The best part about 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 needed ideas, they'd but need only follow my daughter 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. If I had any sewing ability I'd create a head-to-toe suit for my daughter made entirely of marshmallows and truck tires.
This particular 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 our daughter."
"Good," I replied. "We must teach her to respect the sea."
"What are you talking about?"
I quickly switched off Discovery Channel show on real life sea monsters. "It's treacherous. Plus, she doesn't know how to swim."
"It is not 'treacherous' and you're going to be in the water with her."
"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 young 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 certainly aren't 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.
Even "harmless" ideas are fraught with peril. 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 own daughter'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 daughter to be SAFE?"
Point: Kelly. Wife gets -5 points for rolling her eyes.
I always loved the arcade. I was only allowed one birthday there because apparently I tried pawning things for more tokens, including things I didn't, technically, own. But I highly doubt our daughter will do that; after all, we don't have that nice of things.
I still remember the power and pleasure I felt; neon plastic container wrapped around my neck filled to the brim with tokens. I got a neck cramp from holding it up, but it was totally worth it. To a kid, there is no greater power. After all, if I so chose, I could've inserted my token and made my character stand still while being attacked by zombies. The avatars in the games were peasants, and I was their God.
I often thought the skills of these games should translate to real life. On the rare occasion I said or did something a woman found objectionable (innocent things like calling them the wrong name), I'd simply try to re-set the situation.
"WHO did you call me?"
"Nope," I'd reply. "That didn't happen. I'd like a re-do."
"Re-do," I'd repeat before trying to find her re-set button.
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 essentially 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 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 matt 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 is the senior creative & marketing writer for Briscoe14 Communications (www.briscoe14.com). He 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.