Back when I was growing up, my favorite movie was Parenthood. There was just something so … warm about the whole flick. I was raised by superb parents, but that didn’t stop me from wanting Steve Martin as a dad and Mary Steenburgen as a mom.
Specifically, what I loved about Parenthood was Kevin’s birthday party. It was located in the Buckman’s back yard, and featured water pistols and mad dashes and, at the end, Steve Martin (dressed as a cowboy) arriving via horse. Again, my folks were superb. I have zero complaints. But, like most kids, my birthdays were held at movie theatres, at restaurants (remember the ol’ Ronald McDonald cake?), at pizza joints and bowling alleys.
I wanted Parenthood, dammit.
Now, as an adult, I have two kids. Though it’s never been expressed, literally, in terms of the film, the wife and I share a philosophy on birthday parties that has lasted and lasted and lasted. Namely, they should: A. Kick ass; B. Take place at home.
Over the years, our kids’ parties have taken on myriad themes and myriad forms: Japan, princesses, Star Wars, makeover, etc … etc. The blueprint is sorta the same: We transform our dining room into a wacky world of streamers and balloons and colors and sounds and textures. The wife takes hours upon hours to design and create one of her splendid (a word that doesn’t do just to her artwork) cakes. We play games, plan adventures, etc … etc.
Yesterday—Emmett’s 7th birthday—may well have been the best yet.
First, 90 percent of credit goes to the wife. She’s the organizer, the planner, the cake maker. She’s the one who first asked Emmett what theme he’d like. As soon as he said, “How about football,” she was off and running.
As the days approached, the wife and I sat down and made a loose plan. The party would feature several elements, including:
• A four-team touch football tournament in our front yard and the neighbor’s adjacent yard. Emmett came up with the four team names: The Beverly Hills Rexadiles, the Milwaukee Gatorsaurs, the Yonkets Fruity Pebbles and the Tiajuana Fluffy Lions (admittedly, I picked the cities).
• A pre-tournament training camp that would include a tacking dummy (bags of leaves), a blocking sled (An old folded-up cot on wheels, with a snow sled attached to the front), a football toss and a spring. The training camp morphed into an around-the-house obstacle course, which was great.
• Tug o’ war: This one, well, was sorta a mistake. Three kids fell on one another. Crying ensued. Lesson to the wise: No tug o’ war next year.
• The ritualistic presenting of the cake.
The party worked. It worked really f*cking well. The weather was gorgeous—warm fall day, crunchy leaves on the ground, sun shining. Other parents helped out with the different activities. We happen to live on the best street in America (really, we do). It oftentimes feels more like an extended family than a neighborhood—I borrow this, you borrow that, I watch your kids, you watch mine. With parties, that sorta “it takes a village” outlook makes a huge difference.
Anyhow, I’m babbling. The Fluffy Lions beat the Fruity Pebbles in Emmett Bowl I on a last-second touchdown catch by Brendon O’Keefe, then we all ate cake. Today, my voice is half gone, I’m exhausted, I’m beaten down …
… and we gave our son the birthday party of his dreams.