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Happy Birthday — An Oxymoron

by John Jericiau May 14, 2012

By: John Jericiau

It’s been twenty-four hours and my ears are still ringing. I have a headache and I feel like my body has been through extreme boot camp. Did I just complete a triathlon? Nope! Did I just climb Mount Whitney?  No, I just survived another birthday party.

Devin and Dylan are in two separate preschool classes, each with 20 or so classmates. Throw in a sibling or two for each of those classmates, and you’re looking at a birthday party every weekend! And that’s exactly what we’ve been doing! Private homes, public parks, indoor gyms, outdoor venues, movie theaters, and bowling alleys – you name it and we’ve been there.

Don’t get me wrong – most of the birthday parties are valiant attempts at a good time. The hosts of the party are the haggard, stressed-out looking adults with smiles on their faces that quickly go south at the first fight, spill, or injury. They’ve tried their best to have a range of activities, food, and prizes for the kids, while keeping the adults in the party comfortable, fed, and feeling stress-free for at least these two short hours of their day. Best-case scenario would be for the parents to be there physically but able to detach mentally. You want to make the parents who are present happy, because you are fully aware that at some point in the year they will be trying their best to make you happy too. As you look around a party you see some parents enjoying each other’s company as if they’re at a cocktail party munching on hors d’ouevres, while others are alone in a quiet corner curled up in a ball, trying to regain some sanity before their kid becomes their responsibility again.

Yesterday’s party was another good attempt at a fun time, but it was not for me. Even I was excited to go since it was at a place we’d never been, hosted by parents I really like, and celebrating the birthday of one of Devin’s closest friends as well as his younger sister, who Dylan really likes. I knew almost everyone there, it required very little travel time, and I was hungry by the 11:30am start time. The boys were in really good moods, and they looked sharp in their outfits.

Within the first half hour of the party I found myself making a mental note of the things I don’t like about kids’ birthday celebrations, since this one happened to have most of them. In no particular order, these include:

THE NOISE
I have never stepped foot in an insane asylum, but if I did, I’m pretty sure it would sound like this party. How can little mouths produce such big noises? You don’t realize just how loud the rumble is inside the place until you try to talk to someone next to you, use the phone, or call out to your child who has selective hearing anyway. The loudness of the children is only momentarily taken over by the shriek of a parent yelling across the room for their child to stop pummeling their classmate. You’re almost startled by the silence when you escape inside the restroom.

THE FIGHTING
Do these kids actually get along at school? Are they really friends? Most of them are not playing – they’re surviving! Fists are flown and toys are thrown. No one wants to share the mini roller coaster, and the box full of plastic balls – the one that’s meant for them to sink into like quicksand – becomes ground zero for an epic battle of the boys. Parents just naturally rotate at officiating these battles, depending on who is the closest. The curled up parents get a pass.

THE FOOD
I’ve learned that the only thing kids eat is gooey pizza from wherever delivers, and the only thing they drink is juice from an envelope that each parent must learn to pierce with a sharp straw that can also be used as a weapon in the fighting described above. Yes, most hosts provide sliced and diced fruit to fill in the spaces on the table around the pizza and drinks, but most of the fruit ends up on the plates of the adults, since it feels so good to eat fruit without having to prepare it ourselves. Besides the fruit, the parents find themselves eating things we never ever eat outside of birthday parties, such as circular pita bread sandwiches or cold cut croissants. Of course, most of us get our calories from finishing the slice of pizza abandoned by our child. We just can’t let food go to waste, no matter how bad it is…

THE PIÑATA
I’m not sure who made this a staple of the birthday party, but it’s a bad idea. More often than not the child swinging the weapon (I mean stick) trying to chop in half their favorite action figure or Nickelodeon character (and then will go home and mimic this with their younger sibling) has no clue how dangerously close they are getting to the face of the spectating children. More often than not a child will wander in the path of the swinging stick, while the parents freeze in fear and cringe until the inevitable happens. Finally the piñata will mercifully split, and out pours thousands of pieces of amphetamines and uppers (I mean candy and chocolate) that will never be divided evenly and will evoke more of the above-mentioned fighting and noise.

Don’t even get me started on the goodie bag, the cake, or the bacteria-laden cesspool of toys. I’m going to refrain from talking about the condition of the available restroom. Anyway, I really don’t have the time. I’ve got to get the invitations out for Devin’s birthday party.

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John Jericiau
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