The Birthday Party From Hell

When bad memories become the best family lore

Kerala Taylor
Human Parts
Published in
9 min readDec 8, 2023

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Photo by Carlos Gutierrez/The Carlos Gutierrez Collection. Image assembled by author in Canva.

In the “before” photo, my daughter is standing in front of a lovingly decorated table, a birthday hat perched upon her head. Seven other second-grade girls are due to arrive any moment, and her anticipation is palpable. The house is clean, the snacks are ready, the balloons are bobbing about on our front porch.

Yes folks, there is a party about to start, and oh what a party it will be.

There is no “before” photo of the parents, or of the aunt who has flown in to help. If there were, we might look a bit less excited, a bit more trepidatious. The day before, we were under the impression that two of the seven girls would be spending the night. After school, our daughter said she had good news! All seven girls now wanted to sleep over!

My daughter is nothing if not persuasive.

This news was followed by a flurry of parental text messages. We acquiesced somewhat grudgingly because it was our daughter’s big day and she was so excited about her very first sleepover. Plus, we reasoned, we had three adults in the house and a small army of parents ready to be deployed at any hour of the night if any children desperately needed to go home.

What could go wrong?

It is around this time, every year, that our family reminisces about the Birthday Party From Hell. My daughter just turned 12. In the interceding years, she grew at least two feet, lived through a global pandemic, started borrowing my shoes, and lost her enthusiasm for balloons. But she hasn’t lost her enthusiasm for sleepovers.

When Covid temporarily rendered birthday parties obsolete, I wasn’t all that broke up about it. I needed at least three years to recover from the Birthday Party From Hell, and when we finally attempted another sleepover last year, we limited attendance to three. Including our daughter.

We also made sure that we personally knew the parents of the two guests, and that they would not turn off, or forget to charge, their phones before bed. We took some other precautions too, like locking our medicine cabinet, hiding our Magic 8 ball, and checking everyone’s overnight bags to make sure no one had smuggled in any lipstick.

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Kerala Taylor
Human Parts

Award-winning writer. Interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. Subscribe: https://keralataylor.substack.com