Everybody’s talkin’ at me

Sunday was Big Man’s 4th birthday. That meant a Saturday trip to the store in preparation for the big event. This, in theory, would give me a chance to use the new coupon binder my wife had made for us. We are not extreme couponers by any means, but if stores mail you little pieces of paper that are worth money, you might as well use them.

In my head, I had planned out everything I needed to do in order to run a successful errand. The first step was to grab the coupon book on the way out. On my way to do that, I was interrupted. “You wanna drop this extra pizza off at Fran’s house on your way?” my wife asked. Why does my wife have an extra pizza? It’s a long story, but let’s just say she’s a natural redistributor of goods from areas of surplus to areas of demand.

I took the pizza. I left the coupon book. This happens to me often on my way out the door. As a man, I can think of only one thing at a time. That thing used to be sex, mostly, but as I’ve gotten old and domesticated, it has changed into things like coupons books. Family members see me going out as the time to make requests of me, new thoughts which drive the old thought, about why I was going, completely out of my mind.

I did make it to the store, but I paid full price.

coupon organizer

Our new coupon binder: handsome and useful – especially when you remember to take it to the store.

On Sunday morning, I went to pick up the birthday cake. I fled the house before anyone could make me lose my focus on cake.  At the store, I ran into a friend who’d bought Big Man an ice cream maker for his birthday. I volunteered to pick up the half & half and ice to make the ice cream. The ice was by the door, so I’d grab it on the way out.

I got the half & half, and a few other things my wife texted me to get, and headed for the checkout.  If I hadn’t passed the cake mix aisle I would have left without our cake. Good save, Duncan Hines! I got our cake and went through the checkout, only needing to pay for the bag of ice.

Apparently I had left my Don’t-Talk-To-Me face at home, which is odd because my wife says I wear it whenever I go out. I’ve been trying it on at home lately, but nobody respects it there. The young lady bagging the groceries saw our Paw Patrol cake and went off about her little nephew. Of course, when your Don’t-Talk-To-Me face fails, you have to be polite, even when it makes you forget to present your coupons, the ones you brought all the way to the store this time, to the cashier.

“My nephew this; my nephew that.”

“Uh-huh. Uh-huh, that’s nice.”

Needless to say, I had to go back to into the store for ice.

Big Man had a happy birthday, but I’m the one who aged.

The perfect birthday gift for a boy who loves tools and belts.


Who invited Batman?

For his birthday, Buster wanted a Batman-themed party. The great thing about three-year-olds’ parties is you don’t have to rent out a hall to satisfy them. As long as you have cupcakes, pizza, and few of his closest friends, you can spend two hours in your own living room, hosting the best party he’s ever had.

The great thing about three-year-olds is that their closest friends are whichever few kids they happen to be playing with. There’s no need to look up his old army buddies.

Batman cupcakes and a few Batman party favors meant this party was about 10% of the cost of the party he’ll require in three years. With some of the windfall savings, my wife picked up an adult Batman costume, because what little kid wouldn’t love a surprise visit from a masked man?

I am Batman cupcakes

I would have preferred chocolate cupcakes with whipped frosting, but after my wife pointed out that they weren’t for me, I gave her a classic Batman “whatever” shrug.

She wanted someone none of the children would recognize to wear the costume. It’s not as easy as you might think to get an affirmative reply to, “Hey, how would you like to show up to a children’s party in a Batman outfit this Saturday?”

As Saturday neared, she got more desperate. I think she was hoping the UPS guy would deliver something so she could sound him out about whether he liked playing make-believe. But since we didn’t have any mail order scotch in transit, the UPS guy didn’t show. I convinced her I should be Batman. Yes, I’d be recognized, but the boys would always remember the time Daddy played Batman for them.

I don’t know much about Batman, outside of the Adam West TV show. I can’t imagine how he changed into costume sliding down the pole to the Bat Cave because I had trouble getting into costume sitting on my bed. Batman’s outfit doubles as an evening gown, I discovered as I texted my wife to come zip me up.

The suit was designed for a pectorally endowed man. “You have concave nipples,” my wife informed me as I turned my rubber chest to her. A plump pillow fixed that.

I snuck out and rang the doorbell. My wife herded the children to the door and had Buster open it. I crossed the threshold; he hid behind his big brother. I knelt down to talk to him; he fled to the back room and closed the door.

And we were worried that I would just be Daddy in a cape.

Why can't you give Batman a chance?

Fear turns to contempt as Batman resorts to pleading.

I took some pictures with, and punches from, the other children, but Buster would not enter the same frame with me. I cut my losses and made my exit, reappearing as just Daddy.

They had cupcakes and Buster opened presents. That creepy Batman faded in memory.

After the party, I had some errands. “Okay, I’m leaving,” I announced, as a man does when he’s about to leave his wife alone with three sugar-laced children.

Buster looked up from his new toys. “Don’t go to Batman, Daddy,” he pleaded. “I don’t like it.”

