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Birthday Party [burth-dey pahr-tee], noun:
An organized social gathering to celebrate the anniversary of the day of birth of one or more individuals.
A congregation of sugar-overdosing little kids running around while screaming, breaking things, and occasionally taking momentary breaks to stuff their tiny cheeks with more sugar, resulting in madness incomprehensible to the combined brainpower of Lewis Carroll and Roald Dahl.
"At least that’s how it should be defined," I thought to myself as I looked upon the apocalyptic scene unfolding before me. It was the 7th birthday of my son, Nathan, who decided that he wanted to invite nine of his friends over for a dinosaur-themed birthday bash. Costumes were encouraged. I, realizing that such an event could easily degrade into abject insanity, took preparations. I set up peaceful things for the wee ones to do: board games, pinning the tail on the brontosaurus, and set up an area for cake-eating and playtime in the spacious, harmful-item-free basement. From my point of view it seemed like things would be A-OK.
My point of view couldn’t have been more wrong. After I had finished cutting and serving the Pangaea-shaped cake to the tykes, I went upstairs to get a drink and take a breather. I wasn’t even in my second sip of lemonade, however, before I realized that a din comparable to a riot in Chicago was coming from the basement.
"Fantastic. Absolutely fantastic," I thought to myself as I descended down the stairs. As I took every step, I braced myself a little more for whatever disaster I was about to encounter. By the time I had left the stairs and was walking towards the main room, I was ready to face down the site of a nuclear explosion.
Which, of course, wasn’t nearly enough to prepare myself for the scene before me. By the time my brain fully processed the disaster, I felt like crying along with the children.
To put it simply, the greatest dinosaur disaster since the asteroid was splayed before my eyes. The number of things going wrong was so enormous that it needs more than a paragraph; it needs a list.
Cake was everywhere: on the children’s costumes, on the floor and on the walls. I even saw a bit of frosting on the ceiling. How it got there was never determined.
Theodore, in his pterodactyl costume, decided to try to jump and fly off the couch, and instead landed like a pancake on the floor. He hadn’t moved since the impact, and was groaning.
Peter and Daniel were in pachysephelosaurus suits (a type of dinosaur that had heavily reinforced skulls in order to perform head-butting male dominance rituals), and tried to mimic the creatures that they were dressed as. Peter was clutching an egg-shaped lump on his crown, tears streaming down his face, but at least he won. Daniel appeared unconscious.
Felix was in the process of trying to eat Zachary. Felix was dressed as a tyrannosaurus, Zachary a triceratops, so it was difficult to tell whether they were trying to reenact the prehistoric food chain or if this was simply Felix’s normal behavior.
The twin brothers Nick and Max, both dressed as velociraptors, had run into the wall when they tried to execute a team attack on the “pin the tail on the brontosaurus” poster. Both seemed dazed. The poster, fortunately, was intact.
Both Carl and Graham had lapsed into sugar-induced insanity. Both were running around and attacking anything that moved, including each other. They also had trashed/eaten parts of the board games that I had set up so carefully.
Little Nathan stood in the middle of the wreckage. As I walked in the room, the children realized that an adult had entered the scene, causing an abrupt halt in the basement war. Nathan looked around, looked at my stern face, and slowly and steadily began to cry.
Keep in mind that this had all happened in the course of 5 minutes. It was clearly time for parental intervention. None of the injuries were serious; Peter and Daniel had to be sent home to have their heads and gray matter looked at (assuming they had any gray matter to begin with), but all the other wee ones got up and stopped crying within minutes of my turning on the TV. The frosting would be easy to clean up, but I decided to leave the bit on the ceiling alone to stand as a memento to the whole event. Before long the walls were clean and the kids calmed down in an almost sullen way.
Nathan, however, required a bit more attention. His tears were soaking his stegosaurus costume. I figured that he was mortified at how his long-anticipated birthday party had fallen apart into utter chaos. I scooped him up, spines and all, and gave him a hug, asking him why he was feeling down. His reason for grief, however, was not the one I expected.
“Why did we have to stop playing?” he hiccupped.
At this point I had an epiphany. Children don’t care about the actual birthday in their birthday parties. They see no significance in getting older or in the actual celebration; it’s just another day to have fun, and the party is an excellent excuse to get some friends together and go crazy. What looked like an apocalypse to me was in reality a bunch of kids having the time of their lives. They may take a bump and shed a tear or two, but ultimately the little demons would get up again and again to continue reenacting their great dinosaur battles.
I knew what to do. I took down the brontosaurus poster, put away the board games, and boxed up the cake. Children don’t need props to have fun. After I had safely stashed all liabilities, I slowly went to the cluster of kids and turned off the TV. They looked at me, perplexed, until I gave them a little smile and turned to walk back up the stairs. As I put Nathan down, his tear-stained face was smiling.
“Happy birthday,” I said to him, and as I ventured up the stairs and closed the door behind me, the riotous, joyous noises of crazed children began to sound again.