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.

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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!