I once heard that the number of kids you should invite to your kid's birthday party is n+1, where n = your kid's age. So for my youngest, who turned four in a Harrisburg, PA hotel room last week (more on that in a second), that would mean four friends would join him in celebrating his big day.
On Saturday, we had the party and while I didn't take a head count, I'll conservatively guess we had 50 people at our house. In my defense, this was less about my son's birthday and more about me and the wife blowing off steam. (In completely different ways, mind you; she loves to cook and entertain, I love to pound beers, commiserate with like-minded -- read: overwhelmed -- dads and eventually pass out face down in the play room.) After a summer that went by in fast-forward in July only to feel like slow motion in August, I was ready for school to start. The lack of structure, both for me and the kids -- but mostly the kids -- along with the constant complaints of boredom and hunger are enough to make you an unwavering proponent of year-round education.
So last year we began this tradition of inviting neighbors, family and friends over to celebrate both the little man's birthday and the return of another school year. It went so well we did it again over the weekend -- this time with an expanded guest list.
We probably had 20 kids there, from 18 months to 14 years old, and other than the play room looking like it had been carpet-bombed by a drunk Santa, there wasn't any child-on-child violence that I was aware of. Though, to be fair, I make it a point to be blissfully ignorant of what kids are doing to each other because I don't like dealing with the inevitable awkwardness that comes with having to confront someone else's little monster.
Great parenting, I know, but don't misunderstand: It's not like I'm abandoning my kids in the face of danger. I only ignore the potential "Lord of the Flies" situations when my wife's around. But if I'm running solo with the kids, I go to great lengths to avoid these circumstances altogether. That means no playgrounds, malls, after-school get-togethers and play dates because little people, in general, are nuts. And forget trying to rationalize with the truly insane ones. Invariably, that leads to blank stares from horrified onlookers and "What the hell did you think would happen?!" looks from parents who have been there before.
And yes, I know, a lot life is about managing the dumbasses in your universe. Don't worry, I've got that covered; I'm the dumbass in my kids' lives. Trust me, they get plenty of practice with that.
(So here's the lesson: Hey parents, if you're in public with your kids, how about you keep an eye on what they're up to? I know you're exhausted and possibly hungover but guess who else has problems to work through? Problems, by the way, that shouldn't include making sure your lil' pumpkin isn't wreaking havoc in our general vicinity. Okay, that escalated quickly. Moving on...)
About that hotel birthday...
So we traveled from upstate New York to Asheville, NC and back over Labor Day weekend, and while 800 miles is a long way to drive under any circumstance, there's no way it's happening with two kids in the car.
(Not an exaggeration: I heard "Do we have anything else to eat?" every 15 minutes. This is not an exaggeration. Hey, kids, you realize we're in the car and not sitting in La-Z-Boys in the Twinkie aisle at 7-11, right? RIGHT?!)
So we stopped on the way down and again on the way back. And when we woke up Monday in a Harrisburg, PA Residence Inn to drive the last leg of the trip, it also happened to be the newly turned-four-year-old's birthday.
That conversation went like this:
Me: Hey, it's time to get up, we're going home today. Oh, and it's your birthday!
(His eyes open, he quickly sits up, looks around, and realizes where he is.)
Four-year-old: How can it be my birthday in a hotel?
Me: (stares blankly)