It was almost time to sing Happy Birthday to C.J. Friends and family were gathered around the table outside by the pool. So were the preschool classmates and their parents, all strangers to us. Nana Grab Bags exited the kitchen and approached the crowd first. She proudly carried a tray of homemade frosted cupcakes sprinkled to perfection. She moved like Cinderella’s Godmother. Bippity Boppity Boo.
I was right behind her with C.J.’s oversized Big Top Cupcake decorated, at his request, with the Disney Princesses. They were all on there: Ariel, Belle, Aurora, Cinderella, Snow White, even Jasmine (poor thing, she’s a b-list princess at best who rarely gets invited to the party).
Nana Grab Bags sets the cupcakes in the center of the table. All eyes on us. I set the jumbo, pale pink, princess cupcake with pastel sprinkles in front of C.J. All eyes on us. The group turns into a mixture of skeptical looks, baffled expressions and smirky smiles. I hold my head up high and carry on, like this is perfectly normal; because, for us, it is.
No one said a word to us. Flip video cameras rolled and camera phones clicked. More so than usual. Seems like every party-goer wanted a shot of the birthday boy with his princess cake. And, I wondered, as I so often do…
Is my son the punch line of some gay joke?
That was one year ago. C.J. was turning three and we were only a few months into his “girl toy” phase which, now, is a way of life.
So, as we began planning for his fourth birthday (February 1), we ran some ideas by him. He wanted Disney Princess party supplies, an Alice in Wonderland cake, a Barbie bounce house and only guacamole to eat. A multi-themed, pink and purple fiesta. Here’s the thing about birthday celebrations and C.J. being slightly effeminate and possibly gay: they are very public.
Sure, for Christmas most of his gifts were “girl toys.” But, only family and close friends were around to see. Kid’s birthday parties, especially where we live in South Orange County, are public spectacles that include 10 to 20 classmates, one to two parents per child and the possible sibling thrown in for good measure. Feeling a little panicky at the thought of such torture? Keep in mind that there generally isn’t alcohol at these things and the room begins to spin.
I’m supposed to invite 20 to 30 strangers into my home, act gracious (it’s hard, I tell you) and hope that I don’t have to deal with some tacky, gross, slightly homophobic ignorant person who thinks it’s funny to make my son the punch line of same gay joke. It’s dangerous to put me in that situation, let alone C.J.’s Dad.
We didn’t opt out this year. We opted for something more perfect.
“Hey C.J., what if, this year for your birthday we went to Disneyland to meet all of the princesses and Alice (this poor girl didn’t even make the Disney Princess b-list with Jasmine. It’s a shame really because that Alice has moxie)? We could ride on rides all day, visit the Princess Fantasy Faire, see Mickey and Minnie’s houses (he was surprised they didn’t live together, he’s so progressive), have lunch at Snow White’s restaurant, and you can pick out birthday presents at one of the many overpriced souvenir shops. What would you think about that?
There were no words to express his great joy, but there were screams of delight, and a dance that included sticking his tongue out while thrusting his hips and using big jazz hands.
“You can have a birthday party in the backyard instead if you want,” we offered again.
“NO! My go to Di-nee-land and see my princesses” he insisted.
Part of me felt like I was robbing him of a birthday party just because I am overprotective and afraid that he might get teased or judged negatively. Please understand that, in everything, I aim to protect C.J. while not stifling his spirit. It’s really not about me. For weeks I asked if he’d rather have a birthday party or go to Disneyland.
The answer was Di-nee-land every time. He’s only been there once, when he was two years old, and he doesn’t remember it. Some people suggested that we do both, Disneyland and a party.
News flash: both options can be expensive and we aren’t rich. Daddy is a cop and mommy consults only part-time so that she can be the primary caregiver and taxi driver. We expect to spend $400 to $500 on C.J’s birthday trip to Disneyland, and that’s about what we would have spent on a birthday party when all was said and done. And, I think that these memories will mean a lot more to C.J. and us.
I called Disneyland to book a birthday lunch with the princesses at Ariel’s grotto. They assumed we were celebrating the birthday of my daughter. “No, it’s for my son,” I said.
The sweet Disney cast member was unfazed.
“Do you have very many boys who want to celebrate their birthday with the princesses,” I asked. “It’s not uncommon,” she said.
We’re not uncommon I told myself. We’re not uncommon!