Or, stepping out of the steppe (and into a wholly unfamiliar existence)The other day, less than a week after my exciting 24-hour voyage back to good old Fairport, I did something totally new and, to be honest quite terrifying for me. I attended a 5-year-old's birthday party with my husband and his son. Apparently, this is a thing among the kids these days. But rather than 10 screaming kindergartners running around some poor parent's backyard, with bursts of games, cake, and gift-opening mixed in, this particular instrument of parental torture was hosted at a place called Bounce-It-Out, which, as the name implies, is a warehouse full of various bounce houses and other climbing/jumping paraphernalia. Waterboarding has nothing on the shrill ferocity of 15 kids who suddenly realize they're allowed to run around indoors.
But of course before we could actually attend said party, we first had to go buy a gift, which involved soliciting the dubious advice of our own little attendee. Upon hearing of the fateful party and gift, I couldn't help but think of the musings of McSweeney's own Dr. Amy Fusselman on the subject of child gift-giving in her column, Birthday Parties Are Different Now. Generosity, thy name is not kindergartner. The boy was more concerned that his friend not receive something he himself did not already own, or that didn't fit some other arbitrary criteria he made up on the spot ("No, I don't want Christian to have a monster truck"). There is nothing children don't already have that they really want. Or that doesn't cost more than what their parents have already spent on the party.
And of course, while the children run around and play games as though they've known each other forever (which, in their conception of time, they have) the parents who actually decided to stick around for the party mill about, each in their own little bubble of free space, rarely crossing orbits or making eye contact. If they're anything like me—which is unlikely—they're all wondering what is going to go so wrong in the next 10-15 years that will turn these little social, semi-sociopathic, butterflies into the constrained social unicorns we all have become, and if it's really worth it. Somehow I doubt that's what everyone else was actually thinking though. As far as I can tell, alcohol was the popular subject parents broached when they did manage to utter a social word or two to each other. Don't get me wrong, I agree wholeheartedly with them, but is a three-story-high, 170,000 square foot room full of air-inflated dirigibles really the venue for that kind of talk?
Possibly the biggest hit among party-goers was what they called an "indoor playground," but which for some reason reminded me of Rambo 4. Maybe it was the dark, jungle-esque atmosphere of the bottom levels, and all the mesh netting everywhere. And the screaming. At least there were no flame throwers. The other big attraction was the giant inflatable slide. Over and over kids went up then down, up then down, up then down. But ask them to take their clean laundry upstairs to their bedroom and suddenly they have lead feet.
I also got back just in time to catch the tail end of the school year. Having grown up living out the "the country," I never got to experience that kind of school's out feeling you see on movies and tv shows where children, dismissed from class, pack up their stuff and proceed to have all kinds of adventures walking home from school every day. Where I come from, if you missed the bus, then you'd better home you run into someone going your way who has a car, because mom's working til 6 and otherwise you get to hang out in the school lobby til she comes to get you. Here, the young one takes the bus in the morning but, living 1/4 mile from the school we have have the option of walking him in if we want, and we walk up to get him after school (except in the case of the kind of rainstorms that wash small animals down the streets). And I say up because the school somehow manages to be built upon the only hill in the entire village, and yet still only 1/4 mile away. I feel like an astronaut just returned to earth every time I try to climb that hill and realize that my steppe-atrophied legs an barely get me there.
I guess I've got a long way to go before I feel comfortable doing this kind of thing. How far to Astana?