Party of Eight

by Brian on September 22, 2005

in A Parent in Israel

There’s a line in the movie “Risky Business” where the character played by a teenage Tom Cruise decides to throw a party while his parents are away for the
weekend. When the folks call to check in on him and hear music and
merriment in the background, they confront their son over the phone who
responds by asking innocently “Party? Who said anything about a party?”
That’s a bit how I felt when it transpired that our twelve-year-old
daughter had planned a sleepover birthday party for eight of her
girlfriends…without obtaining permission from her parents.
The whole thing kind of slid under the radar. First it was just a
couple of friends, some pizza, pajamas, ice cream and a movie. A low key event a month or
so before the big celebration
– that being her bat mitzvah when she’d be called up to read from the
Torah in synagogue for the first time. We said fine. Why not?
A few days later, Merav let slip that the numbers were rising.
“Eight girls?” I said. “That’s kind of a lot, don’t you think?”
Here is where clear father-daughter communication could have avoided a
lot of problems down the road. I understood my comment to be a warning
to scale back. Merav, on the other hand, took it much more literally. She didn’t think it was a lot and I didn’t explicitly say “no.”
Now, a party for eight is not such a big deal. A bit overwhelming for
the parents, to be sure, but Merav had just started junior high and we
wanted her to make new friends.
The problem was that neither my wife Jody nor I were going to be home
that night. We had parent-teacher meetings at school and wouldn’t be back until
10:00 PM.
“What’s the big deal?” Merav asked, and she had a point. We had stopped
calling for a babysitter a couple of years ago, putting our trust in
Merav and her fourteen-year-old brother Amir to take care of themselves
and their younger sibling, seven-year-old Aviv.
A couple friends camped out in front of the TV, we figured would be OK
for a few hours without us. But a party of eight was another matter
The point was driven home when Jody ran into the mother of one of the
invited kids while shopping. “So I guess that means you’re not going to
the parent-teacher meeting?” the mother said.
“Well, actually, we were planning on going,” Jody replied.
mother stood there for a second, mouth slightly agape. Even in
permissive Israel, some things apparently still are not done.
“Someone has to be there, to take responsibility,” I said to Merav. “An adult. What if someone chokes on some popcorn? Or slips and falls down the stairs.”
“You’re exaggerating, Abba. Nothing’s going to happen!” Merav protested.
“But what if something does? That’s my job as a parent, to make sure you guys are safe.”
“Are you telling me I can’t have the party?”
“We never said you could have a party.”
“But I’ve given out the invitations and everything. You can’t do this!”
“You shouldn’t have given out the invitations without checking with us first.”
“You’re so mean!” she cried and stormed off to her room, slamming the door.
“You’re ping-pong’ing,” Jody said kindly, referring to a situation we
knew too well from our occasional own back and forth bickering. “Take a
moment and let’s map out what to do next.”
“The problem is what I’ve already
done,” I said glumly. “I’ve created one of those situations she’ll
remember forever. When her horrid father cancelled her birthday party.”

And yet, there was also a part of me that wanted to teach her a lesson. Was there a way to turn the situation to the positive?
Jody and I discussed several possible strategies, but when I knocked on
Merav’s door a few minutes later, I still didn’t know what I was going
to say. From the other side of the room I could hear her sobbing
hysterically. I jiggled the handle but it was locked.
“Open up!” I demanded.
Merav let me in but refused to look me in the eye. She ignored my
feeble attempt at consolation, brushing off my touch. We both just sat
I spoke first. “Do you have a piece of paper?” I asked.
She motioned to her desk.
“OK, we’re going to do some brainstorming,” I said. “Let’s write down
on this paper what the problems are and what options we have.”
Merav looked suspicious. I started to write.
Point #1: the party was planned without permission.
Point #2: there were going to be eight kids instead of three.
Point #3: no parents were going to be home.
Next to each problem, we wrote down several possible solutions.
We could call a babysitter or a family friend until we got back.
We could cut down the number of kids.
We could postpone the party to a night when Jody and I would be home.
Each option was shot down in turn. Our regular babysitter couldn’t make
it and neither of us felt comfortable calling another adult, someone else’s
parent, to do the job. Merav argued, with good point, that she didn’t
know what she’d tell the kids she was dis-inviting. And delaying the
party would place it too far away from her real birthday.
Feeling a bit exasperated, I said firmly “well, we’ve got to do
something. Because we can’t have eight girls over here with no parents.”
We sat silently for another minute, maybe two. Then, as her breathing
steadied, her face brightened. “What about Meital? She was referring to
her counselor from Scouts. Maybe she could supervise and the party
could go on as planned?
“Hmmm…that’s a good idea,” I said encouragingly.
While I didn’t expect Meital to be free on a Thursday night (with no
school the next day, Thursday is Israel’s equivalent of a Saturday
night on the town), I didn’t want to dampen Merav’s newly discovered
Merav nearly bowled me over as she ran to grab the cordless phone. She
raced back into her room and slammed the door again. This time when it
opened, a very different girl emerged.
“She can do it! She can come!” Merav hugged me tight, she was so delighted.
It wasn’t just that the problem had been solved, though. It was that she had
come up with the solution herself. She had called Meital on her own.
She had gone from being passive and stuck to actively taking a part in
the ultimate result.
Maybe it had something to do with having sunk to such a depth of
despair. Or perhaps it was seeing everything written down in black and
white that had allowed her to become more objective and less emotional,
to internalize that there were options and everything wasn’t so uniformly hopeless. Or maybe she just needed time to process it all.
It doesn’t really matter. The main thing was that the evening which had
not long before appeared so bleak, had taken a turn that none of us
Instead of this squabble etching an indelible memory of the inflexible
uncaring parent into her psyche, it had turned into an equally
unforgettable moment of self-actualization. A lesson that, if she can
reenact it in similar situations in the future, will serve her well for
the rest of her life. I told her the same and she positively beamed
with self-confidence.
Let the party begin!

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

1 Anonymous September 27, 2005 at 2:16 am

Mary Ann writes:

Sounds like you did an excellent job of parenting! And please tell Merav how pretty I think she is!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: