Thursday, June 14, 2007

Frights of passage

Lots of excitement around the 19 Minutes home office recently, as our daughter turned three years old over the weekend. But the annual rolling over of her odometer itself wasn't the real excitement; rather, it was that this year also marked Sylvi's first real birthday party.

Sure, there had been party-like events before. She actually celebrated her first birthday with her friend Phoebe, who is nine days her junior. But that was less a party than it was an experiment to see what would happen if we put frosted cupcakes in front of little kids with only a handful of teeth. Not much, as it turned out. Sylvi enjoyed moving the frosting around with her finger, and Phoebe tasted a little before turning more to the Osmosis School of eating.

And last year, Sylvi had only been in the neighborhood for a few months by the time her birthday rolled around, the result being a friend-deprived birthday celebration in the dining room mostly remembered for its hippo-shaped cake.

But in the past twelve months, Sylvi has developed both a network of friends and a taste for frosted pastries, so we figured to have found the appropriate formula for a birthday party. The only issue was what the party would physically look like. It's been a while since I've been plugged into the birthday party scene, and turns out that there are a lot of new types of parties that have sprung up since my parents brought me and six of my friends to a George Washington University basketball game in 1979.

Here in southeastern Wisconsin for example, there are a variety of different "fun" facilities which discerning parents apparently choose in an effort to keep cake frosting out of their DVR machines. All of them, for some reason, seem to be in corrugated metal buildings, in industrial parks, in distant suburbs inhabited by people with pickup trucks larger than at least three of my past apartments. Sylvi has been invited to several of these, including one in a corrugated metal building with a pool (at which it took her 45 minutes to decide she wanted to get in, leaving her a good 15 minutes of swimming enjoyment, before cake, ice cream, and the 40-minute ride home), and one in the playroom of a corrugated metal building that also housed a kiddie spa where kids can get pampered to take their minds off the day-to-day stress of reading Dr. Seuss and eating American cheese. For these parties, parents are also required to invite every child their son or daughter has ever met, in the hopes that the combined eBay resale value of the presents will be enough to offset the cost of renting the unit of fun.

So for those reasons, plus the fact that my wife and I would prefer to be locked in a room with a Yanni CD on infinite repeat than hold a party in a corrugated metal unit of fun, we decided to aim for a more low-key party. This was fine with both the parents (for example, our friend Mary, I believe, was actually looking for us to set a low-key party precedent) and the kids - who rarely ask for corrugated metal in the context of fun.

So with "low-key" in mind, we divided up the responsibilities for the party. Sylvi would be in charge of turning three. My wife, Gretchen, would get to send the invitations, go grocery shopping, make the cake (a watermelon shaped/flavored cake), provide the other snacks (watermelon), mow the lawn, and otherwise get the backyard ready for partying, three-year-old-style. After a joint trip to Target to pick out party favors, I was left with one vital responsibility: buying balloons the morning of the party. I believed I had gotten off easy. I was incorrect.

Sunday morning at 10:00 had me en route to a dollar store about fifteen minutes from our house. I've always been of two minds on the dollar store concept - on one hand, I'm a little suspicious of what happened to the merchandise to cause it to land in such a store. On the other hand, I can get behind a place where I can calculate the total cost by counting the number of items in my basket. Regardless of my sentiments, I was informed balloons were available there, and so it was my Sunday morning destination.

It had been several years since I'd last encountered a dollar store, and as my helium professional inflated the ten balloons on my list, I took a few minutes to walk around the store to see what else might make a good addition to the, uh, party oeuvre. I was delighted to discover that not only can one buy helium balloons and knock-off frisbees for a dollar, but also copies of Bob Dole's memoir and something called an ovulation predictor. I resisted the urge (telling myself that neither quite fit with the watermelon theme) but left with plenty of great ideas for future (and highly inappropriate) party ideas.

I also left with ten Mylar helium balloons, which seemed like an appropriate number, until it dawned on me that a) there was a stiff breeze blowing through the parking lot of the Dollar Tree store in West Allis, Wisconsin; and b) I needed to somehow get all ten balloons into the hatchback of a Jetta wagon. It took a good fifteen minutes, but I managed to get all the balloons in the car at the same time, and also provided the good people of West Allis with an enjoyable new spectator sport.

But I made it home with plenty of time to spare and at long last, our backyard gleaming with the reflection of sunlight off of ten Mylar balloons, it was party time. And the party was both low-key and enjoyable, notwithstanding Sylvi's initial panic that her friends were there to abscond with all her toys, which resulted in a mad dash around the backyard in an attempt to hide all her things under her shirt. A quick re-briefing session later, she was outside and hugged each of her three guests as they arrived. The watermelon cake came out perfectly, and the kids all thought the actual watermelon was great, to the extent that we had to keep reminding them not to eat the rind. Also, "pin the tail on the donkey" was played, for reasons that are still not entirely clear to me, except for the fact that it was my idea.

The party favors were a hit, too... with the kids, anyway - Mary complained that flashlights, stickers, and M&Ms exceeded low-key limits, but my philosophy is that party favor bags can contain gold bouillon, as far as I'm concerned, as long as they don't include anything that could be considered a noisemaker.

So in all, the birthday party was a swell experience, and we're looking forward to planning next year's event, as soon as we can coat our house in corrugated metal.


Anonymous said...

The Mandatory Accessory for kiddie birthday parties around these parts is a pinata.

It's a mystery to me why folks think arming toddlers with blunt-trauma-producing implements like bats, mallets, sticks, etc., and letting them swing for the fences is a good idea.

Unknown said...

An excellent post, one of your best. A funny, heartwarming, and insightful account of a continuing adventure in parenthood. Sylvie will treasure it always (from at some point after she can read).

Anonymous said...

A fond memory of a birthday party of one of my munchkins: We were playing pin the tail on Mickey Mouse. We were going to blindfold the kids and turn them around once or twice. We tried the first kid, turned him around once and he fell over. There's something about blindfolding deaf kids and making them dizzy that is cruel and unusual.