How to survive a 7-year-old's birthday party
When grownups arrive at their friends' homes, unless they are in a reality TV program, it would typically be viewed as strange for them to throw their hands in the air, scream at the top of their voice and chase their hosts around the home being visited.
And yet, my daughter and her friends think this is completely acceptable behavior.
Every year, my wife and I say we're never going to host another child's birthday party, but every year we have a year to recover and Christine forgets how much of a pain this is.
She starts in on me usually, some evening several weeks or even months before the birthday in question.
"What are we going to do for Sami-Jo's birthday?" she says, casually during a commercial break. "Do you think we should go with a Minnie Mouse or Tinkerbell theme?
I utter a Charlie Brown sound: "Aaaaaarrrrrrghghghghgh! Have it some place else."
"That's kind of expensive."
"You're going to have kids over here? They puke you know. That's what they do."
"That only happened one time."
Last year, Christine did a Halloween theme for Samantha's sixth birthday and had me in the kitchen cooking witch's hat pepperoni popovers, hot dog mummies and making punch all day. Plus cleanup.
"Can't we just put out a bowl of Cheetos? It's all they eat anyway," was my helpful suggestion.
So the Saturday arrived. Samantha was a big 7-year-old. Of course, this was the day of her party, not her actual birthday. On her actual birthday, she got to open two presents (it was supposed to be just one, but became two somehow) and asked for a special birthday meal of spaghetti with no sauce.
For days in advance of the party, all I heard was, "I can't wait until my party! I can't wait until my party!"
Meanwhile, I've been walking around the house saying, "I can't wait till the election is over. I can't wait till the election is over."
That much anticipation puts Samantha's dials all in the red. She's like a little race car revving on the starting line for several days, then the moment is finally here and she squeals out onto the track. Her little friends start to arrive. Little 7-year-old girls, holding presents, towing a bewildered looking parent. The dads all have pain in their eyes. They could be watching TV right now. The moms are seemingly oblivious to what's wrong with the situation.
The girls, upon seeing each other, emit squeals and shrieks so high in pitch that dogs from here to Waldoboro start howling. Farm animals miscarry. Scientists note strange spikes on their graphs and predict another earthquake will rock Southern Maine.
Christine has arranged games for the children, and party gift bags. The kids ignore all of these organized activities and start chasing each other around in circles, continuing to scream.
Every half second of screaming and running actually erases all of the recharge I get from one hour of sleep. So, by the end of a four-hour child birthday party, I am the equivalent of a man who has not slept in the past eight years. My hair is grayer. My beard is falling out. My eyebrows are old-man crazy and I've developed a tremor in my hands and knees.
Not to be outdone, Christine is wandering around saying, "Buttercream."
"I've got cupcakes with buttercream frosting."
"Why do you say it like that?"
"What? I'm just saying, if you like buttercream frosting, we've got some on the cupcakes. It's buttercreamy buttercream."
"You're obsessed with buttercream. When I was a kid there was just frosting."
"There are all kinds of different frostings. Buttercream. Cream cheese. Buttercream. Ganache. Buttercream."
"When I was a kid there were two kinds of frosting. White and brown."
At some point during the party I remember we have an upstairs and sneak up there to read email. I end up writing a news story for the website and talking on the phone with the mayor, all the time hoping no one has noticed I'm missing downstairs, or at least that they assume I'm in the bathroom.
With the work done, I come downstairs, and make some small talk with the relatives who have showed up as the second wave of the birthday extravaganza. Samantha is very excited to receive a stuffed turtle puppet she names "Shellee." Get it?
I sneak back upstairs and continue my week-long quest to find the Easter egg in an online version of Atari's "Adventure." This is a video game from the 70s based on the Sword and Sorcery genre. I would crack it the next day and come downstairs declaring myself "Dragonslayer" and doing a little dance in the living room.
Eventually the day ended and we all slept like the dead, the laughter and childhood squeals still ringing like amplifiers in our heads. Sami-Jo cuddled with Shellee in her little kid bed.
In my dreams, I stood at the foot of the golden castle, magic sword in hand. And when the red dragon, Rhindle, came to do battle, instead of a roar, all he said was a single word, over and over.
Daniel Dunkle is news editor for Courier Publications. He lives in Rockland with his wife, two children and the ghost of his kitty cat. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.