She looked at me stonily. "I'm not doing it, Mom."
I put the pacifier in my mouth and fell down. Silence. I said I needed a water break and pulled out a baby bottle and drank from it. More silence.
I realized I had to dump half my act. I was planning to give the children a list of things not to do, a la Zucchini. But I knew if I said, "Whatever you do, don't jump up and down," they would not jump up and down. The rest of the act I forgot under the pressure. I went to my fail-safe, the freeze dance. I turned on Bobby Darin singing "Splish Splash," got the kids to their feet, and said, "Let's dance!" I turned off the music and said "Freeze!" I repeated this half a dozen times. Later, Jacob's grandmother told me this was her favorite part of the act. "It was so funny because you couldn't get them to dance, so whenever you yelled 'Freeze,' they were already frozen."
Our planned ending was balloon animals: My daughter has a gift for making them. So there wouldn't be hard-to-fill requests for bunnies or kitties, we decided to tell the kids they could have a schnoogle or a floogle. And to save time, we arrived with the balloons already blown up. Thinking the guests would be mostly boys, we had an array of black, purple, and blue balloons. But there were more girls and now they were crying, "I don't want a black schnoogle!" I finally found the balloon pump, blew up some pink ones, and my daughter calmed the girls by twisting up pink floogles. I wanted to help her, but all my attempts at balloon art resulted in what looked like enormous, deformed genitals.
The act was over—it had taken about seven and half minutes. (It only felt like a lifetime.) Immediately one mother came up to me trying to deconstruct the fiasco. "Why was it so bad?" she almost demanded to know. David tried to buck me up, but as he searched for a compliment, it was like listening to someone trying to come up with a tribute to Porter Goss' tenure at the CIA.
My daughter went over to get some birthday cake, and her psyche seemed blessedly untouched by the experience. I was shaken. I had always considered myself to be "good with kids." But it turns out the kids saw me as one of those weird ladies who sadly think she's good with them and they just wish she would go away.