Managing birthdays and inflated expectations

It shows up before noon, spread out on the front lawn like an oversized, rubber area rug. I look to the darkening sky and am told I have to help. None of the heavy lifting, mind you. I’m put into service locating an accessible electrical outlet to plug in the motorized thing that causes the inflation. This is why I can’t be entrusted with anything mechanical. This is why the man in charge tells me: “Stand back.”

Within hours, this inflatable water slide, this sloshing circus, is covered with children under age 10. There should be a warning for all adults in the proximity of such activity: Stand back.

Has no one yet harnessed the power of a child’s birthday party? MLGW would do well to hook one to the grid, the resulting kilowatts generated from a dozen children amped up on sugary cake frosting and juice boxes, and encouraged to climb, bounce, slide, run and repeat, could power several of the outlying suburbs for a day.

Birthday parties can be as grand or as intimate as you, the parent, want them to be. OK, this is not completely true. We were tethered to the whims of an 8-year-old event planner the way that two-story, inflatable water slide was tethered to my front lawn.

The weeks (months?) leading up to Genevieve’s birthday were ones fraught with ideas, lists, diagrams, imagining, second-guessing and not a little drama. Her mother has become an expert at managing expectations and setting boundaries. Months out, the idea that there might be a sleepover for a dozen and/or a carriage ride, the acquisition of a fleet of Segways and/or a winged horse, were all brought to the table. As the days grew closer, though, the focus was narrowed and plans were etched in stone. Or, anyway, in malleable clay.

We’ve planned them all over the years — the party at a themed restaurant with animatronic puppets that we’ll call “Dante’s Inferno,” a bowling lane party, backyard bounce house, the simple sleepover, cake in a public park and drive-in movies.

Disclosure: when I say “we” planned them, it is the royal “we” as I am wisely left out of such high-level meetings. If up to me, the party would have been held at the Belmont Grill with just Genevieve and me. I would have sprung for a burger and steak fries, and she would’ve been allowed as many refills of sweet tea as desired. Happy birthday!

Late that afternoon, the threatening skies have cleared and the attendees are on hour two of climbing the inflatable ladder and cascading down its waterfall into a shallow pool of tepid water, grass clippings, mud and who knows what else. It is also hour two of that water running off into the yard, which is now a designated wetland, my neighbors watching with increased dread as the flood encroaches on their property lines.

My own birthday is approaching. I’ll be 45 and I don’t expect an inflatable water slide or blue-tinged sheet cake or party favors. In fact, I’d be happy with a simple burger, steak fries and an adult beverage at the Belmont. Oh, and a lowered utility bill to offset the recent costs of an inflatable water slide, blue-tinged sheet cake and party favors.

Link to The Commercial Appeal