Sunday, June 08, 2008

The Grinch who Stole Birthday Parties

And the noise, the noise NOISE, noise, noise!

I am recently returned from a birthday party at an evil place called Going Bonkers. Going Bonkers is larger version of Chuck E. Cheese, only with less organization. We arrived with present in hand for a pre-school mate's birthday party and, not knowing what to do or where to go, wandered through the entry area into the party area, following another classmate and his mother.

The place is the size of a warehouse with hamster crawls on either side that, leggo-style, reach up to the ceiling, about three stories high, maybe higher. If your child crawls up the high part, you have to go to the back of the warehouse to get a glimpse of him.

The other mother snooped around and found out that we were to play for an hour and have the party after. Shrug, okay. She lost her child in that 20 second conversation. I spyed him a few feet away, but she had already gone back to the giant erector set kids were crawling in. So I chased her, "Jack's mom! Jack's mom!" (And Jack is super cute by the way, with a round face and curly strawberry blonde hair). Caught her. Pointed to her son, then realized I'd lost mine and set out to find him.

He was checking out the erector set. Well, okay. I guess that's all right. I'm going to sit in the "fast food" area. The entire place was staffed by harried teenagers, working hard, but clearly without any adult guidance and structure.

For instance, someone was supposed to have stamped our hands when we came in the door because the gal manning the exit wasn't letting anyone out without matching stamps. Fine. I hunt down my son, and we get mother-son matching stamps.

Meanwhile the noise does not become a dull roar in the background. It's constant yelling and screaming--children's joys, sorrows and fears echoing off the cavernous suburban party warehouse. God, I hate it.

Armed only with a current copy of National Review, I ordered a 7-inch pizza and two medium diet pepsis, totallying close to $9. Twenty-five minutes or so more, my order was up. My son found me, adorably heeding my advice to check back with me for some lunch in a little while.

Finishing that, he then asked me if we could play some of the video games upstairs. Sigh. We'll have to climb the stairs and find out how to get tokens. Wouldn't you rather play in the hamster maze some more? No? Oh, all right then.

Upstairs wasn't so bad. Thank the Lord we didn't have to buy tokens from a living person and only had to interact with a machine. We wasted a few bucks and then got into a rousing game of air hockey. I kicked his butt 5-2. (Yes!)

Our party is called to the pink room so off we go. Ice cream, cake, and then nothing. A teenager, who I think was our party hostess, hands me a 1/2 off ticket for the next time we visit. I don't think I glared at her, but she laughed nervously and said, "if you visit again."

I'd heard a rumor we'd be getting some free tokens, ala Chuck E. Cheese, but they weren't forthcoming. Nothing was happening in the birthday room except for happy gazes at the birthday princess and a few ancy and fidgety four-year-olds. My son being one of them, we exited the room to spend our last token.

He went right to what we found out was a four-dollar golf machine. But first while testing out the buttons, he was overtaken by a kid twice his age. Just sort of pushed aside, as the kid slithered his way in.

When is it appropriate for a mother to discipline another mother's child? I've been asking myself that for seven years. Seven long years while both my children have politely said nothing as bigger kids (and sometimes smaller ones) worm their way impolitely into their play spaces.

Hey kid, you gonna put a token in that machine because my son was there first, I said firmly and with a hint of irritation. He walked away, no doubt untouched by that incident. He will probably grow up externalizing every bad instance in his life (crazy lady!) and internalizing every good one, while some of us do the exact opposite.

As badly as I want my kids never to take others' toys without asking and always to share and play nicely, how do I make them more like that kid?

We went back to check on the birthday princess, and she was opening the first of 73 presents.

"I want to go home," my son said.

Me, too.

On the way out, we passed who I think was the birthday girl's father outside smoking a cigarette. Thanks so much for inviting us, I say in my best preschool mom voice.

"My pleasure," he responds.

Wish it had been mine.

"Mom," says my son.

Yes, honey?

It's quiet out here.

Yes it is, I say as we make our way through the parking lot, then up a hill to a nearby bank's parking lot in 96-degree heat, the closest place we could find to park.

Poorly done, Bonkers, poorly done.


Blogger David N. Scott said...

Wow, that might even be worse than Chuck E. Cheese. If that's possible.

6:51 PM  
Blogger Nancy said...

It's possible.

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Wendy Y. said...

Here it is called The Jungle and my hubby and I try everything to get out of it. Thank God the kids are getting past that stage.

9:57 PM  
Blogger Mike LaRoche said...

...she was opening the first of 73 presents.

Holy cow! Spoiled much?

3:06 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Hi Wendy!

Spoiled much?

Well, it seemed like 73. Could've been fewer.

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Dana said...

Well, you gotta admit its very appropriately named!

Play the mom card, Nancy. Soon enough your kiddo will be in the big, wide world and you'll no longer have the privilege of doing so because the bittersweet is: he won't want you to and he won't need you to.

8:26 PM  
Anonymous Ken said...

I have a feeling that places like Bonkers and Chuck E. Cheese make enough money to sustain themselves because the great pre-school birthday parties of days past (pin the tail on the donkey, etc.) are a lost art. Maybe kids would be bored by that kind of thing these days...

(Hi Wendy!)

11:49 AM  
Blogger Nancy said...

Emma's last two parties were at home, per her request. I guess that's not preschool, though.

I think much of it is fueled by both parents working. An entire industry has sprung up around kids' birthday parties, and mom usually just has to pay the tab, which makes it easy.

4:38 PM  

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