My eight-year-old son wanted to have a sleepover party for his birthday, so we invited the usual suspects: the next door neighbor, a kid he's been friends with since infancy, and another long-time school buddy. Wanting to encourage my often-shy son to keep making new friends, I urged him to invite another nice-seeming boy named Gerry from his class, who'd gotten wind of the party and asked to be included. My son agreed, and I asked Gerry for his mom's phone number.
I phoned her and introduced myself. "Hi, my son Robbie and Gerry are classmates. Robbie is having a sleepover party for his birthday this Saturday, and he'd like to invite Gerry." I also added that if she would prefer, her son was welcome to come to the party just for the evening and skip the sleepover part, because I realize that kids ? and more often their parents ? have varying degrees of comfort with the whole sleepover thing.
"I can't let him go by himself to your house," Gerry's mother replied bluntly. "I would have to send his older brother there with him, because I don't know you. I'm just being honest."
I paused, momentarily stunned, as I absorbed the fact that this woman thought I might bring harm to her son.
Gerry's mother was simply obeying the teachings of Stranger Danger. Still, I found it difficult to digest the fact that I was being cast in the role of "Stranger," or worse yet, "Potentially Dangerous Stranger," when I was here to audition for the part of "Friendly Mother From Your Son's Class."
All I wanted was to create a small, festive birthday party for my son, and help him make a new friend. This older brother ? whom my son didn?t even know ? wasn?t part of the plan, and really, what if I was some twisted pervert? Would handing over your eleven-year-old really constitute an adequate defense against me?
I quickly improvised dialogue that I hoped would prove how pleasant and normal I was. ?So, how do you like the kids? teacher?? ?Does your son participate in any after-school programs?? ?Are you planning to volunteer with the PTA?? I wound up staying on the phone with Gerry?s mother for half an hour, feigning interest in her real estate career, her other four children, her eldest son?s college application process, and so forth, all the while growing to resent her more and more. At the end of the call, I told her she was welcome and encouraged to attend the party herself, which I desperately hoped she wouldn?t. Who wants to spend hours standing around with someone who you know is in your home solely to judge your proclivities for sodomy?
?I?m just being honest.? Who could argue with that? Well, actually, I could. I wish I?d had the nerve to say, ?I don?t want you to be that honest.? Protect your children, sure. Do what feels sensible to you as a parent, yes. But please, be tactful about it. As hostess, I resented feeling forced to prove that the party was not was just an elaborate ruse to get more fresh and delectable young children into my personal Neverland Ranch. Had this mother simply said, ?May I come along as well? I enjoy having a chance to meet other parents from our classroom,? no reasonable person would have refused, and I would have been spared several forced and awkward minutes of phone chat about how much I adore school bake sales when the only reason I?d called was to invite your kid to a party.
On the night of the party, Gerry?s mother came to my house with Gerry and his brother (slash-bodyguard) in tow. There were a few pleasantries on her part and a gushing, overwrought welcome on mine, in which I urged her to come in and have a look around and observe the so very normalgoings-on. I blurted out several things along the lines of, ?Look at how much fun the children are having!? and ?This is my living room! In it we have a television, which the children will use to watch a G-rated movie!? and ?I have cupcakes, please have a cupcake!? and Please stop judging me ? I?m normal! Normal! Normal! I must not have actually said that last part out loud, because a few minutes later, Gerry?s mother said goodbye and Gerry and his older brother were allowed to spend three hours in my home before being picked up ? unharmed before bedtime.
I don?t blame this woman for being cautious about whom she leaves her children with, because technically I was a stranger. But her response to the party invitation, which made it clear that she viewed me not as a person trying to create a friendship between two children but merely as a potential security hazard, left me feeling incredibly awkward. I was relieved to have passed her sniff test, but in the end, it wound up all for naught. A few weeks after the party, Gerry?s family moved to a different school zone. They weren?t that far away, but I didn?t bother asking for their new phone number.