J.R. and LaFonda Fenwick are hosting an elegant, yet understated party tonight at their Bowie home to ring in the new millennium: Their guests will feast on Jamaican jerk chicken, peas and rice, cocoa bread and a nice white wine.
And hot dogs, potato chips and applesauce.
At midnight, the Fenwicks and a dozen other families will hoist a toast with crystal flutes of champagne--and plastic cups of milk. Then the guests under five feet tall will retreat to a pile of toys, games and a Disney video, while the adults party like it's 1999, taking occasional breaks to run upstairs to change diapers, kiss slumbering toddlers and calm rambunctious grade-schoolers.
"Since we're going into a new decade, a new century, a new millennium, I decided I wanted to have a celebration we could share with our daughter," said J.R. Fenwick, a salesman and recording studio owner. "I wanted her to experience it. I envision dancing with her when the ball drops [at Times Square] and looking around and seeing other parents, my friends, dancing with their children."
All around the Beltway, many Washington area parents are gearing up for family-friendly New Year's Eve celebrations. These aren't people who are afraid of the doomsday predictions or too frugal to pay for high-priced parties. These are parents who simply didn't want to see the new millennium dawn without their children nearby.
"We wanted to be with our kids," said Beth Py-Lieberman, 39, an editor at Smithsonian Magazine, whose family will celebrate with three other families on their street in Silver Spring. "We didn't want them sent off. We wanted to be together so we could remember being together at such a momentous time."
The family parties include everything from elaborate formal celebrations to intimate gatherings of a few close friends.
At Christ Church in Georgetown, young and old parishioners will celebrate Mass with a quiet moment as the clock strikes midnight, and they will follow it with a festive reception with champagne for adults and juice for the children.
"We have a lot of families in our parish, and the adults were invited to numerous things. And people trying to decide what they will do faced a dilemma because they wanted to do more than hunker down at home, but they also wanted to be with their children," said the Rev. Stuart Kenworthy. "People coming out to celebrate with their families is the beauty of holiness."
In Lake Ridge, Kim and Jim Chinn and several of their neighbors will party at their community clubhouse as their children play together at one of the neighbor's homes. Then the parents will join the children and ring in the new year together.
At Nadine Epstein's house in the Chevy Chase section of Washington, 10 people, including her 7-year-old son, Noah, and two of his buddies, will celebrate at a black-tie-optional dinner. Epstein and Noah visited the library to research foods eaten in various cultures during the past millennium. The menu includes peanut soup representing Africa, Viking baked trout with onions and mushrooms, Roman custard and Aztec Mexican hot chocolate.
Entertainment will be a tap dance by Noah and his friend Rebecca Roe, 7.
"At all the parties at my house, we basically wing it," said Epstein, a writer and artist.
Not at the party to be attended by Py-Lieberman's family. The group, hosted by Debbie Avant and Tim Herbst, plans to feast and to bury a time capsule including voice recordings of the preschool- to college-age children.
Every detail has been worked out at two strategy sessions, including a schedule and menus. "Our Millennium Meal" includes salmon in potato wrap and beef tenderloin with a crust of herbs for the adults and a children's feast beginning with a trough of ice cream and toppings--sans nuts, because of one child's food allergy--pesto spaghetti and nachos.
The festivities will begin at 7 p.m. with a champagne toast. At 7:15, there will be a pinata for the children. At 8, the group will pack the time capsule carefully constructed from PVC pipe by the family of Tom and Tamara Buckley, and attendees will bury it at 9. At midnight, the children will parade through the neighborhood while the adults share a millennium toast.
J.R. Fenwick, 36, said that he plans to kiss his wife when the clock strikes midnight but that he'll be holding his 1-year-old daughter, Jaelyn.
"Years from now, we'll all be able to tell our children that we entered the new millennium celebrating together as a family," he said. "There's no more special way to bring in the new millennium than that."
CAPTION: Claire Lieberman, 10, left, Patsy Lieberman, 6, Joe Buckley, 4, and Tommy Harrelson, 3, paint a millennium time capsule at Joe's Silver Spring home.