I must have missed a memo that went out that said to wear Christian Louboutin heels to a one-year-old’s birthday party. I did not realize I was supposed to come in my finest, and although “finest” for me does not include Louboutin, I sure as hell was not about to brush off the dust on my spikey black Nine West-ers, to engage in a little game of Roley Poley, or to sit cross legged on a rug, amidst a dozen babies, making animal noises while singing Old MacDonald.
And so, I proudly wore my Uggs. It has taken me a good three years to muster up enough cash and courage to purchase an authentic pair. I just think they’re overpriced. In previous winters, I happily donned an imitation pink Payless version, several pairs of Australian Emus, some brown Rocketdogs, and a strangely shiny red plastic set of boots that was lined with fur in dire need of a grooming. I don’t think they even had a brand. But this winter, when Uggs hit the racks of discount stores like Loehmann’s and Century 21, I splurged on not one, but two new pairs, excited to curl my toes in the quality warmth of authentic sheepskin, as opposed to polyurethane.
Clementine’s first birthday was to take place in a mysterious lounge in a building in Downtown Manhattan, a short trek from our New Jersey home, and a long one from her own in Westchester. “I think the party is just for adults,” my husband said, a few nights before the birthday bash. “I mean, it’s in a lounge and all.” We argued semantics as to whether the venue would be more club-like or lounge-y.
“Nah,” I quipped. “Who makes a birthday party for a baby and doesn’t invite other kids? I mean, Clementine’s not gonna drink!” The debate prompted me to rifle through our overflowing garbage can, and there, underneath a dirty diaper, I found the envelope addressed to “Jonathan, Sarah, and kids.” As usual, I was right.
I dressed my pre-school-aged and infant daughters in coordinating Uggs as well. Emmanuelle’s pair was a hand-me-down from a spendthrift cousin, and Mica’s was a baby gift from that same relative. I can’t bring myself to squander money on shoes when their feet grow faster than their hair. My three-year-old son Jakey only owns one pair of shoes, after all, he is a boy, and all masculine shoes look the same to me, so his footwear option was a no-brainer. I glanced at my distinguished looking family prior to entering the Lounge, and couldn’t help but smile at our impressively attired feet, knowing we would fit right in. We looked like a million bucks.
But a million is not worth very much when you are in close vicinity to a billion. After riding the elevator up to the penthouse, and entering a room decorated entirely with various shades of orange crepe decorations and little cardboard tangerine slices, Clementine’s mom waltzed across the floor in her custom cocktail dress, tailor-made to her slim, Uma Thurman-esque like body, and as she languidly clicked one pumped toe in front of the other, her black crinoline flouncing, a flash of red ink peeped at me from behind her four-inch-heels. Louboutins. The trademark red. $865 of leather, right there on the converted dance floor.
As I looked haltingly between her designer heels and the comfortable, clunky shoes of my family, I felt like the victim of a cruel joke. Like the kid who picks up on a fad after the others have exhausted it, the one who buys discounted SillyBandz when everyone else has thrown theirs away, the caboose on the train of trend. And as her long neck angled in towards my face, our airy cheek-kiss suddenly felt fleshy and fake, like she didn’t really want our skin to touch, or I might smudge her thick makeup. Her face was hot and flushed from the tiresome job of looking pretty, as a nanny cared for a tutu-ed Clementine in a nearby play-area. My kids clung to my legs, anxious for the party to begin, and to meet the elusive birthday girl. A quick but thorough scan of the packed party room told me that the only other individual whose choice of shoes that day were Uggs was another baby, and it’s not like the baby even had the choice. Balenciaga ankle boots, Chanel ballet flats, Emilio Pucci pumps. I felt displaced.
Most of the young kids were corralled on a rug, surrounding a young man who feigned enthusiasm as he played guitar and belted out the Barney theme song, while other children were off in the remote playroom, poking and prodding at Clementine’s Swarovski crystaled hair. But Emmanuelle and Jakey would not bait the phony pretension, could not be forced to socialize with strangers, and instead straddled our laps, their legs intertwined with ours, as we settled down and dined on petite sandwiches, baby-quiches, and toothpicked, clementine slices. Our kids sat entranced, open-mouthed, while a nearby television played a slideshow of pictures of Clementine’s first year of life, until my own baby started to protest in hunger.
I found a not-so-comfortable couch in the front of the lounge, by the defunct bar that subbed as a serving station for food and a console for the goody-bags, cloaked myself in my nursing bib, and fed my baby a lunch that was almost as good as the delicacies a few feet away. As Mica gulped and sucked, her legs kicking in excitement, and tiny fists flailing beneath the concealing blanket, I worried lest a sliver of skin of mine become indecently exposed, a naked, round breast calling attention to itself in the midst of the luxurious party. I nursed her, smoothing down the edges of my clothing, making sure my maternal act of nurturing was not too ostentatious, when another young woman perched on a couch across from me. She seemed anxious to leave the party and get on her way, and she hurriedly removed her over-the-knee suede Christian Louboutin boots, folded up the $1,995 investments into a neat package, and from a tote bag, withdrew a beaten-up pair of Uggs. These were her walking shoes. My best was her worst.
We left the party shortly then-after, feeling like awkward and boney teenagers on the outskirts of a more sophisticated crowd, and I suppose it’s safe to say we all breathed a sigh of relief as we drove over the George Washington Bridge, the Herculean city buildings fading in the twilight as the sun set over Manhattan. And once across, we drank the refreshingly mediocre New Jersey air, proud to be home in the suburbs, amidst the diversity and privacy that silent streets afford.
Mica will be lucky if she gets a first-birthday party. But I somehow doubt it will be a black-tie affair, in a lounge, bar, or club, with or without drinks, and custom chocolate lollipops and antique china dolls as loot bags. And I certainly won’t wear heels. I might even go barefoot.