Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Eleven-Year Old Gifts

I have officially survived my son’s 11th birthday party. I think I rather like the older-kid parties because they are a lot easier to plan. Everything’s a trade off, and the time you save not purchasing goody bags, themed paper plates and accoutrements, you must add to the bottomless well of your patience. Must have patience. And ear plugs.

Honestly I don’t think I’ve seen my son this happy since he got his DS for Christmas, or since he got his XBOX 360 the Christmas before that, or perhaps even when he got his first Gameboy in 3rd grade. He has told me he loves me 27 times (at last count) since yesterday afternoon at 1:30 when his friends came over. He has complimented every meal, and has remarked how wonderful this birthday party is incessantly. Now I know exactly how to make my son happy:
Give him everything he wants.
No problem.

His birthday requests weren’t really all that difficult. Four of his friends met here yesterday afternoon, all wielding hand held gaming systems. It was a peacock moment as the boys eyed up their gaming systems, their games, their game cases and holders, and proceeded to have a verbal pissing contest about who could kick who’s butt in what game. This deeply intellectual conversation took place in our upstairs living room whose ceilings I have now discovered are way too low and are not acoustically sufficient. Their loud, boisterous voices reverberated off the ceiling and walls like a game of Break Out. Yes, even I, videogame hater, was cool enough to play them at one time. Even if it was back when Aqua Net was the hairspray of choice.
Before we left for our next activity, Eli opened up his birthday presents, all flat envelopes containing Game Stop gift cards. The boy was like a starved child who suddenly found himself in front of a free food buffet, and I was thrilled that I didn’t have to fork over money for his video games. I loaded the boys up—with their hand held devices mind you—for the very LONG drive to play laser tag.

For the next twenty minutes, the noise in the car went something like this:

OKAY! WHO WANTS TO PLAY MARIO CART? I do! I do! Me too! Alright! Okay I’m all loaded, are you loaded? WAIT! I CAN ONLY SEE ONE OF YOU? Just wait we’ll come up you have to wait for it to load! OH! I’m SO GONNA KICK YOUR BUTTS IN THIS GAME! NO YOU’RE NOT, I’M GONNA KICK YOUR BUTT! CRAP! I JUST DIED! Hey! Get off my tail! Wait! You can’t use a bomb! OHHH! ARRRGHHH! NO WAYYYY!! HEYYYY!!WHO WANTS TO PLAY POKEMON? I DO I DO I DO!! AWESOME! ANYONE WANT TO TRADE? ME ME ME ME- ALRIGHT WHO WANTS MY ARBOK? HOW MUCH POWER DOES EKANS HAVE? CRAP! I JUST DIED! AHHHHHH!! NOWAYNOWAY!! AHHHHHH!

In fact, quite a few times the noise level actually made me flinch. I’m pretty sure they were talking about video games during that ride, although they could have been speaking Latin or even some Aboriginal dialect as far as I could tell. Most of the words and names they were using were completely foreign to me. Whatever. As long as it wasn’t foul or swear words I was happy. Crap was about the worst that flew around the van. And idiot. But I think they were referring to their Pokemon.

Laser Tag turned out to be a huge hit, and the boys had tickets to play 8 games each. The rounds are only 7 minutes long so I figured 56 minutes of laser tag would be sufficient. Turns out after all the running around in there, smoke in their eyes, living a hunt-them-and-shoot-them video game fantasy, these boys were toast after only four games. Four. I now have twenty games to play at a later date. Then they moved onto the arcade.

I’m not sure what the thrill of arcade games is for children. I suppose it is fun to play a game, try to rack up a high score and then watch tickets shoot out the machine, whereby you feel incredibly adept at skeet ball or throwing balls into hoops. They don’t search out the games that are fun to play, but ones that will give you the most tickets. After their tokens are finished (I’ve replenished them twice mind you) the boys walk up to me mummied in tickets wrapped around their heads, necks, hanging from their arms, trailing behind them on the floor, and proceed to brag about all the fine things they are going to get at the ticket redemption counter. I’m sure they have visions of miniature army tanks with moving cannons, big stuffed animals in neon colors, and super soaker water guns. After all, some of these boys have over 250 tickets. Surely that must be enough to get the good prizes.

But they walk back to my home-base table with….a couple whoopee cushions, a gold happy face ring, little rubber diaphragm-looking “poppers,” and puffer-fish shaped inflated gel balls.
“Where’s all your prizes?” I inquire.
“Right here,” they announce.

Of course, my son gets the inflatable gel ball with a hole in it, so as soon as he steps away from the counter, the guy deflates. He tries to ask for a new one, but the (please forgive me) rather large, not-so-happy carnie behind the counter won’t give him a new one. “It was fine when you got it. You put a hole in it. I’m not exchanging it,” he says (granted, that’s my son retelling me the story.) Now, this piece of crap inflatable gel ball is probably available from Oriental Trading Company-for about 23 cents each. I’m not going to argue with Mr. Smiley, but what I want to say is, “Seriously? I just paid forty dollars for that fantastic prize with a defect and you can’t trade the boy out for a 23 cent replacement? Did you personally go over to China and carry back all these prizes stuffed into your sweat suit making them worth more than forty dollars?” But I shut my mouth and used it as a lesson to teach Eli that this was NOT an event-ruining moment, that it was a dollar store item and gee, wasn’t it so much fun playing laser tag. He agreed it was. (But he brought up what a raw deal he got on the popped prize at least five more times that evening.)

Upon returning home, I took the boys to Game Stop so my son could spend the gift cards that were smoking up the pockets in his shorts. This was a good move on my parts, since he was able to use his cards immediately and I didn’t have to listen to him beg me to take him to the store until my ears bled.

For dinner we feasted on grilled hamburgers and hot dogs, French fries, a veggie platter, and grapes. Everyone was happy. Everyone was fed. Everyone played more video games after dinner.

The piece de résistance was a mint chocolate chip ice cream cake, made from scratch by moi. Yes, even the cakey part was made from scratch, and I took pictures. Mainly to serve as proof that I loved him when he’s an adult and can’t remember a solitary instance of my being nice.

Cake done, boys in pjs, they stayed downstairs and played video games, air hockey, and briefly watched a movie, before turning on the games again. At 12:45 I went downstairs to confirm they had followed my instructions to be in bed, asleep by midnight. As I rounded the corner to the darkened downstairs, I was greeted by four little faces glowing like aliens from the DS screens in front of their bulging eyeballs. When they realized I was standing there, slam, slam slam, slam, went the DS’s. It was too late to feign sleep—clearlyI caught them, but I simply gave them a verbal warning to leave them off and go to sleep. The next morning they informed me they went to bed about 2 a.m. Fine by me. I was asleep upstairs by that time. I’m no idiot.

All in all, I think my son had the best birthday of his life. Every detail was chosen by him; the menus, the cake, the activities, and the friends. It required very little on my part; no decorating, party bags, craft projects, or structured games. The best present I gave my son for his birthday was one he probably doesn’t even realize he loved best; an entire day, night, and following morning free of my mom-lessons, nagging reminders about how much time he spent playing video games, and a patient countenance that responded to his requests with, “Sure. No problem.” The truth?

It was an even more fabulous experience for me. And so much less stressful than how I usually roll. Maybe I need to adopt more of his easy going personality and be less of a micromanager. Maybe the person who left with the best gift on his birthday was me.

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