Kelly Van De Walle: Birthdays are fraught with peril
The best part about attending a birthday party for a four-year-old that isn’t yours is nothing. There is no good thing about it. It’s an event where a bunch of parents get together to awkwardly discuss things they don’t have in common while kids try to injure themselves in new and creative ways.
If the writers of the Saw movies need ideas, they need only to follow my son around for a day. They’d never consider a plastic laundry basket or edge of a wall as potentially lethal traps, but apparently they are.
CREEPY SAW CLOWN: “Want to play a game?”
Son: “Yey!! Games!”
CREEPY SAW CLOWN: “…Wait…no. This is supposed to be ominous. You’re taking the fun out of it.”
Son: “Pie in the face game? Uno? Heads or tails? Hide and seek?”
CREEPY SAW CLOWN: “No! Like, creepy scary torture games!”
Son (somehow finding a key and trying to pry the plugged-in nightlight out of the socket): “I do this now.”
CREEPY SAW CLOWN: “What are you doing?! That’s so dangerous! Oh great, you knocked out the circuit breaker. I’m going to call your dad. I can’t take this. You’re destroying my murder house.”
This particular four-year-old’s birthday party was at a swimming pool, or as I called it, a “Death Pond.”
“Don’t call it that,” my wife scolded. “You’ll scare them.”
“Good,” I replied. “We must teach them to respect the sea.”
“What are you talking about?”
I quickly switched off Discovery Channel show on real life sea monsters. “The sea is treacherous.”
“It is not ‘treacherous’ and you’re going to be in the water with him.”
“But I don’t have my swimsuit body ready yet!” I sobbed, fleeing from the room.
This was just going to be the worst.
I never understand why many child birthdays surround potentially lethal activities. “Lethal”, meaning, of course, “anything dangerous or something I don’t want to do.” These children have been exposed to water before, but usually they’re spilling it; they’re hardly aquatic experts. We might as well all be playing in quicksand or a tub full of piranhas. It’d be as if I just read a book about knots and someone tossed me out of a plane and told me to “have fun” in the Australian outback for a few weeks.
Kids see warning labels that say “Safe for children two and over” as a challenge.
When my wife asked me where I thought we should hold our son’s fourth birthday, I had already come up with the perfect answer.
“The arcade,” replied.
She gave me an accusatory look.
“What?” I asked, innocently.
“You just want an excuse to go to the arcade as an adult.”
I gave her my best I’ve-never-heard-anything-so-preposterous look. Since when am I an adult?
“It’s only the safest thing,” I replied, defensively. “What, don’t you want our son to be SAFE?”
Other birthday party ideas in “my day” included going-over-to-the-friends’-house-that-had-a-trampoline, also known as, “Pre-Emergency Room Party.” There were no nets around them and the goal was always to see who could get the highest. It was survival of the fittest. Whoever didn’t break an appendage or cry at the end was declared the winner (which also meant they reaped the rewards of more cake). After these parties the trampoline at each house would invariably disappear.
If you had a summer birthday, a common theme was to just get out the’Slip ‘N Slide.’ This was a fun party game that that parents would recommend because it didn’t cost anything. Here, neighborhood children would strip off nearly all protective clothing in order to hurl themselves down a thin, wet plastic mat that’s been randomly tossed over a patch of the bumpiest earth, jagged rocks, sticks and fossils available, bruising every piece of exposed flesh. And yet, we continued to do it like we were tiny thrill-seeking Olympic hopefuls training for the Skeleton. Instead of stripping down to our bathing suits, we really should’ve been putting on armor.
And then just went to the arcade instead.
Kelly Van De Walle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by offering him 500 tokens to any arcade. Just jingle them in a bucket and he’ll find you. Follow Kelly on Twitter @pancake_bunny or he’ll attend your next birthday party with a bouncy castle and never leave.