BY DARREN HANDSCHUH
Now that my children are older, birthdays are not nearly as stressful as they once were.
All older kids need is a card with some cash in it and a few friends to hangout with.
But when they are little you had to plan a party, have people over and be an activity co-ordinator for a pack of screaming ankle biters. It was nothing but work, work, work.
But the more birthday parties we had, the more we learned about what we should and shouldn’t do both for the fun of the children and to maintain our own sanity.
The first birthday party involved a few friends, grandparents and siblings. It was low-key and laid back.
What did Junior care? All he was interested in was sucking on his foot and playing with the box the toy came in.
I should have saved some money and just bought him some boxes.
He could then spend the afternoon playing with a six-sided cube that cost less than the wrapping paper it came in (because it was fun to watch him rip the paper off.)
He was having fun, I saved some money and everyone was happy.
Except for mom.
“You can’t just give him a box for his birthday. He needs toys.”
“The box is the toy. Look at him go. A few minutes ago it was a car, then it was a drum set. It’s a million toys in one.”
Meanwhile, Junior is wearing the box as a helmet and trying to figure out how it got so dark so fast.
Of course, Junior ended up getting enough toys to keep a small village in China working for at least three months.
As Junior got older, the parties became more elaborate with more balloons, streamers, guests and games because sitting around playing with a box just wasn’t cutting it any more.
One year, we had the ‘brilliant’ idea to have the party at the park. The green space included a water park and we figured it was a great idea for a summer party. The kids could run around and yell and holler all they wanted and we could just kick back and let them go.
Let’s just say things did not go quite as planned. Sure the kids ran around and hollered, but I spent two solid hours doing nothing but counting kids.
It was without question the most stressful birthday party we have ever hosted.
After just five minutes at the water park, I realized what a massive mistake we had made. Someone said go have fun and five little boys took off like they were on fire and I had the task of keeping track of them as they ripped around the park like a swarm of spastic bees.
My afternoon was spent counting from one to five – over and over and over…
By the time I got to five, I was back to looking for No. 1 and the cycle was repeated every 15-22 seconds for more than 120 minutes.
I would see an adult I knew and it was, “Hi how are you doing? That’s great, hey could you hold on for a second.”
One, two, three, four, five.
“OK, so as I was saying, things are going well and, um, could you hold on for a second?” One, two, three, four, five. OK Good.
The real problem occurred when I counted one, two, three, four, five? Five? WHERE’S FIVE? I would then scan the park feverishly looking for K5 while thinking up excuses to tell the parents when they came to pick their child up.
“Where is he? How would I know? You didn’t even drop him off. Look, I would remember if you brought him. I have been counting all four kids for the past two hours.”
I always managed to locate No. 5 and the panic would subside – for about three seconds.
Of course pizza, pop and cake were consumed and once that wave of sugar hit their already excited brains…well, let’s just say our little group became the centre of attention at the water park.
For little kids, some of them could really move. One little darling decided it would be a lot more fun to play in the nearby woods and I had the thrill of catching him before he reached the sanctuary of the woodland realm.
At the end of two hours, I was worn out. Tears of joy streamed down my face as parents came to pick up their offspring.
They wouldn’t even have to get out of the car. I would grab their kid and toss him through the open window as they drove up.
I am happy to report all the kids who arrived at the party were accounted for at the end of the party and I came the decision that I was never, ever, and I do mean never, going to have a birthday party at the park again.