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"Our most ancient metaphor says life is a journey. Memoir is travel writing, then, notes taken along the way, telling how things looked and what thoughts occurred. . . .This is the traveler who goes on foot, living the journey, taking on mountains, enduring deserts, marveling at the lush green places...as a pilgrim, seeking, wondering." -Patricia Hampl
January 17, 2011
When you were very little, birthday parties involved running around in someone's basement or backyard, a dad making something like a beanbag toss out of cardboard, someone's aunt or babysitter dressing up like a clown, and ruthless, unending games of Simon Says or (its more embarrassing cousin) Red Rover.
Those parties are over. Almost obsolete.
Play centers have done for birthday parties what "healthy burritos" have done for fast food: all of the pleasure, none of the worry.
To date, there are eight play centers in Rochester, though what constitutes a play center (according to Kids Out and About) may be as simple as a large space with toys in it. The most basic of these centers is just that: a wide, open space where kids can play with or on toys (some of which they may already have at home), roam around, and from what I've seen, give their parents a break from the tedium of being home when inclement weather or too many trips to the zoo and museums is enough. These are also good spots for play dates, when no one wants to host because the house is beyond embarrassingly unkempt.
The birth of the play center, to my mind, goes something like this: first, there was Chuck-E-Cheese, where kids could lose themselves playing in pools of germy, colored balls but then gorge themselves on greasy pizza. Then, someone invented the play gym. Here, finally, were big spaces outfitted with wall-to-wall, cushy, floor mats and apparatuses for kids to play on, around, under, etc. The play gym asserts a curriculum for youngsters (e.g., "the difference between under vs. over" or "balancing") while offering a structured class. Classes in play gyms tend to include (in no particular order): a welcome song, open play ("discovery"), other songs that involve clapping, banging the floor, or active multitasking (like spinning and singing), a modeled lesson that connects to the day's theme ("balance this ball on your head!"), more open play, and a goodbye song. Sometimes there are bubbles. Kids freakin' love bubbles.
A really intelligent someone then figured out that if you take the structure and the bubbles away, you have a play center where kids can literally go ape. Again, the most basic of these play centers have stuff, like plastic cars and dress-up stations, that some people already have at home. The more sophisticated of these places, however, have climbing structures replete with zip lines and mesh to scale (imagine basic training for kids, but fun and with no sergeant barking orders).
Which brings us to The New Birthday Party. With the popularity of such sophisticated play centers, such as our own local favorite, Kango, came the idea that if you're going to do the play date here, you might as well have the whole pre-K clan and let them romp to their hearts' contentment. A birthday party at Kango is to take the worry out of throwing a party: you know everyone will have a good time, you're not legally responsible for anyone getting hurt, and all you have to bring is the kid and the cake. They've got it covered, from scheduling when to call kids to the party room for pizza, to serving the pizza, to bringing more pizza should the adults need more, to providing the paper goods, beverages, and thankfully, a really professional "party coordinator" who does a thankless but incredibly thorough job. This person deserves a nice tip at the end of the party she just helped you throw, and maybe even a hug.
When the kids are all in one place, eating their pizzas and cake and whatnot--this is the remnant of the old-fashioned birthday party. I hope to witness the emergence of do-it-yourself variety, but wow--for now, I'm really happy to get out of the house and to not have to worry about any of the clean up.
photo source: marthastewart.com
January 12, 2011
My son, my second child, an infant, has developed a rash on his stomach. It looks like sunburn and feels like grit off of a fine sandpaper.
The rash: it changes hues and shapes. Little, spotted, pink clouds on his belly. In the middle of the night, when the house is dark except for the hallway light, it looks like tiny pollen off of a lily. Like the dots on a Lichtenstein painting. During the day, they look like a maze of pink punctuation marks. By daylight, I can see that the rash covers him from neck to groin, his little penis spared.
It worries me awfully. I take him to the doctor, I run my finger over it, for the second time, embarrassed for both of us not to be able to diagnose it. I put my fist to my chin. This cream and that one, they haven’t worked, nor the humidifier, or the new laundry detergent. No, there’s nothing new in my diet. The doctor puts his finger under his nose and huffs. He recommends us to a dermatologist.
She is petite and precise when she speaks. She holds my baby like a long trophy, examining him under the revealing florescent lights of her office. Here, his stomach looks like red clay. I put my lips on him because I cannot trust my fingers to tell me what I feel anymore, I’m too unnerved by the sight of it. His skin is hot. On his ribcage, a scratch. Or his skin is beginning to break. The baby cries when I pick him up, because the skin under his arms is raw.
The dermatologist asks many questions. She keeps turning my boy over, front to back, running her perfectly smooth palm over his pathetic stomach like she’s smoothing fondant. She quickly prescribes two creams, two medications, to be applied at various times and often throughout the day. The PA scribbles furiously these orders so that I can take the instructions home and follow them exactly.
At home, I bathe the baby as instructed. I apply special soap to his middle and back, gently rub his scalp with the soft bristles of a toothbrush. I pat him dry. I apply the first and then the second cream, torso, back, under the knees, under the arms, into the many folds of his delicate neck. The baby resists, kicking and peeing. I blot the water and begin applying the creams again. There are more little, red dots. My own stomach turns. Tonight I will reapply the creams and give him medication before he sleeps.
Soon, my older child, my girl, arrives home from school. She is hungry, and I am busy looking up the latin words the precise dermatologist proposed in her office. My fingertips are slick, oiling the keypad. I can’t remember now what the words are beyond derma- and sebaceous. The boy is crying again, writhing on his back, unnerved by the itch. My girl is yelling for me. She has spilled her small bowl of tomato soup on the floor. The splatter on her cream-colored sweater looks like pox.
Photo source: Mozarteum
Photo source: Mozarteum