The 7 Parents You Meet at Kids Birthday Parties!

The boom of the ‘Birthday-Industrial Complex’ is among the most under reported developments in child rearing in the decades since I was reared. The strip malls that seemed to pop up out of fields and abandoned lots when we were coming into our own can no longer sustain the retail markets that augured their construction. So, there it was. Open spaces, high ceilings, a dying market driving down rental costs. A vacuum waiting for something to emerge to productively use this formerly valuable space. Some genius came up with the idea of inflatables, kids parties and Ice Cream cake.

Well, this little history of the rise of the bounce house economy is all a little precursor to say damn, ain’t it crazy how many damn birthday parties you end up navigating on so many Saturday and Sunday mornings, afternoons and evenings now. It’s worth a double damn. I was at our local house of bouncy fun for dinner on Saturday and lunch on Sunday this past weekend.

It’s a strange ecosystem, the class birthday party. Clearly these are many of the kids your kids will be growing up with. More pressing however is the parents. The kids occupy themselves at these events quite naturally. Its us parents who have the true dilemma of figuring out how to be around others.

Maybe it’s not everyone. Maybe it’s just me who finds this so exceedingly forced and awkward. I’m pretty sure my own discomfort is projecting outward and making others uncomfortable. I mean, I have to look pretty sketchy, avoiding all eye contact, standing away from everyone, thinking I should be social for my kids sake then hovering around conversations I’m not meant to be a part of. It’s so awkward.

Here are some of the parents you will see at your kids friends birthday parties.

THE GHOSTER – You may never see this dad or mom. They would prefer to simply slow the car down and have their child tuck and roll onto the sidewalk and into the fun of the bounce house. Most at a minimum stay long enough to sign papers ensuring they won’t sue if there is an accidental dismemberment. Next time you see them is when the lights come on after the birthday boy or girl has blown out the candles. Or shortly thereafter. Or shortly after that. NOTE: Given any inkling that it is acceptable to disappear for the duration I am this dad.

THE HIGH STYLE PARENT – It is Saturday, late morning. Either you haven’t slept and look remarkably put together considering you’re wearing the same clothes you wore for date night last night, and it was like anniversary date night, a round number no less, or you have put a lot of effort in to looking good at the strip mall bounce house hut. Also I’m suddenly made hyper self conscious by my laughably dated, though equally imperfectly fitting cargo’s and maybe I should have skipped the Crocs. Yep. I’m that dad. I apologize for many things, but not comfort. It’s my prerogative as a middle aged dad.

THE LURKER– Standing at the outskirts, watching his kid nonstop, avoiding any and all contact with the other parents. This is always a dad in my experience, but I’m sure there are some moms as well. Just drifting to zero population centers in the grown up sections. I am this man though I’m getting better.

PTA PARENT – You know the type. The one who has followed through on all those things we say we’ll do when our kids get into school. This parent is pretty typically very nice and I’m thankful when they approach with a topic to discuss. I am not this parent. I may judge this parent silently as a defense mechanism as they are doing it right, which highlights my shortcomings.

OVERLY ENTHUSIASTIC DAD – This guy. You know this guy. ‘He’s just a big kid!’ is something someone who was likely annoyed with him said once and he has since taken it on as his identity. He is way too much. Sucks that my kid can’t stop talking about him and how awesome he is. I’m not jealous.. ¬†You’re jealous!

THE HOVERER – This parent is on the opposite end of the spectrum from The Ghoster. They are in a constant state of risk assessment and periodically intervening to avoid certain calamities that never happen. I know some of these folks and there hearts are definitely in the right place. Their anxiety, however, can run interference.

SCREEN DEMON – Finally. My tribe. We are determined to avoid interaction with any adults. We are Facebooking, Tweeting, Snapchatting and Gramming all while determinedly maintaining a scowl that tries hard to say, ‘this is very important work I’m doing. Important and private. I’m sorry I can’t talk, but me and my phone are saving the world.

Pick your strategy wisely folks! You may just have to maintain this personality for the duration of your child’s schooling!

Surviving My Kids Friends Birthday Parties

I was sitting in a room full of 5 and 6 year old’s and their parents this past weekend. We were at one of Charlie’s friends birthday parties. It’s remarkable how much a 6 year old’s birthday has changed since I was a kid. Perhaps I went to one at a McDonald’s once. I don’t think I went to all that many kindergarten birthday parties. If I went to 5 that would seem to be a lot. Now we’re busy like I was during the summers of my late 20’s when I was  traveling every weekend to weddings of friends and family.

17022102_1224967080954027_8283132131191062470_nThis was our second birthday party in as many days from this one kindergarten class and it was at the same location as the first. It was one of those former retail spots made over as a kid-party factory, complete with monstrous bounce houses and inflatable slides. This one was particularly cool as it also had scooters and floor projected interactive video games. Ultimately a perfect place for a couple hours of fun. He loved it.

I also, of course, loved that he loved it and was super appreciative of the family hosting it for giving such a fun experience to our boy. But it’s an awkward place for me. I’ll write more about that in a short while, I’m sure. It’s really worthy of milking for some laughs when you see me, a 43 year old dad to two, so socially petrified that I’m stuck staring at my phone trying hard not to look creepy to all the other, seemingly more socially gifted parents sitting in small groups chatting away. It’s just strange. And I’m not the only dad to end up this way at these things. So UNCOMFORTABLE. But like I said, you’ll get some laughs out of this in a future post, I hope.

Back to the room of kids, eating pizza and drinking juice. They sit there so confident. I recognize this confidence. It’s not social confidence. By 5 or 6 you start to see some self awareness and self consciousness start to sneak in as they observe there classmates and occasionally wonder if they are doing it right. Whatever ‘it’ is. No. This is the confidence in exactly what is shaky inside me. Confidence that those grown ups, as present and attended to as the muffled and ignored teachers and parents in the old Charlie Brown cartoons, are all knowing, never wavering, able to know exactly what to do and how to do it. It’s a blind confidence. Never questioned or examined by the kids. Its exactly the opposite of what I feel at the moment.

