We were Ready for my son’s Birthday Party Until…

Life is a special occasion, right? There is always something to remember and celebrate. At our house, with six children, there is usually a milestone to celebrate. We had a little celebration recently for The Boy’s birthday. I was in charge of putting together a special celebration to mark the latest spin around the sun.

It took The Boy a little while to actually make up his mind. He kept going back and forth between rock-climbing and jumping on trampolines. Trampolines won out. I went to the indoor trampoline park to book the party. After the venue was secured, we informed friends of the The Boy and their parents of the celebration. I implored fathers to attend the party so I would have friends to talk to.

Before the party, I needed to make return trips to order more pizza and make sure the guest count was accurate. The Oppressed and I went to the store to buy decorations and party favors. Pokémon was the theme of the party, and we travelled to the store to collect the appropriate favors. The Boy did not join us. He was too busy attending to the social demands of his schedule.

I need to recognize the efforts of The Oppressed here. Her vision regarding the party led to one of the signature items of the day. We had found some goodie bags to store the favors when my youngest daughter spotted plastic containers that resembled Pokémon balls. The balls were the perfect size to hold the favors and resembled the very item handled by characters in the Pokémon cartoon. Favors were prepared. Pizza ordered. Everything in place… Or so I thought.

A Birthday Cake

I had a birthday cake ordered for the party. The nice people in charge of the cake kindly requested 24 hours’ notice for the order. They got 72 hours. My kindness and benevolence are known throughout the area.

I asked to pick up the cake two hours before the party was scheduled to begin. Everything needed to be in place for the party. Alas, there was no cake to be picked up when I arrived and no humans around to answer my questions.

I look around. There is no one to rectify the situation. Time is running out and I need to find the cake. It’s getting desperate. Luckily, I recently read a wartime spy novel and was able to glean some basic skills. I just need to subdue an employee, secure their credentials, and make my way behind the bakery to find my son’s birthday cake. It seems a little involved, but I love my child and it is his birthday party.

I make my way around the store to find the necessary items to subdue the employee and secure their credentials. An employee with everything I need is in sight. They approach me and catch me off-guard as I am ready to jump into action.

“May I help you?” they ask.

“Why, yes,” I reply.” I ordered a cake and I’m here to pick it up.”

The nice person retreats to the back of the bakery and retrieves my cake. I bring the birthday cake to the front and pay for it. I discard the items I thought I would need to subdue an employee and continue on with my mission.

Party Balloons

It is now time to pick up the balloons for the party. We had ordered large, gigantic red, yellow and white balloons in keeping with the Pokémon theme. The party is scheduled to begin at 5:15. The balloon store is conveniently across the street from the venue and balloons are scheduled to be delivered at 5:00… Or so I thought.

I arrive at the venue with the cake and receive grateful cheers and adulations from parents and children alike. The cake is placed on the table in the rented room. I look around and admire the decoration and placement of the procured favors. I can’t help but notice a lack of balloons. A lack of large, Pokémon color-themed balloons. I ask Wife if she has seen the beautiful balloons. She hasn’t. I ask the nice people behind the counter if they have seen any beautiful Pokémon color-themed balloons. They have not. Something seems amiss. I call the nice people at the party goods store. Apparently, there was some miscommunication.

When they said the balloons would be delivered at 5:00, I didn’t know 5:00 actually meant the beginning of a two-hour window when we could expect the balloons. Considering we have the room for about an hour, this obviously doesn’t work with our schedule. I get in my car and drive across the street (it’s a fairly busy street and I don’t want to get hit by a car since I haven’t had pizza yet) to the store to get the balloons.

Balloons are Ready. Now it’s a party

I return with the Pokémon color-themed balloons, and I see the pizzas have arrived. After leaving the balloons in the room, I see two fathers who have brought their children to the party. I rejoice at having fellow fathers to commiserate with. We talk until it is time for pizza.

Pizza is about to be served. Note the snazzy Pokémon-themed balloons on the right.

We adjourn to the room where everything is laid out beautifully for our guests. You would never know there was a SNAFU with the cake, or a slight logistical error with the balloons. Children and adults alike sit down to pizza and then cake. I mingle with the other adults who got sucked into another child’s birthday party. After eating, everyone leaves and someone else cleans up the mess. That may have been the best present of all, and it wasn’t even my birthday.

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Birthday Party

We are negotiating our way through January. The children are back in school. Wife is hard at work kicking butt and taking names, like she always does. I am sitting in front of my computer reading, writing, editing, and working on whatever comes in front of me.

The children have adjusted to their time being consumed by the cruel and unusual academic punishments. It was a nice Christmas Break, but I think the house is glad to have the little Miracles of Christ out and back at school.

We can’t just hit the ground running, though. There needs to be some consideration for the fatigue and struggles our children suffer. That’s why they invented three-day weekends. It gives them a chance to process the labors of the previous days and weeks. It’s tough. Not only do they have to sit through school, but sometimes, God forbid, there’s homework for them to do after school. Sometimes they’re able to suck it up and do it. Other times it’s a nightmare that never seems to end. It’s hard for them, too.

