And Then I Stepped in Gum . . .

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Scenes from an Alabama Birthday Party

So. One of the boys in Katie's class had a birthday party today. Though she's not a particular friend of this boy, and though we received the invitation less than a week ago, I thought she might like to go. She concurred. It was a pool party, and since I had had to rescue Katie at a pool party we attended last week, I cornered the mom at the last day of school party (these kids have a swingin' social life) and sort of invited myself.

Side note: We're at a strange juncture in life -- last year, at the 5-year-old birthday parties, moms and dads and siblings came along, and we had to plan for 20-some people inside the house when we threw preschool-and-under parties. This year, by some sort of hive consensus, the kids are just dropped off at parties. I'm finding this difficult to deal with. I'm not that overprotective, but you know, good moms are supposed to give strangers the third degree over items in their house ranging from guns to child molesters, and somehow, it seems awkward to do that with the parents of one of your kids' classmates. From the other side, I'm a little bewildered by dealing with strange kids staying at my house when I don't exactly have the authority of familiarity with which to discipline them. So I'm going along with this, but reluctantly.

Anyway, given that Katie almost drowned twice, I mentioned to the mom that she wasn't a very strong swimmer, and that maybe I should just hang around just in case. "Oh, you don't have to," said the mom. "I'm going to be watching them like a hawk. This little guy," she said, nodding to her 2-year-old who needs a haircut so badly he's crooking his neck to see under his bangs, "almost fell in the pool last week and gave us a heart attack." "Well," I replied, "if it's okay with you, I would like to stick around." "Oh, but you really don't have to." "Well, I'll talk to Katie about it and see if she wants me there."

Katie, being the somewhat shy (initially) kid that she is, wanted me there. Fine. Then this morning we wake up to gray clouds and predictions of thunderstorms. Sure enough, by 1:30 it's pouring rain and there's thunder rumbling in the distance as we prepare to go to the party. I have Katie dress in her clothes but bring her swimsuit just in case, even though I'm sure there's no way they're going to be actually swimming. The poor mom, I'm thinking, planning outdoor activities and having to squeeze everyone inside to do alternative activities. I took some work along and planned to be a drop-off mom so that I wasn't taking up too much room.

And then we got there, and the house was a mansion. Well, no worries about taking up too much room, I guess. But I have to qualify it. You see, if you went by the invitation, you would have thought that this was a pirate-themed party. I was soon to discover that it was actually an Alabama-themed party. The first clue was the enormous front yard -- which had scattered around it various faded Little Tikes vehicles and a giant trampoline. Yes, in the front yard.

At the front door, there was no evidence of a door bell. In front of the unvarnished entry doors were a 3-foot by 2-foot Army tank toy and a cardboard box with a sad-looking turtle and some wilted greens. We knocked on the door, which was opened by a man wearing jeans and no shirt. This man appeared to be the boy's father, but I'd never met him before and he didn't bother to introduce himself to us. We were ushered in.

The house was huge inside -- probably at least 4,000 sf -- and there were vaulted ceiling and faux finished walls and archways between the rooms. And then I looked at the floor, which was part marble, part warped and twisting wood, part tatty carpeting, and part bare concrete. Yes, bare concrete. The dad sheepishly admitted that they'd had a flood about a week ago and that was the reason for the state of the floors. That's awful, I commiserated, all the while thinking, It hasn't rained in weeks -- how did they have a flood? I found out later from the mom that the 2-year-old, who appears to live a largely unsupervised life, had turned on the water in the bathtub upstairs and put in the plug without his mom realizing it, and then she had left for work. It flooded the whole house and caused $10,000 worth of damage!!! Oh. My. God.

Anyway, we go outside to the back yard, where it is -- let me remind you -- actively raining in an area known for its huge thunderstorms. There are four children in the pool. I am so not comfortable with this, but I gave in to peer pressure (and the fact that there was apparently nothing else planned for the kids to do) and let Katie put on her suit and go swimming, all the while nervously watching the skies. About 20 minutes later, a thunderbolt chased the kids out of the pool -- thank God -- and the moms made noises about having to wait half an hour until the kids could go back in again. Fortunately, food was served -- pizza and hot dogs -- as the only other activity in the house was watching some older boys play a gory, violent, I-wouldn't-let-my-husband-play-it video game on a 60-inch TV. No one seemed concerned about this but me. Katie and three of the girls from her class -- the birthday boy, as far as I can tell, never said one word to her at the party -- sat and ate and acted silly. Then the kids explored the house a little while I chatted with some moms, trying to suppress the idea that they were going to stumble across some weaponry, because -- make no mistake about it -- this was the type of house that held guns. And, of course, every 3 minutes Katie would come back and ask if she could go in the pool again and pout when I said no.

Two of her friends' moms relented and let the girls go in the pool -- traitors! -- but at least one held back and told her daughter to wait until after the cake and ice cream, which bought us a bit of time. We went out back, where it had stopped raining (but I still wasn't happy about the weather) for the cake. The birthday boy had to be almost bodily dragged out of the pool for pictures and singing and cake, while his 2-year-old brother (who had appeared from naptime wearing a pajama top and a diaper -- cringe) had to be stopped from walking directly into the deep end of the pool. He then proceeded to balance precariously on various pieces of lawn furniture, giving the other moms and me heart attacks while his parents and other relatives blissfully ignored him. He also managed to take the ice cream scoop to the remains of the cake and eat about a cup and a half of icing all by himself. When you're at someone else's house, when do you step in?

So much for watching like a hawk. I spent most of the party counting little wet heads in the pool and looking for shadows on the bottom. There were many times when there were no adults outside, and once the 2-year-old was left outside -- around an unfenced pool! -- with no adult supervision. Yikes! I could not wait for the damned "party" to be over with, I was so appalled. Not to mention I was tired of explaining to my daughter that I didn't want her to go in the pool during a lightning storm because I didn't want her to be electrocuted and also because I like her hair nice and straight. I tell you, this child does not appreciate me.

All I can say is, from now on I'm going to trust my instincts about what party invitations we accept. No wonder this boy is the one who always gets in trouble at school.