A couple of nights ago, I stayed up and watched “Zero Dark Thirty“, director Kathryn Bigelow’s film about the CIA‘s decade-long hunt for Osama bin Laden. The next day, I got up and took my older daughter, Maddo, to a birthday party for one of her pre-school classmates.
And after going through both of those experiences in less than 24 hours, I can say one thing with certainty:
Waterboarding‘s got nothing on a room full of 20 three-and-four-year olds who just got to pet a chinchilla and are hopped up on blue-icing birthday cake and vanilla ice cream.
See, when you have young kids like I do, birthdays are a Big Deal. And for a while, they should be. Especially when it’s the kid’s first birthday. Of course, for many kids, the only thing they understand about turning one is that they have license to eviscerate a hunk of cake and make themselves into a crime scene. The Big Deal is, thus, for the parents.
And what a Big Deal we can make of that first birthday.
For example, When Maddo and her sister, Little Sis, each turned one, my wife, The Thoroughly Awesome Ms. Crums, treated the occasions like we were marking the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II. For Maddo’s first birthday, my wife got a cake from the same place we used for our wedding cake. I think the thing cost $200. My wife scaled back a bit for Little Sis’s first birthday, but only a bit, with a cake from a local bakery that still ran about $130.
I’m not that big on math, but even I know my mom never spent anywhere near that much on one of the Betty Crocker chocolate cakes I got on my birthdays as a kid.
Of course, the cake is the icing on the [forgive me] cake of any kid’s birthday party, and always comes near the end of the shindig. Before you can get there, you have to provide the gang with something to keep it busy.
And the key to keeping almost two dozen knee-biters from losing their minds, and thus, you losing yours, is to assault them with activities. Having about 4,000 different toys to play with doesn’t hurt, either, and by the time all the guests had spent about a half hour digging out and messing around with a United Nations’ worth of Disney and Nick Jr. characters, and in general destroying the host kid’s living room the entertainment showed up.
I guess fire eaters and chainsaw jugglers have their places, but a four-year-old’s birthday party isn’t one of them, which is why we got treated to a performance, if you will, from three specimens from a local nature reserve. The first was a pretty badass looking California Tortoise, with a shell about 18 inches long and a foot across. He didn’t do much except let his feet and head hang stick out from his shell as the nature reserve’s ranger held him up and let all the kids pet him. During the middle of this, the ranger made some joke about boys doing silly things since the turtle was a male.
This gave Maddo the chance to rat me out over something silly the other day:
Ranger: Boys can be silly, right?
Maddo: My daddy gave me the wrong lunch the other day!
[Parents giggle. Kids stare straight ahead.]
Ranger: Uh oh! He DID?
Maddo: Yeah…He put pancake mix in my lunch instead of noodles!
[Louder laughter from all the gathered yuppie parents.]
Me: Thanks for dropping a dime on me, sweetie! YOU DIDN’T COMPLAIN WHEN I MADE YOU PANCAKES FOR DINNER THE OTHER NIGHT!
After the ranger put away the bored-looking tortoise, she brought out an even more bored-looking Rose Constrictor snake, which was about two-feet long and wrapped around her hand. Naturally, after petting the snake, at least half the kids then stuck their fingers in their mouths, causing an audible “AAAAH!” from more than a few nervous moms. I’m certain the ranger had visions of being served with papers for “unlawful reptile sharing” in her eyes.
The third and final animal in the mini-circus was a chinchilla and he definitely was not bored with anything at all. Based on how quickly the furry white rat ran into his little “box” to clean himself, shot around the caged area on the floor, and then twitched and squirmed during the touching period, I’m sure he needed some Prozac before he settled down for the night.
The kids then made hand puppets out of paper lunch bags. They were supposed to be either birds or squirrels, but Maddo turned hers [naturally] into a chinchilla. Then all the parents freaked out with a chorus of “WASH YOUR HANDS!” before any of the maniacs could shove their chinchilla-snake-tortoise germ-covered hands into the dishes of Goldfish and popcorn that we set up to keep them satiated until the pizza arrived.
And when it did, that turned into another obstacle course of action. The parents ordered four really big pizzas, including one three-feet-in-diameter cheese monster name–and I hope it was in honor of Sir Mix-A-Lot–the “Mack Daddy.” We then began the awkward approach to the food. Even with 20 high-pitched voices screaming to eat, no parent wanted to be that first one to put their grubby hands on the pizza, so we kind of milled about, checking out the offerings and pretending that none of us wanted to just tear into that sausage and onion job over there on the counter.
That was until I did. And then the rush was on.
Maddo and I worked our way through a couple of slices. Actually, I ate two, but Maddo got about only halfway through hers before she shouted, “I’M DONE!” and then ran off to dive into the mine field of toys strewn across the living room floor. She barely got there before it was time for cake, but not before she laid claim to a purple balloon attached to a pink ribbon. This would be crucial later.
In the scrum to get to the dining table, kids and parents tumbled and staggered all over each other. Of course, there were more kids than chairs, leading to a lot of tears and screams as Simone had to share a seat with ChloeDana and so on. Then there was the racket involved with cutting the cake, as kids started reaching for icing before the birthday girl could blow her candles out. Eventually, everyone got a piece of cake, or a cupcake, coated in about two inches of thick, sugary icing that ended up is his or her lap, if not on the floor.
Maddo finished her cake and asked me where her balloon was…The balloon that had been appropriated by another kid as I had failed to tie it down anywhere and didn’t want to haul it around anyway as I was dealing with the cake circus. I saw another purple balloon and gave it to her.
Only it was completely wrong.
“Daddy!” Maddo whined at me. “This one has a BLUE RIBBON! Mine had a PINK RIBBON! Blue is for BOYS!”
I eventually got her to sort-of accept this egregious error on my part, but I knew my failure was still on her mind as she brought it up about 136 times on the drive home. A drive in which she spent much of the time shoving her purple balloon up into my face so it could, in her words, give me a “kiss.”
With all that action behind us, I have no doubt that sticking some Al Qaeda suspect into the middle of a gang of birthday-partying pre-schoolers would have resulted in more information in one afternoon than years of CIA Black Site interrogations.
I mean, for free pizza and cake, I would give up just about anyone, including my daughter Maddo just to get even for her spilling the beans about my pancake mix lunch mistake.