(This post is part of my own continuing series, Unexpected Moments in Parenting. It was originally written in 2007, but, strangely, not much has changed since then!)
I don’t know who thought up the idea of the bounce-house warehouse party place, but that person is doing pretty well for him or herself right about now. In my area, we have a few different versions, all low-budget, huge rooms filled with several bounce-house-slide-obstacle course doo-dad configurations, a teenager at the front desk in a referee get-up, and a party room. When you enter with your child, you sign away all your rights to just about anything at the front door, stick your kid in a pair of socks, and send the child off to do some bouncing goodness with the assurance that a long nap or an early bedtime will make the whole effort worthwhile.
Most birthday parties we are invited to these days are held at one of these places. There’s no mystery as to why they are popular; the kids go crazy with glee at the sight of the bounce houses and the parents pretty much just have to show up with a cake. Even though I appreciate the exhaustion level of my children afterward and the no-work birthday party concept, I admit I tend to dread these shin-digs, probably because my children like to hide behind the bounce houses and try to unplug them from the walls. But no worries — they only start off on those adventures once they tire of doing forward somersaults off the tops of the inflatable obstacles courses, preferably landing on their heads or necks. My kids were born without the cautious gene.
Today my three-year-old was invited to a 4th birthday party for his classmate at a bounce house warehouse, one of the local franchises. This warehouse is the biggest of these places in our area and comes equipped with a parent seating area with free wi-fi and a big screen TV. I guess the point is to give the parents something to do other than watch their kids try to kill themselves (Death by Bounce House).
After chasing Charlie from bounce house to bounce house for an hour with a baby himself bouncing on my chest in my world-weary Baby Bjorn, I finally realized that even if Charlie were to, say, flip off the side of the ginormous inflatable slide, I couldn’t do a thing about it. His fate would be in the hands of gravity and the ground. People wonder why parents have anxiety problems.
I backed off and sat, my blood sugar bottoming out, and was relieved to hear that it was finally pizza time. We all filed into a small room, and the pizza was doled out to the smaller ones. It took all of five minutes before the child next to mine decided that he would teach the powers that be a lesson by pouring the Powerade they gave him out of the open bottle very methodically onto the floor, right where my son was sitting. His mother leapt to change his clothes, and I was left holding her pizza. My baby, Ben, took this opportunity to get very ticked off that he was still at a birthday party and not at home napping, and he proceeded to begin screaming. Another mother volunteered to walk him around for me while I mopped off Charlie’s Poweraded shorts and ate a piece of pizza, so I decided to let go of my usual anxiety about letting other people hold my newborns (reasonable if you know my mom tripped and fell while carrying Charlie when he was 9 weeks old, resulting in a trip to the hospital by ambulance and X-rays — but no discernible damage) and I let her have him.
The other mother had not walked five steps with my screaming offspring when another partygoer’s sibling, age 18 months, walked into her path. My baby carrying-friend accidentally knocked the child head first into a leg of the party table, giving him an immediate and angry welt that blew up right under his eye like a water balloon. This, of course, resulted in even more screaming.
That precise moment, of course, is when the wise bounce house warehouse manager, approximately age 20, led a huge, purple, grinning monkey wearing a red and yellow sweatshirt into the party room filled with three-year-olds and their younger siblings.
… and that, indeed, is when all hell broke loose at the bounce house birthday party.
(Didn’t stop us from having Charlie’s party there when he turned 4 later that year! Did I mention I only had to show up with a cake?)