I used to party. A lot.
From 1986 to 1991 I was in college and it’s safe to say that if it were a weekend night, Bud and his little brother Bud Light were two of my best friends. Things really ramped up when I joined a fraternity at Washington State University in 1988. Wednesday night socials were added to the liver-destroying agenda. We would also have weekend parties where we knew there would be a minimum of 25 kegs of beer, but we would each “need” a 12-pack of Rainier to get started. And when I turned 21, well…There were beer specials at each of the three bars within stumbling distance of my frat house on, respectively, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights.
Oh yes. We were professionals.
Yet, like most of humanity, I moved closer and closer into the slow lane as I got older. My tastes have gotten better and I would much rather nurse a couple of very good India Pale Ales on a Saturday night than chug a bottle of Boone’s Farm wine or swallow up a half-rack of Keystone Light. I also don’t eat nearly as much Tylenol as a result, either.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t party, anymore. It’s just that my partying style has changed. And instead of chasing after big-haired, loose-moraled members of the Reagan-Bush I Era Kappa Delta sorority [and all others, for that matter], these days, my partying usually involves cupcakes, small boxes of apple juice and trying to keep my three-and-five-year-old daughters from getting a bloody nose while flying around a bouncy house at a birthday bash for one of their pre-school classmates.
Or, as in the case of last Saturday, two birthday bashes for two different kids at two different locations about 25 miles from our house.
This is what happens when your wife works out of town and because of her schedule, she needs to take the kids to a pre-school near where she works: Your kids end up becoming friends with other kids that don’t live next door or even right down the block. And as such, the kids get invited to a lot of birthday parties that, let’s be frank, aren’t necessarily convenient for you. And when you drive a Dodge Ram 1500 quad-cab truck with a 5.7-liter V-8 engine and a 23-gallon tank, one weekend run to these pre-school shindigs is also hell on your gas bill.
Last weekend’s version of Mardi Gras started with a 10 a.m. gig at one of those goldmine party places that appeal to parents who want to be able to invite a bunch of kids, put on a good show, and yet don’t have to clean up after themselves. The place was huge, and subdivided into different rooms, each with a different name like the “Adventure Room” and the “Leave Your Check Blank” room. Our party was in something called the “Village Room” and it included a wall of different “sets” for the kids to play in. Each one was something like a kitchen, a restaurant or a doctor’s office. There was a decent sized bouncy house, a small play structure with a slide and a large video screen showing “Monsters University”. Most importantly, there was a row of about eight, comfortable leather chairs for the parents to relax in.
That was, when we could relax. Even in such a contained area, where you could see everything and everyone, you couldn’t help but keep an eye on and an ear open for your kids and whatever injuries they were in danger of incurring. Half the kids were playing in one of the sets and the other were either trying to run over each other with these hard plastic bikes or climb up the slide just as another kid was coming down, often butt first, into the other kid’s face.
Eventually, the pizza, wraps, fruit, juice and cupcakes were served. My kids, being three and five years old, said they wanted a little of everything. Of course, all they really ended up eating were a few strawberries, maybe one bite of pizza, and the purple and blue frosting off of their cupcakes. Luckily, I was there to make sure any leftovers didn’t go to waste, and managed to throw three slices of pepperoni, one Chinese chicken wrap and a cupcake down my gullet. I washed it all down with about six glasses of Coke.
The party eventually broke up and we went downstairs to spend another hour playing games. This was one of those arcades where you put tokens into the machines and, if you do well enough, an unknown amount of paper tickets get thrown out at your feet. You then take these tickets over to a counter manned by a couple of teenage guys who would rather be making out with the hungover college-aged girls that help set up and tear down the parties, and exchange them for crappy prizes that will just end up on the floor of your car or under your foot with all the rest of your kids’ plaything detritus at home. I think we turned in 14 tickets for a metal ring. It was either that or a roll of Smarties.
We then had a near panic when we couldn’t find our daughters’ jackets. Luckily, it turned out the host had scooped them up with all the gifts and other stuff as she was heading out the door. We know her, and caught her in the parking lot just as she was about to flee the scene. With our gear, and kids in tow, we then loaded up for the next gig.