There are also times where they need to go to school, but it’s only for a half day. Again, this brings joy to their faces. For me, it means I have half the time to do what I need to do before heading back to school to pick them up. It’s incredible, sometimes. On full days, I ask what they did. They answer, “Nothing.” I don’t know what half of nothing is, but I get the same answer when I pick them up on half-days.

It’s the same thing when The Boy goes to his friends’ houses. They do nothing. He’ll bring a toy, maybe some Pokémon cards. When he gets back, he did nothing. Whatever it is, it’s easier than the legal torture he’s subjected to in school.

The children must admit, though, that life isn’t always readin’, ritin’, and rackin’ brains. There are times where the clouds open up and let a little sunshine in. Sunshine came on one particular weekend when the boy was invited to a birthday party. I escorted him. The party was a few towns away, which meant a little drive. I love driving, especially when someone is with me. It means a chance to play some music and talk.

An exterior shot of a Chuck E Cheese.
The site of the party.
(Photo: chuckecheese.com)

I look back at The Boy and ask if he’s ready for the party. Is he excited about it? He ducks out of my view and hides his face. He doesn’t want to talk. He just wants to get to the party and play with his friends.

The party is at Chuck E. Cheese, a haven for poor, mistreated innocent children like my son. The children congregate toward each other. I find grown-ups to commiserate with. One of the grown-ups just happened to be a neighbor. I coached his kids during one of my stints. We get to talking about parenthood and the thankless duties we perform.

He proceeds to tell me about the previous weeks his family had, which included a couple of hockey games they attended. I listen to the tales of family bonding and watching the Boston Bruins together. Snacks, drinks, and hockey. What a time they must have had. My children aren’t much for watching sports. Like you, my neighbor is a loyal reader and he’s well aware of where sports rank on the list of my children’s interests.

After a little game-playing and running around a crowded arcade, like children like to do, it was time for food. Pizza and chicken bites. Staples of a birthday party. My ongoing quest to shed some inches from my waist was sidetracked yet again. Both the pizza and the chicken were good. This led me and other adults to discuss where we get our pizza when ordering at home.

Pizza and chicken are finished. Time for cake. I decline the cake after going slightly crazy with the pizza and chicken. After cake, there’s a little time left for some more games before heading back home. The Boy and I play together in the final stage of the birthday party.

The Chuck E Cheese mascot posing for pictures with children.
A quick break from pizza and games.

Party’s over. It’s time to head back home. I ask The Boy if he had a good time. He did. I look in the mirror as I talk to him. He ducks and hides again. I adjust the radio. I was thinking about the talk of hockey, and I wonder if we’d be lucky to find a game. Sure enough, we do. I explain faceoffs, one-timers, and checking to the boy, who informs me that this is boring.

We get home. Wife is there. She asks how the party went. I tell her it was good. I talked to the neighbors. The pizza was good, and I ate more than I should have once again.

“What did you do?” Wife asked The Boy.

“Nothing,” The Boy answered.

Holiday Travel

Wife and I decided a little road trip would be just the thing this Christmas. We never told the children.

Allow me to share with you our experiences between Christmas and New Year’s. Every family has their traditions. Every family has that house they visit to celebrate the Holidays. Some families may even be that host who welcomes friends and relatives into their home.

A very Merry Christmas!

Wife and I decided a little road trip would be just the thing this Christmas. We never told the children. We just told Lovie, who has been in charge of laundry, to make sure that everyone has enough clean clothes for the week. She didn’t seem too suspicious about it but went about her chores.

We went to my in-laws on Christmas Eve, went home, went to bed, and woke up on Christmas morning. We exchanged presents and had a quick, light breakfast. As the children ate, Wife presented them with a slide show detailing what the week had in store for everyone.

Everyone packed bags. We took snacks for us. We weren’t sure what would be open for meals on Christmas Day. Everyone loaded up the car and piled in. The Gaggle, Slick, Slugger, Lovie, The Oppressed, The Boy, Wife, and me. We hit the road, always a favorite hobby of mine. We drove through towns. We drove on highways. We stopped where we could to buy snacks. After hours of driving, we finally reached New York, and not long after crossing the line into the Empire State, we arrived at the urban jungle known as New York City.

Stop 1: New York City

All things considered; the traffic wasn’t that bad from our home on Massachusetts’ South Shore to the Big Apple. Even driving through NYC was relatively easy in terms of traffic. Like everything else with life: meals, travels, coordination, this trip presented its challenges which we met and…. Well, we met the challenges.

Our base for this trip was the Hilton Garden Inn on West 54th St. We parked on the street, which was utilized as a street for traffic, a bike lane, and a loading/unloading zone for those staying at the hotel. The loading zone was already full when we got there. Wife got out and got to check us in. I manned the driver’s seat just in case someone came by and said we needed to move the car, which may or may not have been blocking a fire hydrant when we first got there.

The Christmas tree lit up at Rockefeller Center in New York City.
The Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center.

