These were the rules: no eating or drinking; no running; no shouting; no touching anyone else; and no going anywhere unless you’re told to go there. Was it military training? Police Line-up? Fight Club? Nope – it was an 8-year-old’s birthday party, at a gymnastics centre, and the absurdity of it was hilarious.
I entered the building (as big as a Costco) with my son to find it deserted aside from the creepy-looking proprietress and her tumbling minions. The birthday girl and her other guests – 10 of us in total – soon arrived and were told the rules.
My son looked back and gave me a death stare: when he was initially invited, he’d asked if it would be like movement class at school (they don’t do gym at the hippie school), or if he’d be allowed to run all over the place. I’d assured him that he could go crazy once we got there (have you been to those indoor playgrounds? It’s like Lord of the Flies in a bouncy castle…). Alas, I was mistaken.
As more rules were laid out, I shared a look of disbelief with the other parents: surely these kids weren’t expected to be at a birthday party, at a gymnastics club, and not run? Maybe a slow trot?
The kids slowly moved from station to station, taking turns jumping on a trampoline (five bounces each), walking backwards on a balance beam (“SLOW DOWN!”) and hoisting themselves on an uneven bar (not spinning, of course – just pulling themselves up and then dropping back to the ground).
I’m not sure the kids were having much fun, but we parents had a blast; despite being ordered to stay. on. the. bench. One of the mothers (a good friend of mine) brought her 2-year-old son (one of her four children) to the party and, because any kids with three older siblings basically raise themselves, she was content to let him clamber up the pre-schooler apparatus that sat unused about 10-feet away from us.
This flagrant disregard of the rule #38 (“ALL CHILDREN UNDER AGE 3 MUST BE ACCOMPANIED BY AN ADULT”) almost caused Creepy Lady to have an aneurysm. My friend, who is a medical doctor from Mexico and thinks our preoccupation with child safety is ridiculous, muttered some choice phrases in Spanish before dragging her son from the padded area to play near the parents’ bench. On the cement floor.
We finally entered the pizza/cake portion of the party and that’s when things got seriously weird. The ‘party room’ had a couple of limp streamers hanging on the wall along with a Happy Birthday banner from the dollar store. The kids were all given one juice box and a piece of pizza. Additional pieces could be had only after they consumed some raw vegetables from a platter. That got me my second death stare.
Before the cake was brought out, I noticed one of the minions fiddling with the birthday banner. I assumed it had come loose and she was fixing it, but no: she was taking it down. Before the cake was even brought out. The kids devoured their cake unaware that the party was being torn down around them and the sugar, combined with the onset of dehydration from being offered one juice box after an hour of moderate calisthenics, made everyone a bit manic.
This proved to be too much for my Spanish friend, who started talking like Speedy Gonzales to her kids, and also for Creepy Lady, who began disassembling one of the folding tables. While the birthday girl opened her presents. Then she began stacking chairs, throwing things like purses and jackets on the floor.
Through all of this, my fellow parents and I were in full-blown hysterics and we soon high-tailed it out of there, promising to meet up at our kids’ school so they could, you know, run. And yell. And, like, touch each other on the arm.
The kids didn’t really seem to notice and afterwards my son said he’d had a great time at the party, which of course was the most important thing. I asked my Spanish friend what she’d said in the room towards the end and her answer pretty much summed up the experience for the parents: “I just told my them to do whatever the ugly lady said because she was crazy, but soon we’d be able to leave and we’d go somewhere normal.”