Originally created 06/20/02

Birthday parties are more complex than I recall

We went to our granddaughter Emily's birthday party this month, and it was unlike any we had been to before.

This was not just a party, but an event. It took place in a gymnastics center that during the week teaches youngsters to tumble, flip and jump. On weekends, though, it rents out as Party Central.

While parents and grandparents watched from an observation balcony, an army of children took part in organized activities on the gym floor. Two teen-age girls lined them up and led Emily, newly 5, and her friends onto trampolines, across boards, down ramps and up a rope that let them drop into a pool of square chunks of foam rubber.

The highlight of the party seemed to be a game of Cat and Mouse using a large, circular sheet of fabric resembling a rainbow-flavored parachute; as the children held the edges and shook vigorously, one child would hide under the fabric as another would crawl around on top, trying to find the mouse.

After their exercise, the youngsters went into a party room for pizza, cupcakes, ice cream and presents.

Emily and everyone else loved it. I watched from a safe distance and was thankful that they let the boys and girls fill themselves with food after jumping and tumbling.

Children's birthday parties aren't the way I remember them. In the past few years, we have attended a party at a children's theme restaurant where a large mouse performed on stage. Another was at an outdoor theme park where they rode go-carts.

Then there was the one at a nature park where we hiked for a couple of miles and looked at the various flora and fauna the guide pointed out to us. At another party, a menagerie of barnyard animals arrived on a trailer, and for a couple of hours the children pestered the pony, the calf, the ducks.

What happened to simple birthday parties at home? You know: Mom bakes a cake, Dad picks up a carton of ice cream, someone makes a wish and everyone gets a pointy hat and a stomach ache.

That's the party I remember giving. My wife still talks about the year she gave a party for little Barbie, who is now grown. One of Barbie's classmates had only one arm, and JoAn had coached her and her brother ahead of time to make no reference that would make little Billy feel uncomfortable. Then, with everything under control, JoAn answered the doorbell, ushered Billy in from the cool air, saw he was wearing a sweater, and blurted out, "Here, Billy, let me take your arm." The party wasn't quite the same after that.

Maybe that's why parties these days require professional planners and entertainment. Parents can get stressed out when they're worried not only about the safety of a couple of dozen little ones but also about what their own children will say and do.

You may have attended types of birthday parties I don't know about yet. Please warn me ahead of time. I fully expect to show up at the next party and be told we will be skydiving, wrestling alligators or getting tattoos.

Reach Glynn Moore at (706) 823-3419 or gmoore@augustachronicle.com.


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