But by this time, we still had an hour and a half to kill before the second party on our social calendar, set for 2:30 to 4 p.m. We did like any normal suburban American family does on a Saturday afternoon and went to that paragon of suburban American culture, the mall.
And like any suburban American family with kids in the backseat following a morning of hard partying, one of our kids was asleep. It was our three-year-old daughter, who can amazingly fall asleep within seconds of hitting the road, but at night uses any one of about eleventy bazillion excuses to not go to bed. Not willing to wake her and risk the expense that would come from her cries shattering my truck windows, I volunteered to stay in the vehicle with her while my wife and five-year-old ran into the mall for a few minutes.
About half an hour later, the two of them came out with a set of doorknobs in hand. It truly is amazing what you can find at Pottery Barn Kids. We loaded up, hit the road, grabbed an iced coffee so I wouldn’t pass out, and made our way to the second party. Only once we got there, we couldn’t find the joint.
We were at one of what back in the day must have been a big warehouse for shipping out auto parts or something else we don’t make in the U.S. anymore. The place had been turned into a catch-all location for any kind of youth sports and entertainment that ends up taking up most of a parent’s weekend. Lots of units with high, rolled up metal doors where your kids could learn everything from cheerleading to martial arts to soccer. And then there was the “gym” built into where one of these storage units used to be.
We only had to walk about a quarter mile around the place to finally find it. Fortunately, we had plenty of company, as about five other families were as lost as we were. Lewis and Clark had an easier time finding their way to the Pacific Ocean.
When we finally did get there, we knew we in the right place because I saw and heard plenty of kids, a few of which nearly managed to clock me in the head with their feet. At the entrance, where we had to sign the ubiquitous liability waiver, were three sets of Olympic-gymnastic style rings hanging from a metal bar, and three kids doing their best swinging in an effort to give concussions to all of us parents and throw themselves into traction in the process. Of course, you want to have the most physically dangerous activity going on right where the most people are.
The place looked like it had been used for a weightlifting contest earlier in the morning. Metal racks for barbells were everywhere. More rings were set up near the back and right in front of the door to the only bathroom in the place. The swinging path of those rings—which were also made out of concrete-hard wood—also went right into this “teepee” fashioned from some of the floor mats that kids were climbing all over. And kids being kids, almost none of those who ran toward and onto the teepee paid the slightest bit of attention to the trajectory of the other kids swinging away and almost right into their ribcages. Also, there were two giant tractor tires on the floor, which I guess were to be used for some sort of pre-school kid strongman competition.
My wife and I knew it was too much from the start, but the real sign that we were all in over our heads came from our five-year-old daughter. This kid normally operates at a volume level to rival an Iron Maiden concert, yet as soon as we walked in she put her hands over her ears and clung tightly to my wife’s leg. Not even the required playing of the “Frozen” song “Let It Go” could break her of her fear. We went straight to the line for the face painter that nearly every kid’s party these days is required to have and waited for our kids’ turn to get something drawn on their faces.
Thirty minutes and later, we were still waiting. And the girls were getting hungry. I dodged flying and running kids to go get some of the pizza that had just been put out. All the girls wanted were Pirate Booty and cookies. They eventually got some kind of Wonder Woman headband drawn on their foreheads. I then wondered about the “Wonder Women” who worked out at this place when I saw on one wall a notice promoting something called the “Dirty Girl 5K” race and the name of the gym’s female team: Snatch Power.
With that, it was time to leave. We got home around 5, more than eight hours after we walked out the door in the morning. When you have kids, eight hours of anything feels more like 24, and even though it was only 5, we were done for the night.
Or, at least I was after I completed two last goals I had set. One was grilling up some chicken that I had been thawing out for three days, and before it turned into pure salmonella. The other was mixing up a few of what is probably my favorite drink: Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic with a half a lime squeezed in.
My three-year-old was outside with me as I manned the grill, sipped my drink and imagined a time when the sun never set on the British Empire. She must have seen the satisfaction and relaxation on my face because of what she said next: