Happily, if not vaguely, I remember a wonderful circus birthday cake at one of the parties held in my honor. While at another, I remember running over a birthday guest with my go-cart. Joe remembers attending a birthday party and being knocked into the birthday child’s elaborately decorated birthday cake at the start of Happy Birthday to You. The birthday cake was demolished, Joe was covered in cake, and the birthday boy’s mom lost it. Joe’s life was spared when the birthday boy’s dad diverted the mom’s attention by saying, “Calm down. It’s just a cake, for God’s sake.” My mom remembers a childhood birthday party she attended where iced Twinkies were served as a birthday cake. She is sure the birthday child is still scared. I mean think about it, can you really imagine much worse than a bunch of children standing around iced Twinkies lit up with candles singing Happy Birthday?
Cole’s birthday parties have always been elaborate, by parent design. Lots of balloons, plenty of entertainment, and many of our nearest and dearest enjoying food, drink and merry-making. Joe and I wanted to make sure Cole grew up with ample birthday party memories.
In the early years, we hired a number of different entertainers for Cole’s parties, with varying degrees of success. There was “THE Magician.” Joe and I quickly dubbed him THE Casual Magician. Mr. Casual pulled a very large boa constrictor out of his magic case and delighted the children by sawing him into pieces. He then asked who wanted to hold Mr. Boa. Naturally, all the children did. Mr. Casual handed Mr. Boa to a couple of kids to pass around and continued his act. Next, he pulled a bunny out of his hat. Ta Da! He handed Ms. Bunny to the children to pass and play with. We now had a live boa constrictor and one live bunny being passed within arms’ distance of each other among 25 or so squirmy birthday guests. Mr. Casual added fire swords to his act, and while he did not pass the flaming swords to his young audience, he did almost set the birthday table cloth on fire.
Joe and I were now the only two adults in the room. Joe looked at me and said, “I will handle the fire. You make sure that Mr. Boa doesn’t squeeze the stuffing out of Ms. Bunny.” I quickly whispered back, “No deal! I’m taking the fire.” Joe logically whispered back, “I hate snakes.” I whispered back, “Then keep a very close eye on the children holding Mr. Boa and make sure they don’t lose interest.” Joe glared at me, muttering, “You’re supposed to be the animal person.”
Deciding our guests might have been a little young for magicians, we hired Batman the next year. When Batman knocked on our front door, Cole answered it and immediately ran past him, followed by all his guests. They were in hot pursuit of the Batmobile. After we had captured our young guests, Batman explained that the Batmobile was in for an oil change, and he had borrowed Robin’s I-Go car.
Joe, noticing that Batman’s excuse did not have one young believer said, “Batman, you can trust them.” Batman looked at Joe, “Uh…?” Joe, staring hard at Batman, continued, “The Joker stole the Batmobile.” The guests were now looking at Batman in horror, and Batman was looking at Joe like, “aaaand…?” So Joe continued, “As soon as Batman is done here, he is going after the Joker. RIGHT, BATMAN?” Batman nodded, the kids played along, and the act was saved. Joe pulled me aside and said, “Don’t tip. It wouldn’t be kind to encourage him.”
After the puppet show person made lesbian jokes in an attempt to create a fun atmosphere for both the adults and children, Joe and I left canned entertainment behind and created our own. For the Gnome Party, we hauled in sand, buckets of water, and panned for gold in the living room. For the Knight Party, we made capes for everyone and encouraged jousting and archery in the living room.
This year is Cole’s 14th birthday, and we are throwing a Chicago Hot Dog Party, popcorn and cotton candy-maker included. On Saturday, our house will fill with family and friends. We will turn the teens loose to be teens. No longer needing or desiring to be entertained by adults, they will play video games, ping pong, jump on the trampoline, and perhaps plan a game of soccer.
The grown-ups will gather to enjoy each other’s company. Cocktails will be poured by the usual suspects. I don’t drink. Really. But oddly enough, I find it comforting to have a party where our guests do enjoy adult beverages. I will finish the half-full bottles of coke littering every table top and wonder if the swine flu threat has passed.
Joe and I always had a lot of fun at Cole’s birthday parties and never worried about cleaning up the accumulation of festive mess. After the last guest had said good night, Joe would fix a cocktail, I would open my first fresh coke of the evening, and we would meet in the living room to toast one another and compare notes. The mess that surrounded us was our evidence of the birthday memories we had created. Cole usually tried to join us for our post-birthday party round up, but like the falling balloons around us, he would soon be asleep on the coach, surrounded by bows and wrapping paper, his head resting in my lap.
I’ll be there.
Good to know, Joe. Good to know.
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