.  Thirty seconds later she called me to come to see her in the bathroom.  Let’s just say she didn’t quite make it.  In a low frequency, she spoke in my ear, begging me not to tell anyone, and she needed to change into another dress.  I kept the promise (at the time) and did not tell anyone.

I also forgot to take a picture of her blowing out the candles.  I was busy cueing up the song Birthday by the Beatles for everyone to sing along to and I totally missed out on capturing the moment on camera.  So we performed a second take and all was well.

My daughter’s night ended on a high note as she opened her final gift from us; a George Harrison vinyl figurine she has been telling me about for months.  She then proclaimed to everyone in earshot, “Look everyone I got George!”

The party finally ran its course and everyone began to head home.  We thanked them all for coming along with much needed apologies for what went down.  My wife overheard Sarah comment to Marcus as they made their way down the steps of our porch, “No way I am ever having kids…”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


The ironic aspect of parents working so diligently to ensure a special event comes off picture perfect is eventually it doesn’t matter to the kids.  It is the imperfections of family they fondly remember.  Those are the special times, never forgotten and eventually retold around the dinner table with children of their own.

Happy 4th birthday sweet girl

Love, Dad

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  1. Matt

    I think i made a good decision to attend the Bounce Party! Another memory has just been made and years from now i’m sure an embelished version of this occassion will become part of the Ankerson Family Lore!!Glad everyone is all right. It is a great story and i thank you for sharing!
    Love to all,
    Grandpa Bob

  2. jan ankerson

    Oh my God, I never realized until now what Angel meant when she asked, “Did you talk to Caroline about the birthday from hell?” I loved it….when events are planned and executed to perfection…Boring. There will never be boring birthdays at 1408 Clover Street. Laughed by head off and now I shall share it with my friends. Love you Matt….

  3. Cindy

    What a party! Sorry I missed it. Sounds about right for our family though. I’ve tears running down my face from laughing, so it’s making it really difficult to type. Might want to think about having just one party at the Bouncy Place and forget trying to squeeze in a 2nd. Food for thought. (although the dogs would have missed out on the celebration).

    Enjoy it all now….it goes by so fast.

    Love to all.


  4. Tryna

    Amen, Sarah!

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