I was ready to go home now. I’d had enough of the Birthday Party Factory. Christopher Robin and nineteen other Grade Preps had been ushered from nine-pin kegel bowling, the name of which was a constant reminder to the mums to exercise their pelvic floor muscles; to arcade games, where the little boys got to shoot at things with guns; to the food table, where children were issued with regulation chips, nuggets and bright red frankfurters. They had sung Happy Birthday cheerfully and eaten a spoonful each of their icecream cake before abandoning it to play in the enormous play room. Meanwhile, the other parents and I had drunk our allocated lattes, nibbled at the bonus dip, and chattered politely about their home renovations and the various reasons why their husbands annoyed them.
I should probably take this opportunity to apologise for the opening sentence of this blog. I know it’s not grammatically correct, but I can’t think of any other way to say it. “I was ready to go home” doesn’t fully express what I’m trying to say and “I am ready to go home now” is all wrong because it happened last week and I’m just not in the mood for any present-tense, stylistic, place-the-reader-in-the-moment nonsense.
Anyway, I was ready to go home (now). I had given Christopher Robin a ten-minute-warning twenty minutes earlier. The playroom was filled with a large quantity of multi-coloured tubing twisted into a labyrinth of slides and tunnels and little helicopters. Do you know the sort? Just imagine your standard fast-food child-conditioning playground, but on steroids. It was pretty bewildering.
I had gathered all my bags together and bid farewell to my fellow hostages. All I had to do now was extract him from the baffling plastic jungle and we could go home. I started out with a few rallying calls aimed up at various sections of the immense structure: “Time to go now!”, “C’mon Christopher Robin, the party’s finished!”, “Let’s go! Hurry up!”, but these got me no response.
My next strategy was to stake out the slide exits, so that I might catch him before he was again swallowed up by the plastic monster, but, while many children came speeding down the slides, Christopher Robin was not among them. He was too smart for that. I noticed one of the helicopter rotors spinning defiantly high above my head. Grrr.
I enlisted one of the other children to go in and find him for me. The little boy nodded and disappeared. Now I’d lost two boys!
It was time for some threats: “It would be a shame if you missed out on a lolly bag because you took so long getting out”, “Christopher Robin! This has gone on too long! You get out right now or you’ll get no screen time for a week!”, “Christopher Robin, I’m going to give you a countdown. If you’re not out of here by the time I get to one, you will have NO SCREEN TIME FOR A WEEK. Five. Four. Three. Do you really want no screen time for a week? No computer! No TV! That’s what you’ll be getting. No screen time for a week! TWO. I mean it! TWO Come on! TWO All right – ONE! You’ve got NO SCREEN TIME FOR A WEEK. I’m VERY DISAPPOINTED IN YOU!”
In the farthest section of the tangled monstrosity I could hear loud giggling. My blood boiled.
Then the little boy I sent in to find Christopher Robin came sailing down one of the slides and approached me (he looked a little frightened). “I couldn’t see Chris in there – I think he’s hiding”
How on earth was I going to extract my son from this many-coloured beast? I really did not feel like wedging my thirty-two year old body through a series of tubes built for the under-tens. I rolled up my sleeves and sighed (after yelling something more about “SO MUCH TROUBLE!”). It was then that the pile of children’s shoes at my feet caught my attention. There were lots of different shoes scattered across the floor, but there seemed to be a notable absence. Where were Christopher Robin’s black sneakers?
I backed slowly out of the door in my first murmur of self-doubt and cautiously glanced around the room I found myself in. The other room. There was the party table, all laden with melting cake; there was the air-hockey machine, with five children jostling for a turn; there were the kegel bowling lanes (snicker); and there, playing happily on a Daytona race car machine, well out of earshot of anything that might have been going on in the playroom, was Christopher Robin.
“Time to go!” I said, in a strangely strangled tone that was meant to approximate upbeat cheerfulness.
“OK, Mum” Christopher Robin jumped down off the machine and walked dutifully beside me to say goodbye to the birthday boy and “thank you for having me” to his mother.
And as we rolled out of the Party Factory assembly line, I saw a new group preparing to go in. Children excitedly clutching presents and parents smiling nervously in misguided optimism. As I looked at them, I realised things weren’t so bad after all.
I could have been those people.