Walking into a four year old’s birthday party is sort of like walking onto the site of a natural disaster. Everything is destroyed, there are bits of debris everywhere, blood has spattered the floor and in the distance you can hear a baby crying.
Let’s rewind a little.
For the sake of identity we will refer to the main players in this story as Mom, Dad and their son Lee. Mom and Dad are good friends of Carl’s and invited us to Lee’s Birthday. He was turning four and as it was going to be a super hero themed party, she thought “Who better to invite than two people who know their super heroes.” We accepted willingly. After all, Lee is a great kid and super adorable and if nothing else there was sure to be something to snack on and the promise of cake is always enough to get Carl to do anything.
Arriving at the party, the room was set up similarly to that of a good horror movie. You see the house and all the set pieces, becoming familiar with exactly what was going to be destroyed in the next two hours. “See that window? The killer is totally gonna throw someone through it.”
I’ll give it to them, they had gone all out. On their front door, a sign read “Heroes this way. Villains beware.” There was a little station set up to look like a construction site, equipped with jumbo size legos, labeled “Metropolitan Construction Company.” A little table at the side of the room read “Super Food” and was adorned with various snacks and the Superman themed plates and napkins to bare them away. Yet, the most notable thing were the large balloons shaped as Spiderman, Batman and Iron Man which sat precariously around the room, looking on like stoic gargoyles. Or possibly they were trying not to move for fear of being seen. Either way, I got the feeling they knew something I didn’t. Of these three, Batman was the only one filled with Helium as Helium had run short and thus Spiderman and Iron Man had missed out.
Lee, the birthday boy, was dressed in an adorable Superman outfit in the style of pajamas, complete with a red cape. Mom and Dad were hastily finishing preparations and as the youngsters and their parents began to arrive, Dad offered me a beer with the statement of “You’ll need this.” I took the beer happily and began to drink. That was when it began.
Lee and a friend had found Batman. He held strong, his harsh look not dropping as the children pulled him from his stoop and began to beat on him. “Oh, so cute!” exclaimed Lee’s grandmother. “It’s Batman versus Superman.” Batman was not fairing so well though. His head popped off, the helium inside it carrying it up to the ceiling. These balloons were artfully crafted so that they were several parts taped to each other. This meant that limbs could be dismembered and the balloons would not pop. Things were beginning to get violent so Carl and Dad pulled the kids off of Batman. Carl crafted Batman’s body back together and then sat him up on a higher stoop, atop a cardboard fort. I could almost hear Batman saying “I’m Batman,” through pained sobs.
Lee jumped at the fort with the full force of his body, knocking Batman down and taking him for another round. Meanwhile, several kids had started to make little capes with their names on them to wear as well as little felt masks. Within minutes, there were several little mini super heroes running through the house at full speed, my favorite of which was a little girl with a bedazzled cape and mask who had found a toy telephone. She ran around as a hero, talking into the phone as though she were on Sex and the City. “I told Becky she needs to control her man, but she doesn’t listen!”
Batman’s leg flew off and started to float into the air. Nothing is quite as ominous as Batman’s body-less leg wafting across the ceiling.
A little boy was screaming as his nose began to bleed. Parents hovered around him like medics at the scene of a crime. “I need napkins! Stat!” Suddenly, Superman napkins were being shoved mercilessly up the little boy’s nose as he screamed out in agony.
I stood by Dad, both of us drinking beer, Carl playing with the kids. “The only thing that could make this more insane,” I said, “Is if you guys had bought something that made a bunch of noise.” There was a deep bellow of the low notes as though the Phantom had indeed entered the Opera. The children had found a way to open the hatch on a large piano at the side of the room and were now banging on the keys as if it were their one purpose in life.
This line of excitement was quickly stopped in order to prevent broken fingers. Meanwhile, a balloon exploded in the face of the birthday boy who’s face projected a feeling of feeling all the feelings at once. Scared, surprised, excited, terrified, upset, confused. Lee chose, as many of us do when we feel all the feelings at once, to go with the one that is most comfortable. He began to cry. The cardboard fort came crashing down again as Batman’s head floated ominously over the destruction.
What really stood out to me was how quickly the children moved from one extreme to another. Lee only shed tears for a brief moment after the balloon pop and the little boy with the bloody noise was back into the fray in no time. Every time a child crashed or fell or failed they would feel the emotion of it, sure, but only for a second. Then they were on to the next adventure. There was something zen amongst the chaos in the way the children were able to stay so present, letting go of the past and jumping headlong towards the future.
Eventually cake was served, which only gave the children an extra boost of sugar rush. Now it was an all out brawl. Spiderman had been pulled into the fray and he and Batman were being dismembered while Iron Man wisely watched from the corner, hidden from sight. Sex and the City girl, who had once seemed so cute now rallied her friend. “Sit on him!” The ‘him’ being Spiderman’s already torn apart corpse. “Sit on him and rip his arms off!” I sat back and munched celery as the chaos went on for another hour until at long last the families started to depart, saying their farewells.
Kids who had only an hour ago been beating each other up and tearing down forts and massacring super heroes now hugged and wished the birthday boy a Happy Birthday. Parents laughed and hugged and said their farewells and one by one the guests departed. The home looked like an explosion had occurred. Cake and blood and food and left over felt letters and ripped capes adorned the floor. We, as well as some other good friends, cleaned up the apartment quickly and I was surprised to hear Lee’s mother exclaim, “Wow, the kids were not that crazy today.” I tried to imagine what a “crazy” day looked like and stopped for fear of an anxiety attack. Soon, the apartment was back to normal.
I know I am not the first to say this, but we have so much to learn from children. The way they play wildly but with no actual aggression towards one another. The way they forgive and forget so quickly. The way they go from utter disappointment to punching Batman in the face and giggling in a matter of seconds. Imagine if we could move on that fast. Imagine how much less pain we would feel. It’s a very Buddhist belief but imagine if we could be constantly present, never dwelling, never brooding. I for one take these lessons in stride. I go into my next day thinking of the child who fell and got right back up. We all can be better at that, reminding ourselves that the sooner we get back on our feet, the sooner we can get back to what’s really important: Beating the living snot out of a helium filled Batman.
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SPECIAL THANKS to the real ‘Mom’, ‘Dad’ and ‘Lee’ who invited us to the party. Despite what is depicted above, we love you guys and had an awesome time! We love you guys!!