Things have been slow on the home improvement front. Lately I haven't been painting or plastering. Instead all my energy has been devoted to pulling off a birthday party for 15 boys, most of them 7 years old.
There were worms to buy. I searched the store for the candy shaped into earthworms, a big party-favor item on the small-person birthday circuit.
There was a cake to make; my wife did that. And there was the big decision to make. Namely, whether to first feed the birthday horde pizza, then march them through the miniature golf course, or vice versa. Like a lot of adults faced with a hard decision, I waffled on the pizza vs. putter question. Finally the newly crowned 7-year-old broke the deadlock and ordered his buddies to go play golf.
All these activities were conducted in an indoor arena, Sports. It is one of the many area facilities designed to let kids let off steam during cold weather.
For parents of young children know, there are two major social seasons. The indoor birthday party season, and the outdoor birthday party season. The determining factor of which season your kids fall into is the date of their birth.
Since my kids are 11 and 7, that factor is now out of my control. But to any prospective parents out there I have the following advice: Shoot for the outdoor season. Outside birthday parties are easier on your eardrums and your wallet.
In nice weather you can simply push the exuberant celebrants out to a back yard, a park, or a nearby pool. The rent is free and the noise is swallowed up by the great outdoors.
But in the winter you have a choice. You may hold the party in your home and risk destruction of your sofa and your eardrums and your psyche. Or you may go off-premise with the party and rent a space where the kids can imperil other people's hearing and furniture.
While engaging in my primary weekend activity, depositing and withdrawing my kids from their friend's birthday parties, I have noted how other parents deal with the winter birthday quandary of keeping the troops entertained for two hours.
Some parents have taken the water route, holding the party at enclosed swimming pools at the Quality Inn in Towson or the Columbia Swim Center. Others have taken their charges to duckpin bowling alleys. Stoneleigh bowling alley seems to be popular, at least in the circle of kids I chauffeur. As a driver on the small-person circuit I have discovered some out-of-the-way alleys. Like the ones in the Baltimore Country Club. They are downstairs near the squash court. Members and guests only, club ties not required while bowling. Like most fathers of winter-born children, I have done my fair share of scrambling for ways to entertain a gang of guests for an afternoon. I have loaded them onto trolleys at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum, skated with them at the now-defunct Inner Harbor ice rink, followed them through the trains on display at the B&O Railroad Museum, ordered them to "be quiet and watch the movie" at the Babe Ruth Museum, hired a storyteller from the Enoch Pratt Library, blown up a 6-foot-tall Godzilla (the celebrity guest) and accompanied a carload of of 11-year-olds to see the movie of the Rolling Stones concert tour at the IMAX theater in the Maryland Science Center.
In our family the latest wrinkle in birthday entertainment is to have friends of the celebrant spend the night. It is called a sleep-over. But that is a misnomer. Not much sleeping occurs. After the seeing the Rolling Stones movie, for instance, my 11-year-old son and his four buddies returned to our house. There they put down a little post-movie pizza, discussed the cinematic merits of the work -- "That was awesome!" "That was so cool!" -- and kept each other awake most of the night talking.
And as a warm-up for his birthday party, our 7-year-old had a friend over for the night. I hauled the TV into the bedroom and the two boys watched "Ghostbusters II" until they fell asleep in bed, wrapped in sleeping bags.
On party day, my 7-year-old and 14 co-celebrants played miniature golf and gleefully fed quarters into video arcade machines that line the walls of Sports. After eating the cake and ripping open the presents, my son and some of his buddies returned to our back yard where, despite the cool weather, they soaked each other with water guns.
A few days later, as my wife and I were totaling up the cost of the shindig, about $120, and congratulating ourselves for a birthday party well done, the 7-year-old spoke up. It had been a good party, he said. But next year he said he wanted his birthday party at his house, in the back yard.