Monday, March 06, 2006

BIRTHDAY STRESS

Over the weekend, I was invited to a kid's birthday party. He turned 7, and he is just about the cutest little guy around (so cute that I forgave him completely when he didn't remember who the hell I was).

Because I only found out about it the day before the fact, I didn't have much time to arrange for a proper birthday gift. I wasn't about to attend the soiree empty-handed either, so I thought it was a stroke of incredible luck when I found out that my quasi-local chi-chi upscale supermarket sells all kinds of cool balloons (for all the locals: I'm talking about Den-en here). The cantankerous woman behind the till will fill it for you, grudgingly, with the help of a very Soviet era-looking helium tank.

I found so many adorable balloons that it was impossible to choose between them. After half an hour of browsing, I decided on: a BIG green turtle, a BIG yellow smiley-face, a BIG round thing saying "Happy Birthday" in all kinds of colours and styles, and then the piece de resistance - a HUGE (and I mean Thanksgiving Day parade float HUGE) one that would sing a jazzy, upbeat, Disneyesque rendition of "Happy Birthday" every time any part of the balloon was tapped. This is it, I thought.

I was so happy to have found something better than flowers to bring to a 7 year-old boy's birthday party that I lost the foresight to realize that it is dangerous to drive a car filled with 4 balloons, bigger than the driver, floating around at will. Especially when one of those 4 would boink me on the back of the head every few minutes and sing "Happy Birthday" as loudly and as enthusiastically as possible into my suffering ear. By the time I got home, I was ready to kill someone. (Thankfully, I accomplished the driving part of the mission without any major mishaps.) I very carefully took the balloons out of the car, having decided it more practical and less circus act-ish to walk to the party than drive. I say carefully not only because another round of "Happy Birthday" would have caused me to crack up completely, but also because the balloon will only sing 50 times. That's 40 yen per song, by the way - which, now that I think of it, is quite expensive for roughly 26 seconds of aggravation.

Halfway there, inevitably, the beautiful sunny afternoon had morphed into a beautiful sunny afternoon with gale-force winds. In the breeze, my balloons moshed, breaking into song and getting stuck in trees. At one point, I almost got stuck in an electric wire. I can see my Japan Times debut already: Eccentric Balloon Lady Electrocuted On Way To Birthday Party.

I finally got to the house with everything but my hairstyle and pride intact. The singing balloon probably had another 15 songs left upon my arrival, which I decided wasn't too bad. I rang the doorbell. The very first thing I see as the doors open are balloons anchored to every tree and chair. The same balloons I risked my health and sanity to bring. Sigh.

Did I mention the birthday boy didn't remember me?

The party itself was a decadent affair, catered with lots of food and alcohol for the parents, and lots of presents and throwing/running/screaming/hitting/kicking space for the kids. I won't get too much into detail here, but I will say that I was pretty shocked to see what kids are like these days. Based on my dilettante's observation, I will say the parenting trend these days appears to involve shutting up your kids with a big ole block of refined sugar whenever they complain/scream/cry/talk when you are tired/are bored/are out in public etc., which makes for a lot of kids who are clinically obese and flagrantly feral by age 7. It is also considered out of vogue, evidently, to teach your kids to say "thank you" - eg. when a caterer brings your chubby hellspawn a square of birthday cake. Strange and surreal. (And not a bit nightmarish.)

I had lots of plans for the rest of the day. Not surprisingly, none of them actually happened, as I collapsed on the electric carpet as soon as I got home.

I'm far from perfect, but at least my mother raised me to be a fairly non-obese person who can say thank you. And as for some of those kids out there, I wonder: if you can't get excited about balloons in the first grade, what hope could you possibly have in the future?

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