I patiently waited in the car with seven children, some of whom wanted to go into the hotel with Wife. We said no. There was no way we were letting the kids split up in NYC before we got rooms squared away and luggage out of the car. I kept looking in all directions, hoping to find a better place to park and making sure no one was saying we couldn’t be here. Wife came back out and informed me we were good to go. We unloaded the car and got it parked out of everyone’s way. On to see our rooms, which weren’t adjoining. That’s alright. I’m sure we can make it work. The boys are on the 10th floor and the girls are on the 30th. Okay, we can meet in the hotel lobby, out front. Meet in someone’s room. Oh yeah, there are three elevators in the hotel, and one doesn’t work. Oh…

The day we arrived was a little low-key. After all, it’s Christmas Day. We chose to eat dinner in the hotel. We did some walking around the city. Back to the rooms for some rest and sleep.

The next day was the start of two full days in the Big Apple. We walked around Central Park. We took a bus tour of the city. We took a boat cruise and went past the Statue of Liberty. We ate bagels, pizza, and all kinds of unhealthy food that you would expect someone to eat while they’re on vacation.

A man standing outside a coffee shop in the city.
I have coffee every day. This time I let everyone know.

Oh yeah, pizza. Slick and I went to get pizza for everyone one night. There was a place not far from the hotel. It was late. Everyone was hungry, but no one really wanted to leave the hotel. Three pizzas should cover everybody for dinner. We ordered the pizzas and then we are told it’s cash only. No problem. We had the cash. We pay for the pizzas and wait for them. I realize I never bought drinks and have to make another order. The manager, who took our order, then informs us they take cash or credit cards. Would we like to use our credit card? Slick and I looked at each other and I told the manager we had cash. We’ll use cash.

There were sidewalk artists. Kids got paintings and drawings. Everyone got souvenirs. Wife told me you could get a Rolex for $10 in NYC. I didn’t know Rolex was going out of business. There’s also a question of authenticity with said “Rolexes” and I guess it’s not just the Rolexes. The same thing happens with certain designer bags and clothes. I’m in my 40’s and I’m still learning things.

A sidewalk artist wearing a mask as he spray-paints on canvas.
Sidewalk artist
The Statue of Liberty
A view from our city cruise.

We took a bus tour. We went around the city and listened to a recorded tour. We learned things about New York City, how things got their name, and the history of buildings and streets. We went down 42nd Street. No miracles. Then again, six went to NYC and we made it back with all six kids alive and intact. Maybe there was a miracle.

A street sign marking West 42 Street at night.
The home of miracles.

West 44th Street. I was on West 44th Street. There just happens to be a recording studio on that street. The Record Plant, aka “The Plant” was where John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen, and Jimi Hendrix recorded. Aerosmith recorded there. It was one of those places I had always heard of. I tried to get The Boy to walk down the street with me. He declined. We were also on the far end of the street. I never made it to The Record Plant.

There was plenty to see in New York. There always is. Unfortunately, we had to get home. We needed to unpack our bags and trade dirty clothes for clean clothes, unload souvenirs, get some rest in our own beds and get ready for the second trip of the week.

Stop 2: Mystic, CT

We got home from the urban jungle of NYC and I took a shower and shaved. It was nice to be in my own bedroom. The past four nights with Slick and Slugger challenged my nose and lungs. I think housekeeping wore hazmat suits when they cleaned our room after we left.

A main reason for stopping at home was an earlier-planned meeting with my parents and siblings for lunch and exchanging Christmas presents. Unfortunately, one of my parents came down with Covid and plans for lunch had to be scrapped. Still, it was nice to get home and unload some of the dirty clothes that were sitting in our bags in the car, especially clothes from Slick and Slugger. We hit the road. A shorter trip this time. We arrived at a nice hotel situated in a nice part of town. We were near shopping, restaurants. We were near the Mystic Aquarium. The rooms were nice, the pool was heated. I was waiting for something to happen: some type of infestation, there was a mistake, and our rooms weren’t actually adjoining. Nothing. Accommodations that seemed too good to be true were the real thing.

A turtle in a glass case
The favorite part of the trip for The Oppressed.

Dinner and a quick dip in the pool with The Oppressed and The Boy. We fell asleep in our new room, the third in as many nights. The next day was spent at the Mystic Aquarium. The Oppressed got to see turtles. She loves turtles. The Boy got to see dinosaurs. He and I were both glad to see that. We had to leave the aquarium, though. We had dinner plans with Wife’s cousin at his family’s house. It was a nice house, and, when we pulled into the driveway, I reiterated my death threats if anybody didn’t behave themselves. It went well. All children were able to occupy themselves. Wife and I were able to have intelligent conversations with adults.

The next morning began with breakfast at a local diner. We did some shopping before getting on the road and making our way home. We got home. More dirty clothes were unloaded. We said goodbye to 2021 and welcomed 2022. It was a year with challenges, kids, lots of kids, and moments that made for interesting stories and reasons for drinking. What mattered was everyone had a good time. We got to do and see things with the kids.