Nothing says 'happy birthday' like live squirrels

January 25, 2004|By Dave Barry | Dave Barry,Knight Ridder / Tribune

THINGS ARE TENSE in our house. Our daughter is about to turn 4, which means we have to hold a birthday party, which means my wife is, at the moment, insane.

Like many moms, my wife believes that a child's birthday party requires as much planning as a lunar landing -- more, actually, because you have to hire a clown. Serious moms plan birthday parties months in advance, choosing a theme -- Bob the Builder, Disney Princesses, Snoop Doggy Dogg, etc. -- and relentlessly incorporating this theme in every element of the party, including invitations, decorations, music, games, craft projects, snacks, cake, entertainment, favors, little gift bags for the favors, ribbons for the little gift bags for the favors, name tags for the ribbons for the little gift bags for the favors, and on and on until the mom has lost all touch with human reality.

If you want proof, go to one of the Internet sites devoted to birthday planning, such as birthdaypartyideas.com, where moms report, in detail, the deranged lengths to which they have gone to stage birthday parties for small children. They sound like this:

"Our theme for Meghan's third birthday was 'The Enchanted Fairy Forest.' To create a 'forest' in the family room, I made full-size 'trees' out of fiberglass, which I painted brown and festooned with 17,000 'leaves' I cut by hand from green felt, accented with live squirrels that I caught using a galvanized-steel trap baited with Peter Pan creamy peanut butter. For the 'forest floor,' I brought in 4 tons of mulch with a Lawn Boy yard tractor. For the 'sky,' I used the actual sky, which was visible because I removed the ceiling and roof with a chainsaw, which is when my husband, Ed, left me, but the overall effect was well worth it."

You think I'm exaggerating, but that's only because you haven't browsed Birthdaypartyideas.com.

It would be different if fathers planned birthday parties. First off, the party would be about a month after the child's actual birthday, which is when Dad would remember it. Dad's party theme would be "delivery pizza," which would also serve as the cake, the craft project and the party favor. The kids would have just as much fun.

But of course, Dad is not entrusted with birthday-party planning, at least not in our house, where the entire massive burden falls on my wife, causing her to become increasingly unbalanced. Last year, our theme was The Wizard of Oz, and my wife decided that, among many other touches, we needed to transform our front walkway into a yellow brick road by covering it with a roll of yellow plastic that she bought from the House of Really Slippery Surfaces. On the day of the party, it was raining, so I suggested that maybe, for safety, we should not do the yellow brick road.

Do you remember The Exorcist, the part where Linda Blair's eyes get really weird and her head rotates 360 degrees? That's a mild version of how my wife reacted to the suggestion that we would not have a yellow brick road. Her feeling was, yes, there could be injuries, even deaths, but we will have a yellow brick road. And so we did.

Our theme this year is The Little Mermaid. My wife was happy about this until she found out that another girl in our daughter's preschool class was having a birthday party two months before our daughter's, and her theme was also The Little Mermaid. It's the kind of nightmare you think always happens to other people, but never to you.

The other girl's parents are very nice people, but because they used my wife's theme, she viewed them as the enemy. She feared that their party would be better than ours, and these fears worsened when we got to the enemy house and discovered that the enemy mom had used a professional party planner, who had not only done serious undersea decorations involving gauze, but had also provided, for entertainment, a mermaid, a pirate and a sea goddess.

"A sea goddess!" my wife said, and the despair in her voice was real.

But she is not giving up. She spotted some weaknesses in the enemy party's game plan: For example, there was no clown. If you can imagine. My wife has located a clown that she believes will kick the sea goddess' butt. My wife has other plans, which I will not reveal here, because you never know who could be reading this. Suffice it to say that when the day comes, we'll be ready. For my part, I will do exactly as I am told.

But if I hear a chainsaw, I'm gone.

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