Can I get on my soapbox for a minute?
I’d like to be frank about a certain four-letter word that has caused me some irritation lately: RSVP. Four little letters that make a huge difference to any parent of a young child. Let me explain.
My daughter turned 5 in late March, and we spent months planning her party. Her pre-K teacher had generously offered to help with the party, which was Frozen-themed (duh!) and would require handmade invitations, party decorations, and games, not to mention ordering a cake with a design no one knew how to do and making snowflake-shaped sugar cookies, from scratch, the morning of the party.
My daughter and I spent hours one Sunday in early March folding paper and cutting out snowflakes, which became the invitations, and she laboriously addressed them to her friends by hand, from a list we’d crafted over several days.
The party was to be held at our home. On the invitations, we provided our address, our phone number, and those four magical letters: “RSVP.”
Do you know what RSVP stands for? It means répondez, s’il vous plaît, which is French for “please respond.”
Note, if you will, that it does not stand for, “Respond only if you absolutely know for sure that you are coming, but if you aren’t coming or aren’t sure, don’t bother to mention it or acknowledge the invitation in any way.”
My daughter invited 20 friends. With at least one parent per child, that’s 40 people. Of the 20, nine of them RSVP’d. So would that be 18 people?
Three were “maybes.” Two of those “maybes” responded the day before the party to say that they would, indeed, be there. The third “maybe” remained a “maybe” until the morning of the party, when it was established that she could come after all. A final RSVP came that morning, to say that he would for sure be there. By then, all the favors and the cake had been purchased, so it was nice to know about these extra folks, and we were thrilled they could come, but it was not terribly helpful in terms of planning.
Not knowing whether to expect 18 people or 40, we opted for safety and bought a cake that would feed a football team.
Eleven kids came. With parents, about 25 people attended in all. One family had to leave early, before the cake was cut.
The party was a huge success. My daughter and all her friends had a lot of fun, played a ton of games, ate oodles of sugar, and it was a beautiful day for celebrating.
And what of the other nine invitees? We never heard a single word from them.
We had cake leftover in our fridge for a week. And let’s not even start on the full batch of snowflake cookies I made and ended up throwing away half of. (I actually blame myself for the obscene sugar load I purchased, but I digress…)
What has happened to our manners? When did it become the norm not to let the party host know whether you’ll be there or not? It seems that, anymore, the only thing people actually RSVP to is weddings. And as I recall from my own wedding nine years ago, I had to stalk people to get them to do so. We all know how appreciated an RSVP is, and yet when it’s not our party, all common courtesy flies out the window.
Look, I know stuff happens. I know that sometimes life gets in the way, and you don’t truly know whether you can attend until the week of the party. Sometimes a “maybe” is the best you can do for a while. I also know that when you’re at work, you remember mid-day that you need to RSVP and then the invitation is hanging on your refrigerator door back at home, and you think, “Crap! I don’t have their phone number with me! I have to call when I get home!” and then you forget because you had to go to the grocery store and then make dinner and give your kids a bath, and then you don’t remember until it’s 10:30 that night and then you think, “Crap! It’s too late to call now, I’ll have to do it tomorrow,” and then the cycle continues. Trust me, I’ve been there myself. And for some reason, every child we know has a spring birthday, so March and April tend to be a birthday party bonanza, and your time may be very limited. I get it, really I do.
But this is why we give you invitations three weeks before the party—so you can have time to figure this out. And for most of them, our kids go to school together—a note in my daughter’s file or in her cubby would suffice.
An RSVP lets the host know a lot of things. In our case, obviously, it meant spending money on a ridiculously oversized sheet cake rather than what we should have bought—the one that fed 10-15.
The RSVP helps determine how many party favors should be purchased, how many bottled waters and snacks to put out, how much room you’ll need to accommodate for, and, for a small child excited to see her friends, which ones she can expect and look forward to seeing. For my 5-year-old, an invitation to a friend is as good as saying “she’s coming,” but until I know for sure from a parent, my daughter will ask me every day “Is Insert Name Here coming to my party?”
And pardon me while I get somewhat personal here: An RSVP is your recognition that you were hand-picked to be among a select few that we want to celebrate with and spend our time. My daughter, though thrilled at how her party went, still asks me, weeks later, why so-and-so didn’t come to her party. All I can say is, “I don’t know, honey.”
And it sets an example for your kids, so that they’ll know, when they’re older and are responsible for their own social calendars, that a response to an invitation is expected and polite.
And, in our case, we cut out ALL those snowflake invitations, for cryin’ out loud! How about a “thanks anyway”?