How come Silly String fights always end in tears?
It began innocently enough. My wife and I gave each of Gabriel’s seven friends, who were at the house for his twelfth birthday party, cans of the stuff, and told them to have a blast, BUT NOT to have a blast anywhere near the house. We live across the street from a park, so it wasn’t an unusually cruel request.
During this time, before my official duties as driver to the movie theater and purchaser of post-movie pizza came up, I tried to hide downstairs, lying on the couch and watching a repeat of a Real Madrid soccer game.
My enjoyment of the game was rudely interrupted when I heard a kid crying outside. I couldn’t tell if it was real crying or fake, so I judiciously decided to wait and listen before making any snap judgments. So I waited, and listened, and it just wasn’t clear whether this kid was really crying or just pretending. The sobs came regularly enough, but there was almost something too regular about them. Really, it was 50-50.
My wife came down the stairs – “Can’t you hear that??” – and went outside to investigate.
Sure enough, Max, the smallest kid in the group, had got some silly string shot in his eye.
As far as I was concerned, all eight of the kids, Max included, were already in trouble: they should’ve been bullying each other in the park, away from the house. Had I not been crystal clear about that? It took my wife, bless her soul, a good half hour the next morning to sweep up the pink, purple, red and green strands which lay all over the front, side and back of our house.
I was pissed. My wife should not have to do that, and I shouldn’t be put in a position where I have to feel guilty watching her do it.
We decided to think outside the box this year, and so we had cake and presents before the movie and pizza. The eating of the cake passed without incident, and I have to take some credit for that. The cake came decorated with three mini ice cream cones on top of it, each filled with extra frosting.
All eight kids wanted the three cones. One would go to Gabriel, that was a given, and then one of his friends, Graham, I think it was, shouted that Gabriel should get to choose who would receive the other two.
“No way,” I interrupted. “That’s just begging for a fight.” No child should be put in a position of power like that. Neither should most adults.
So, in a move I think Solomon himself would consider wise, I wrote down two numbers between one and ten on a piece of paper and then asked all the boys to hold up fingers indicating a number between one and ten. So lucky numbers “2” and “8” – Ramon? Anthony? – I didn’t know who half these kids were – got the extra cones and no one complained.
My wife and I each drove four kids to the mall. It’s interesting: at twelve, the range in kids’ sizes and voices varies like Chihuahuas compared to Great Danes – same species, but you’d never guess it.
And I had Max and another little guy with me, so I knew I was stuck with the high pitched shriekers.
I’ve been parenting long enough to know to always keep earplugs in my pocket, so I drove them to the mall, their glass shattering voices pleasantly muzzled by those little foam inserts. Still I could hear them making crank calls to girls on their cell phones. Mostly they got voice mail, which knocked the wind out of their sails, but once in a while, when they did get a clueless, live “Hello?” on the other end, they all just yelled out weird random stuff like “I’m dead!” or “Who is this!” or Felix might yell out, “This is Ramon, BLAAAAH!” and then Ramon would pinch Felix’s arm real hard.
We herded them into the theater to watch “Snow White and the Huntsman.” It was pretty good – the old fable got the Peter Jackson treatment, so it wasn’t, as Gabriel put it while tearing down the “Happy Birthday” banner his mother had strung up in the living room earlier that day, “too kiddish.”
Our math problems began after the movie. We ordered pizza and ate it outside, where there is a big courtyard surrounded by the pizza place, Barnes and Noble, a high end furniture store, etc. About twenty minutes into the meal, my wife looked at me and said, “Where’s Leonard?”
“Who’s Leonard?” I replied, unconcerned.
Honestly, I couldn’t keep track of all these monkeys, and there were at least two boys at the house – Leonard presumably being one of them – who I swear I’ve never seen before in my life.
What the heck is Gabriel doing, picking up strays for his birthday party?
After a five minute frantic search – again, I stayed in the courtyard while my wife went looking – hey, I had to make sure we didn’t lose anyone else – she found poor Leonard standing just outside the theater door. He wasn’t in tears, and in general, seemed to be in good health. And thankfully, we still had a couple slices of pizza left. We gently begged him to mention nothing to his parents. Good ole Leonard. He took it in stride.
Somehow, though, when it was time to go back home, and we did a head count, we had nine kids with us. I was certainly relieved that we hadn’t lost anyone else, but we somehow picked up an extra kid, Thomas. Who the hell was this Thomas character?
Well, there would be time for debriefing and intelligence gathering later. Right now we just had to figure out how to get nine kids home when all we had were eight legal car seats between us. Linda thought we should call Thomas’ parents and have them pick him up.
I didn’t want to wait around, so I offered to “make them fit.”
“Fine,” said my wife. “They’re in your car.”
A perfectly reasonable waiver of liability: my suggestion, my ass on the line. So, again, applying the crushing grip of reason, I selected the two smallest, skinniest kids, Max and some other boy, stuck them in the back, and snapped them under the same seat belt. There. Done.
We got all the kids back home in one piece, and then we put on the alligator movie “Lake Placid” for them to watch (it was my wife’s selection: she once went through a heavy Bill Pullman phase. While she was pregnant with Gabriel, she watched “While You Were Sleeping” “at least eight times,” by her own estimate).
My wife and I crawled into bed around eleven, and every five minutes or so, I treated the kids to the sight of me in my baggy tightie whities walking into the living room, where we had laid them out like sardines, and yelled, “Hey, shut up!” or “Go to sleep!” or, the nuclear option, “Next time I hear something I’m calling someone’s mom.”
My eyes blinked open around 5:20 am. I heard a strange noise, a heavy banging, like someone was jumping off furniture. It was disconcerting, and I gave some serious consideration to thinking about investigating the source of the noise.
Ultimately I decided to ignore the banging – it’s an old house, things creak – but my wife couldn’t take it any longer (hey, there’s no reason both of us should be groggy and grouchy the next day), so she got up to find that Curtis had put Ramon’s sleeping bag over his head and was leading him around the house, banging him into walls. Ramon didn’t seem to mind.
Whatever Linda did, the banging stopped.
As the rest of the boys awoke, and the din reached its baseline ear splitting level, I told my wife I had to excuse myself to work on “some writing” in a way that implied I simply had to be allowed to leave, lest my Great American Novel languish.
And by G.A.N., of course I mean a brief account of her heroic performance at Gabriel’s twelfth birthday party.
P.S. – in case you’re wondering, Thomas couldn’t make the movie, but he could make pizza, so his parents dropped him off at the mall. I didn’t notice this because it happened during the time I was apologizing to all the clerks in the high end furniture store for the 8 boys who decided to run in there screeching, throwing around the free Frisbee that came with the pizza.
Thought: how wrong would it be to celebrate kids’ birthdays only once every other year?