It was just before midnight, that Frank face-planted himself on our bed. The house was, at last, so silent that you might hear a guilty Tootsie Roll Pop drop on the wooden floorboards.
My husband, measuring a full 6’ 5”—a former offensive lineman for a big-12 college football team, ex-rugby lock forward for a well-known UK university/club and competetitive swimmer at state level—was manfully attempting to squeeze back the tears. (I could tell.)
“That was brutal!” he choked.
I was too weak to comment; a limp smile of commiseration would have to suffice.
“Never again!” he declared, rousing himself to a croak.
With the fraction of emotional tissue I still had living within, I did feel a flicker of sympathy. (Only a flicker.)
It had been a long, dark night into Alex’s 7th birthday slumber party. (An oxymoron. Children do not slumber at these events.)
It may come as a surprise that, by midnight, we were far from feeling our age.
It’s because we were feeling our parents’ age.
We were bewitched, like Odysseus by the sirens. Only in our case it was the tender, pleading voice of our apple-cheeked little boy when he asked: “Mommy? Daddy? May I please have a slumber party for my birthday?”
As the parents of eight young boys (of varying sizes between 7 and 8 years old) dropped their children off with that special “You are braver than I” expression, or the “Better you than me” wink of the eye, Frank and I still didn’t get it.
We didn’t get it when the children brightly asked to open all of the birthday presents and assemble them one-by-one (incompletely) so that, by nightfall, the family room had become an instep-stabbing stew of Bionicle pieces, Lego bricks and Hot Wheels cars.
We didn’t get it when the crowd separated into several scrimmage lines that broke out like an avalanche into forbidden areas of the house, screaming through hallways, up and down stairs, across the kitchen and into bedrooms, armed with walkie talkies, spy cars and (normally innocuous) domestic tools now intended for violence.
And we still didn’t get it when, at 9 o’clock, we put a Hot Wheels movie on our pretend-cinema screen in the living room to “wind them down”, they exploded into a rampageous mob.
We did start to get it, however, when 10 o’clock struck and there were little or no signs of abatement.
If those kids thought they were giving us old fools a damned good education, they were more than up to the task.
That was when Frank sunk into an armchair and, for a brief time, became an observer, rather than a referee.
“This is like being trapped in a saloon full of drunken, brawling sailors on a Saturday night” he said, failing to keep the awe from creeping into his voice.
“Laundry” I replied, realizing that my hearing was beginning to go.
“What?” he replied uncomprehendingly. Was his hearing fading too?
“Frank, I really need to fold some laundry right now. In our bedroom. I won’t be long.” (My tone was wheedling now.)
I figured no wife ever got shot while folding the laundry.
After eleven, my guilt overcame me and I emerged from our bedroom, mildly resuscitated—and now as determined as a kamikaze pilot, to the nail the target.
And there was Frank, in The Thinker’s pose, having sunken further into his chair as the party revelers danced around him, like the masses at Dick Clark’s New Years Rockin’ Eve, long after the ball has dropped in Times Square.
He was a broken man.
And I—well, I was his comrade. There was going to be no more pacifist Quiet Police. No more “Shhhhh! Use your whispering voice please!”
No more Mrs. Nice Mom.
In that moment, I remembered my mother (long ago passed away) when she caught us, as children, surreptitiously jumping on our beds and giggling, long past the bedtime hour.
“That’s it! All of you! GET TO BED! NOW!”
And we knew she meant business.
In a modern world that panders (sometimes to a fault) with reverence to the whims and demands of the “whole child”, there’s still something to be said for old fashioned methods.
On the count of “three”, there was not another peep from nine sleeping bags, lined up on the family room floor, all in a row.
Happy Birthday to all and to all a good night!
Those feeling a glimmering of concern for Frank should know, he is now in recovery. This was aided and facilitated when, the next day, Alex came to sit on his father’s knee.
“Daddy? That was the best birthday party I ever had.”