Sometimes Daddy’s best as boring, safe, reliable Daddy.

Buster’s birthday bash

It was right around April Fool’s Day when Buster walked into the room with one hand hiked up into his shirt sleeve. Holding out that arm, he practiced his most scared face and yelled in mock terror as he stared at the empty space at the end of his sleeve. He couldn’t stop giggles from filling the places between his terrified screams, because he was convinced the whole prank was hilarious.

It was hilarious, and a huge parent-fail that I didn’t get it on video.

It was his first joke as a two-year-old.

I bet Buster learned this joke at his birthday party. It was pirate-themed, and one of the props was a plastic hook that covered up the wearer’s hand. Likely, an older kid pretended to lose a hand in one of their many sword fights. Hooks may be comical, but empty space is funnier. That’s what Buster took away from it.

below the cupcakes

Checking the perimeter for cupcake-stealing pirates.

Buster always throws a good birthday bash – both times. I think this is because toddlers don’t have lots of expectations to get in the way of having fun with whatever direction the party takes. They don’t care who shows up as long as there are a few kids ready to play. They don’t stress over the menu, and they aren’t expecting presents, so anything they get is gravy. They don’t even care if somebody else blows out the candle on their cupcake, just as long as they get to eat the frosting and leave the cake part for Daddy.

All Buster really cared about at his party was having a house full of kids that he could chase around with a foam pirate sword. They didn’t have to be his own age either. The bigger the kids, the bigger the targets.

fighting pirates

A mighty sword – brought to you by the pitter-patter of little feet.

Buster likes playing with older kids. You don’t have to be careful with them. You can hit them as hard as you want. If they start crying because they got beat up by a two-year-old – well, let’s just say they should learn to not do that. It doesn’t paint them in the best light. And nobody’s going to yell at you for making a big kid cry. They might pretend to scold you, but they’re only doing it to mollify a big baby, or modern society, or somebody else not to be taken seriously. They don’t mean it.

But if a big kid hits you too hard, just turn on the water works and that kid’s done for the day. They should know better, but after you whacked them good a few times, they must have forgot. Big kids are funny that way.

pure gravy

After cupcakes and sword fights, opening presents is pure gravy.

When he slept two hours late the next morning, we knew Buster had a good time at his party. He must have had one-too-many Kool-Aids.

Three days later, the pizza and cupcakes were gone, the decorations put away, everything back to usual. Except that Buster was still making pirate-themed jokes. Now that was one heck of a party.

It’s party time! Again.

After my First Communion, my family went out to celebrate. At McDonald’s.

McDonald’s! How awesome was that? It had to be a pretty special occasion to celebrate at McDonald’s.

Not only was McDonald’s the only fast food restaurant in the area, it was the only restaurant where I can remember eating until my teen years. Going there was a rare and enormous treat.

A few years after my First Communion, I got invited to a friend’s birthday party at McDonald’s. This was mind-blowing on multiple levels. First: a birthday party? Birthdays were when you got to pick what your mom would make for dinner, you ate some cake, and received one present from your parents. What was this crazy talk about having your friends come to your birthday? And they all brought presents, too? No way!

And celebrating a birthday at McDonald’s? McDonald’s was ground too hallowed for a mere birthday celebration. McDonald’s was for big, once-in-a-lifetime deals, like the Sacraments. I’m sure I could easily imagine couples having their wedding receptions there (if they were high-class enough to meet McDonald’s standards).

Despite my misgivings, I went to the party. Hell yeah, I went! I wasn’t about to miss a precious opportunity to enjoy the gourmet offerings of that palace of delicacies.

The party was short and sweet. We had burgers, fries, and some cake. The Birthday Boy opened our modest gifts, and then we went home. It was the single birthday party experience of my childhood.

My oldest son is five. He has been the focus of three birthday parties and a guest at dozens. None of them have been at McDonald’s. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!

Times have changed, leaving middle-aged bumpkins like me wondering what to make of things. McDonald’s has gone from treat to last resort. Birthday parties crowd the outside edges of our calendar.

Though it sometimes feels as though our weekends are drowning in kids’ parties, I can’t complain. To the extent that it is a problem, I’m a part of the problem. We play the party game too, and we do it without trying to make anybody eat at McDonald’s.

I hate cake!

We think we have a lot of parties, but they have to do this five times in each of our human years. (Image: Harry Whittier Frees)

I’m all about giving my kids good childhood memories, but sometimes I worry that these automatic birthday parties will lead them to believe that watching the calendar page flip a dozen times is a superstar accomplishment. When you’re 105, it may be, but you’re 005, it’s been done by plenty of other normal folks.

Then again, opening my mouth wide and letting a priest put a dried circle of bread on my tongue wasn’t the mark of superstardom either – those wafers dissolve in your mouth; you don’t even have to chew your way to success. Yet, I got what was, at the time, the best reward I could imagine for it. And after a few more birthdays, my son will have outlived my Catholicism, so I guess I’m the last one worthy to complain about undeserved honors.

So let’s party!