Family Life

The Birthday Circuit

By Ann Herren

As a new parent, one of the biggest shocks to my mental health, aside from the small human that was now living with us, was Birthday Parties. I squeaked by the first two years of Peanut’s life without actually throwing a party; we’d just have a family circle sing with her and a cake and an abundance of photos of her unimpressed by it all. Little did I know the dam was about to break when she started preschool. Uninitiated friends would casually ask, ‘So whatcha got going on this weekend?’ I’d look at them, shell-shocked.  “We have 17 birthday parties.”

‘What?! Whose parties??’ “I don’t know. I don’t know who they are. I’m not sure I’ve even met all of them. I think two are her classmates. Or maybe they were in line with us at Rouse’s?”

‘Ok.  Well, it’s Friday. You’ve bought presents?’ My eyes well up. “No. I don’t even know [pointing] if this one is a boy or a girl? Lane? Who does that? Look at the invite, it’s yellow, damn them.”

Fast forward, and by the three-year-old birthday rounds, I’ve got my plan of attack. Like the product of any traumatic environment, I’ve learned coping mechanisms. Armed with a completely innocuous children’s book (bought in bulk), clean toddler socks (always, per invite orders) and a double-shot latte, we were on our way. What once took an hour or two—or more—to ‘prepare’ for a birthday now took mere minutes.

Dude, I got this.

For a brief moment in time, I’m triumphant. This is now my life. These are now my victories.

We enter the weekend matrix of the Never-Ending-Party. A world of standing around the edges of rooms, eating triangle sandwiches and
waiting to see whose child will be the first to be spit out crying from the loud rolling mass of childball. Usually mine.

So, imagine my intrigue when we finally reached the age of the next venue. It’s the renaissance period of birthdays; they can now do more stuff. Our first experience is, drumroll please: Laser Tag. I almost fell to my knees, clutched my friend’s hands and kissed them. Thank you. Thank you. Someplace new. A place that is so new to me, I don’t send the staff Christmas cards…

It just gets better and better. Turns out, adults can play too. Nothing appeals more to my competitive nature and my pent up party
frustration. I suit up, barely remembering to help my daughter. We go in. Instantly I’m in the element. Running, crouching, tracking. It’s like a
flashback to ’Nam except it’s not. I pick the high ground, taking out dozens of enemy troops six-year-olds on the way.  The screaming may be real—I think I may have used one girl as a human shield as I dropped and rolled for cover. There is no mercy.

Before I know it, they call the game. The guns are turned off.  I solicitously lift the vest off my daughter. I gently kiss her head; she doesn’t realize I nailed her twice from above. We quickly dash out to see the scoreboard.

There it is—my battle name—Nite Fury. At the top of the board. I forget this is a six-year-old’s party as I solicit high fives from the other parents that played as well. I give a conciliatory ‘better luck next time’ look to the children. After four years of adult bystanding, weird kid food, and the sheer number of kiddie parties that dominated my once interesting social landscape, I got my chance to exact revenge on behalf of parents everywhere.

So if you see me on the kid party circuit just remember, I am Nite Fury. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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