Should I sit down? I should sit? Shit, did I make the mom sitting next to me uncomfortable? I should introduce myself. Shit. Of course I just introduced myself to the woman I exchange pleasantries with everyday and of course we know each other. I should stand up. Shit. Did she take that the wrong way? Do I, do we have an enemy now? I’m not eating. Damn it. Should I stand by the wall or hang by the door. I just don’t want to look like a creep and everything is making me look that way. These are my thoughts while my child sits there, assured and confident because I, who knows all and controls all, is present.

I don’t know how all the other parents feel but I have to imagine I’m not the only one that has these moments where it all becomes so clear. We are all doing the best we can. It’s a blend of planning and reacting. It’s a combo of following in footsteps and improvising. It’s intuitive and learned. We all want to do well. There’s never really a time when you know whether or not you are. You win moments, sure you handled something perfectly. Those moments are followed by other moments and that goes on forever.

As much as anything this makes me realize how much of my own life was and to some degree, will always remain a fabrication of my own misunderstanding of what my parents were and what they were doing. And there parents and there parents for as far back as we go. Structures we rely on make it possible and we’ve been fortunate enough in recent generations to have stable structures. It’s hard not to feel a little off balance when so much seems so fragile.

Before I know it Charlie’s asking the nice lady in the party factory uniform for seconds of ice cream cake. Some folks are leaving, getting gift bags, saying thank yous and finding coats. I’ve actually had a nice conversation with another parent, a mom of one of Charlie’s good friends. Everything is back to normal. I know my script and am ready to dad.

‘Yep, time to go, buddy. Did you say thank you? Don’t forget to say Happy Birthday.’

All of Life All Right Now

It’s about midnight on Saturday.

I didn’t always write at this time of day, but it’s pretty standard now. My life seems to crowd out my solo endeavors until at least this time many days. That’s life with little kids. At least that’s my life with little kids. Constantly doing. Busy cleaning. always something. It’s not a complaint, at least not most of the time. Its just what it is.

2015-10-24 12.27.42This weekend was Teddy’s third birthday party. Before having kids you have no idea how a third birthday party, which formally lasts from 11-3(ish) or so could possibly be an all day affair, but it is. It so is for us. Partly because we’re not the neatest or most organized bunch and partly because it just is. We had one set of grandparents, some cousins, two aunts and an uncle, which may not sound like a ton but in our tiny house it’s plenty. I can’t tell you how great it is having all of them there. Having time to spend with them and having time to see our kids becoming part of the larger family.

2015-10-24 20.00.08Tomorrow is our seven year anniversary and we’re getting a sitter! This is a red letter day for us and we are so excited to be going out. In the meantime you have no idea how much work it is preparing your tiny home-for-toddlers for a babysitter on a weekend day. Honestly, it looks like a frat house here by the time we get to lunch on a typical day at home. Not to mention the laundry a day like today got us behind on. Mommy and Daddy both work, both have to and Saturday is laundry day. All of us need a weeks worth of clothes ready by bedtime Sunday. Then we have to extract from the fridge that which might make us lose our awesome, though not nearly utilized enough babysitter. I blame her, but she’d never be freaked out by it, but it’s just common decency and we’ll try our hardest to make it nice for her.

2015-10-30 16.37.45Next is Teddy’s actual birthday on Monday, so we have to bake cupcakes for his classmates. Then next weekend, on Halloween we’re going to travel to my sister for her birthday and a visit with more cousins in Connecticut. They are wonderful people that we love and haven’t seen in too long. My parents will be there as well and it’s going to be great. And we’ll be sure to get back in time to receive trick or treater’s and to bring our own kids around.

Between then and now we’ll make and pack lunches, wake and put to bed, feed and bathe and comfort and discipline. We will play and read books and do costumes and watch favorite shows and change clothes and mediate arguments. We will say yes and no and no and no.

We’ll also receive a lifetime’s worth of ‘adorable’ and ‘cherubic.’ A decades worth of mischievous. We’ll stop disasters and cause smaller ones. We’ll argue and forgive and kiss and shout. We’ll laugh. A ton. We’ll drink more coffee and less water than is advisable.

2015-10-25 09.48.38Life is pretty full these days. All of these things will take place while we do our damnedest to maintain and even thrive in our full time jobs. The temptation, the one I give in to far too often is to stop seeing the whole thing for what it is and picking apart the individual tasks and finding in them frustration. It’s unavoidable I suppose. This time of life, the middle part, is incredibly taxing. There’s no end to doing and from time to time it all becomes too much. So we slide. Back to feeling overwhelmed and unappreciative. It’s understandable and forgivable to be sure.

But I have to take a minute here because something has occurred to me. I’m at the top of the bell curve. I’m at the fullest my life will ever be. There’s more work to be done than there ever has been and perhaps than there ever will be in this 10 year frame I’m in right now. Furthermore, I’m still looking at all of the people that will have meant the most to me when I cash it all in. All of the people who will play primary roles in my life when my story is over are all still with me. Still loving me. Still loved by me. Some have been here a long time and some have just shown up and what they represent is the universe of my life. And they are all here. All now.

It wasn’t always thus and it won’t always be thus. It’s the most amazingly full and wonderful time of my life and in the midst of all the noise I owe it to myself and to all those in my life to see it, to appreciate it, to be fully thankful for it while fully immersed in it. Which I am. I’m so incredibly thankful to have this roster, this cast of characters populating the story of my life. Each and everyone of them making life what it is for me.

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