Next Friday, I’m traveling to Chicago. My best friend Amy’s daughter is turning 1, and I couldn’t miss her first birthday party. This is partially because when Ruby was about 1, we had taught her a trick called “Put It on Your Head.” It’s exactly what it sounds like, but it was a pretty adorable way to test her receptive language. At Ruby’s first birthday party, Amy waited until Ruby had a huge fistful of cake and frosting and then said with an evil twinkle in her eye: “Hey! Ruby! Put it on your head!” And so we have a lot of pictures of Ruby with crumbs and frosting in her hair. I turned to Amy and said: “Just wait till your kid’s first birthday party. Just. You. Wait.” Come next Sunday, Stella will have cake on her head.

I am mostly prepared for this trip. Ruby and I are flying out after she gets out of school on Friday afternoon, and I am not worried about the flight. Ruby has flown dozens of times now, and despite the horror stories some of the “child-free by choice” folks like to tell, I can assure you that she is better company on a flight than many of the adults I’ve been seated next to over the years. I stock up on toys from the dollar store; and I bring her Leapster and some crayons; and I let her have a soda, a rare treat, when the beverage cart comes around – all of this keeps her entertained, at least on short flights. Last time we traveled, however, she eschewed the Leapster and its vast complement of educational games in favor of stealing my iPod and listening to Ke$ha at top volume. (“You can listen to my iPod, baby,” I said, “but please turn it down.” She rolled her eyes at me and said, “But Mom, it doesn’t sound good unless it’s loud!” She isn’t even 5 yet. I am seriously contemplating running away from home when she hits 13.) But still, I am not worried about the flight.

I am not worried about the weather either, although it will be colder than I like. I just got a huge bag of hand-me-downs from a fellow Morris Jeff mom, and it’s full of adorable sweaters. Another mom friend gave me some secondhand fleecy pants. And Ruby already has a warm winter coat and hat and gloves and scarf, so I think we’re covered, especially given that we will probably spend most of the time inside.

Here’s what I’m worried about, though. Amy has asked me to make gumbo for Stella’s party, and I am happy to. I love to cook for people. But how do I make a roux with a 4-year-old underfoot? I’ve made gumbo a half-dozen times since Ruby was born, but she was either too little to care what I was doing or she was in another location: at the park, at her dad’s house, etc. Two hours on an airplane is nothing – I have no shame anymore, and I will do anything short of breaking the law to keep her amused. But I don’t think I can expect her to entertain herself for 30 minutes, and if she distracts me while I’m cooking, the roux will burn and I will be back at square one. I would let her “help”; she “helps” me cook all the time. But I don’t think a 4-year-old can be trusted near that much hot oil. And yes, she will have Amy and Stella to keep her amused, but Ruby generally can’t go 20 seconds without checking in on me. Maybe the answer is to make it Saturday night after she goes to bed – it will taste better the next day anyway. Or maybe the answer is to give her my iPod and let her rock out to Ke$ha as loud as it can go.

Any thoughts?