It’s not like these parties happen just once in awhile. We have two kids, and each of our kids is in a class with sixteen other kids, all of whom were born and feel the need to celebrate that fact on an annual basis. It gets old.
Yesterday we had the birthday of young Brendan Flynn at The Jump Zone at 10:30 a.m., and as of 9:00 a.m., I had still to purchase a gift. Because Larry had decided to cash in one of his Man Coupons (a long story), he stayed at home, and the boys and I headed out alone.
First, to Target, where Gus’s standard protocol is to stroke every toy in every aisle, loudly proclaiming which toys we have (Hey, I have a Buzz Lightyear!) and which ones we don’t (“Mom, I don’t have a Woody!”) before settling down to the task at hand. Patrick, meanwhile, has located the largest bin of rubber balls in the store and released every last one of them into the aisles shrieking, “BALLS BALLS BALLS!”
Finally getting down to business, Gus decided on a Snoopy Snow Cone machine for his friend, which I thought was a very retro-cool (if not seasonally appropriate) selection. And since he’d done such a good job choosing the gift, I let him pick out a birthday card as well. Once I had wrangled both boys to the checkout line, I took a quick peek at the card:
“My Deepest Sympathies on the Loss of Your Father.”
Somehow that didn’t strike the festive note I was going for, so we dashed back to the card rack in search of something a little more upbeat. While I waited in line the second time, Gus manhandled every package of candy in sight and Patrick sauntered off to Starbucks, while the much older couple in front of me told me all about how their two boys are in high school and college now.
“The time just flies by,” they said wistfully.
I smiled. “Let’s hope.”
Finally, we were on the road to The Jump Zone! Fifteen minutes later … still on the road to The Jump Zone! Twenty-five minutes later … in what zone is this Jump Zone, exactly? And who authorized this departure from party procedure? I thought you had to have a note from the government to have a birthday party anywhere other than Pump it Up or The Little Gym.
When we finally arrived, a breathless party attendant helped Gus remove his jacket and sneakers, so he could vanish from my sight with maximum efficiency. Meanwhile, I read through the waiver asking me to acknowledge “the inherent risks” of playing in the Jump Zone, which include “scrapes, bruises, paralysis and even death.” For none of these, of course, may I hold the Jump Zone responsible, even if said injuries were caused by the gross “negligence of a Jump Zone attendant or employee.” Fabulous! Where do I sign?
Even when my children aren’t hurling their bodies down a 20-foot inflatable cliff slide, I am not a relaxed person. The sight of a toddler eating a turkey sandwich on white bread makes my hair stand on end (sticks in the throat like wallpaper paste), so this whole business of inflatable fun makes me as twitchy as a crack fiend.
The other parents try to engage me in light conversation, but my eyes are darting around the room, looking for signs of Gus and Patrick. They are out of sight, and I am sweating. Once a child enters a piece of “inflatable apparatus,” you’ve pretty much given them over to the lord, as far as I’m concerned. Every time Gus or Patrick makes it out alive, I have the urge to fall on my knees and shout, “Jesus! It’s a miracle!” And no matter how hard I try to seem relaxed and low-key, I can’t stop obsessing about the myriad ways my children could die in this place.
I’ll walk up to a group of parents and open my mouth intending to say, “How have you been?” And what comes out is, “Did any of you read the part on that waiver about ‘could result in paralysis or even death?’”
One mother threw me a bone. “I did know one man who tore his ACL climbing in after his daughter,” she said half-heartedly.
“Pfft.” I hear myself snort. “I just read an article on the Internet about an adult who was jumping in a bounce house and landed on a three year old birthday boy’s head.” They giggle, before I conclude, “The child died instantly."
If only I had some confetti! Than I'd really be the life of the party.
But what's the alternative?
Can I deprive my children of celebrating their friends' birthdays? Is there a way to opt out gracefully? Some kind of national do-not-invite registry I can sign up for?
When I get home, I tell Larry I can't take the anxiety anymore.
"I'm out," I say. "No more inflatable parties."
Ever the voice of reason, he responds: "Don't worry. These inflatables are a fad. Someone we know will die or become paralyzed and these places will all go out of business."
Thank you, sweetheart. That makes me feel so much better.