I enlisted other guests' party services while I frosted the cake. Jennifer mixed icing colors for decorating the cake. Gloria, Vicky and Nico festooned the kitchen/dining area with "Happy Birthday" balloons (Jennifer kindly stopped to buy them on her way) and Hot Wheels crepe paper streamers.
These were the same rolls of Hot Wheels streamers that Don's mother bought when she was here for U's second birthday. It had been really hard to find party stuff at the party store that didn't have licensed character stuff on it: Spongebob, Dora, Barbie, Hot Wheels. We hadn't been able to find trademark-free streamers at all, so I decided on the Hot Wheels streamers, because, outside the commercial turnoff, they were cool looking: orange flames racing down a red background. The design actually worked with the concept of a streamer, unlike all the others.
Sigurd's job was blowing up balloons, to Ulysses's delight. The rest of the gang, when they were done making the streamer maze in the kitchen, joined S and U in the living room and formed a balloon-blowing-up-and-playing-with team. Gloria taught Ulysses the game of bat-the-balloon-in-the-air-and-don't-let-it-touch-the-ground. I watched and listened to the laughter and happy shouting while I puttered with the cake.
Ulysses ran into the kitchen -- to find me, to check on the progress with his cake, I guess. Or to tell me about the balloons, perhaps. But before he could tell me what he was about, he stopped short, looking up at the streamers and balloons everywhere.
"A party!" he said. "For me!"
"Yes!" I said. "It's your birthday party."
Ulysses lifted his arms out by his sides and began to hop up and down. "I'm dancing, Mama!" he said, smiling up at me. "I'm dancing!"
On Christmas day, Ulysses never did get around to opening all his presents. This morning, I'd re-wrapped in birthday-ish paper those little packages -- a Hot Wheels car still in its blister pack, a mesh sack of gold-wrapped chocolate coins, a jelly candy in the shape of a Christmas tree. He opened one of these to find a miniature ring toss game -- the kind where you press down on a button to make the rings swish through the water, and, ideally, land on a little peg. It was packaged in cellophane alongside a lollipop. "Merry Christmas!" the packaging announced. The lollipop was oblong, about 3/4" wide and 2" long, and striped diagonally with white, brown and forest green.
"Open, Mama-Tata! Open eh lollipop!" Sigurd pulled out his jacknife and worked free the tight neck of cellophane on the pop's stick.
Ulysses slipped away to the laptop workstation we set up for him recently, where he can stand and jump while he plays. He settled into some game play, licking on his lollipop, and the rest of us settled into conversation.
All at once, there was a cracking sound, and a scream came from Ulysses. The lollipop had somehow shattered into dozens of bits. Maybe it was exposed to heat or cold somewhere along the line? Or rattled against the ring-toss toy?
Don got to him first, with words of comfort. Ulysses held the lollipop up, smiling a little.
"Hix it, Tata," he implored. "Lollipop je broken."
"I can't fix that, Ulysses," he said. "It's too broken. I'm sorry."
A moment went by. Ulysses's face crumpled into tears. He sobbed and fell into Don's arms, then began to wander in little circles, crying quietly.
I remembered that in my handbag was a cinnamon lollipop U had picked out on our last visit to Shopko about a month ago. He'd never asked for it after we left the store. I ran to get it.
"Look at this Ulysses," I said, holding it near him. He turned quickly to see. The hope on his face turned dark. He shook his head slowly and looked at me.
"That's not a birthday lollipop," he choked through his tears.
I wish I could remember what Gloria said a few moments later that distracted him and made him laugh, forget the calamity of the birthday lollipop, and rejoin the party joy. She's better at cheering children up than I'll ever be.