Friday, February 24, 2006

Party Mix.

Standing in line at the book store, I was idly flipping through a parenting magazine or, as I like to think of it, The Place Where Dreams Still Live. Only in these magazines are you ten tips away from a child who shares without screaming, eats without whining and sleeps without bribes. It’s nice to pretend better parenting skills are just a multiple-choice quiz away. But the really dangerous aspects of these magazines are their ideas for birthday parties. Some of the parties are more elaborate than some weddings I have attended, but that’s what magazines are for, eye candy. Editors have an extensive staff of visually-minded people whose job is to spend an entire day creating a cake Hogwarts, complete with spun-sugar Whomping Willow and a Quidditch match created from Tootsie Pops.

I have always assumed most mothers knew these parties were a childless person’s hallucination, just like I assume most men don’t believe Miss April is going to show up at their office to change the toner in the copier. But having just recently seen a friend through an emotional breakdown over her kid’s party (“I’ve got the herbivore dinosaur cupcake molds coming in from Germany, and they’re stuck in Customs! Shooting pains in my left arm is a bad thing, right?”), it occurs to me that these magazines can do real harm. There are mothers who believe that unless they create a scale model of a NASCAR race in the backyard, they have failed. For those women, I humbly offer myself as an intermediary between the editors of parenting magazines and the parents. An ombudsman: a mombudsman, if you will.

SCENE: Large conference room. A chic Style Editor is fanning pictures in front of me for an upcoming article about a themed birthday party.

QUINN: Okay, so walk me through this party.

STYLE EDITOR: Ooh, I love this one. The theme is “Little Angels”.

QUINN: And this picture of tiny white cardboard wings, with the silver ink calligraphy is…?

STYLE EDITOR: The invitation, which is something the mother and child can do together. It’s really easy: it’s just white card stock, cut with an Exacto knife on a template of angels’ wings, scored lightly so they can be folded, hand-written in silver ink, sprinkled with silver glitter and white feathers. Since the folded wings don’t fit into a standard size envelope, we suggest sending them in specially created envelopes: the template for that is on the website.



QUINN: As an advocate for every mother who has ever failed in scraping glitter off the kitchen floor, or who has no interest in cleaning up feather-filled cat vomit, I cannot let this magazine promote these invitations.

STYLE EDITOR: How about plain wings, just the template and silver ink?

(I stare icily at the editor)

QUINN: The mother will send out pre-packaged invitations, which say “Someone’s turning five!”, If the child is, in fact, turning six, the mother is allowed to amend the card by scratching out “Five” and writing “Six” without fear of judgment.

STYLE EDITOR: But…the theme…

QUINN: Let’s go on to the next picture. Why are all the guests wearing white? Is this a cult?

STYLE EDITOR: No, the guests are told to wear white. You know, like angels.

QUINN: These would be the three to five year-old guests.

STYLE EDITOR: Exactly, don’t the kids look sweet in this picture, sitting there at the table, drinking Pixie Punch?

QUINN: Pixie…Punch?

STYLE EDITOR: It’s just cranberry cocktail with pink lemonade, but doesn’t it turn the prettiest color?

QUINN: Let me get this straight. You want mothers to put small children all in white, and then you want them to drink something with cranberry juice in it?


QUINN: No. You will suggest they wear whatever is comfortable.

STYLE EDITOR: But, the models won’t look as good.

QUINN: When they are in a home, they’re called children, and they will look fine. Or, you can use the shot of the kids dressed in white, drinking the punch, but I need a corresponding picture of a small child being held up to her waist in a wash tub of club soda as her mother tries to get the stain out before it sets.

(The Editor flags slightly. I pick up another picture.)

QUINN: (Studying photo) Wow.

The Editor perks up.

STYLE EDITOR: Isn’t that precious?

QUINN: You have two five year-old boys, in white shirts and short pants, playing croquet together.

STYLE EDITOR: Well, for this party, we’re calling croquet “Stairway to Heaven”.

QUINN: (Silence)

STYLE EDITOR: (Slightly miffed) Is there a problem?

QUINN: If two boys have mallets, two boys are going to have concussions. To suggest that any boy is going to whack a ball when he could whack a skull is deeply unrealistic and possibly actionable…as in lawsuit. This would become “Stairway to Hospital”.

STYLE EDITOR: And you suggest instead…?

QUINN: You may use the same boys, wearing their own clothes; one should be crying inconsolably because he can’t open the present he brought for the birthday child, and the other one should be kneading gum into the dog’s fur.

STYLE EDITOR: There was no dog at this shoot. The Maltese we hired just wasn’t white enough.

QUINN: You shall hire a mixed breed dog. You may indicate in the picture that the dog was supposed to stay in the bedroom for the party, but is let out by one of the children, runs into the yard, through the Slip N’ Slide, and knocks over the table of snacks for the kids, upsetting a bowl of ranch dressing on his back, and then knocks over several guests. It would be great if you could indicate that he wasn’t entirely clean to begin with and a little flatulent. Maybe wavy stink lines?

STYLE EDITOR: But, that’s not aspirational. We’re in the aspirational business.

QUINN: Aspirational isn’t a word. (I decisively grab a picture) Oh, you have got to be kidding.

STYLE EDITOR: What? It’s a birthday cake for this party.

QUINN: It’s a three-tiered cappuccino cake with spun-sugar clouds and marzipan Botticelli angels….

STYLE EDITOR: … See, it’s Heaven!

QUINN: Do small children in your life often ask for the taste of coffee in their dessert?

STYLE EDITOR (scornfully): Do you have any idea how hard I work? Do you think I have time to run around meeting children?

And that is when Quinn Cummings, Mombudsman, gets out the croquet mallet from the photo shoot and advances on the editor. Because protecting and serving moms can be a messy business.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is PERFECT! I have been to one of these parties and the kids were miserable. I say, give 'em a cupcake and turn them loose in the yard (hopefully I have remembered to clean up after the dogs) with a few balls to play with. When my 16 year old was 6 I decided to have a party for him with games planned to last from 2-4 pm...well the games were done at 2:20 and I turned the kids loose and all the moms called me the next day and asked me how I did it, that all the kids were raving about how much fun they had~~and I didnt even have one parenting magazine in the house! Thanks for the great laugh....Chris

5:25 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks, Quinn. My twins' 6-yr-old birthday is coming up and I feel overwhelmed!

6:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

it rather feels like you have it "in" for boys, that you think they are all only wild animals and seem to constantly give them a bad rap. I wonder if you transmit your apparent distaste for the male gender to your daughter?

9:30 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

Hey, I have two well-behaved boys, but I would never dress them in white and hand them some mallets when they are full of sugar and excitement from having their friends with them!

I have theme parties at my home, but the theme stops with the cake and decorations. The children mostly want to play with their friends, and they can think of their own games, believe me!

Quinn, you're the bestest mombudsman EVAR!

8:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Annonymous, Chill out. She neither has it "in" for little boys, nor does she actually work as a Momsbudsman... it's a column. It's lighthearted and funny. Mellow out.

11:43 AM  
Blogger Elizabeth said...

OK, my coffee-fascinated 2-year-old may be in the minority here, but he'd probably love a cappucino-flavored cake. The first thing our nanny does in the morning when she arrives is make coffee, and the 2-year-old has become convinced the coffee maker is one of the best toys in the house (or at least it must be, since all the adults are so intent on keeping him away from it). He's not allowed to taste the coffee, of course (which probably adds to its mystique), but I do allow him tastes of the coffee-flavored yogurt I often eat for breakfast...and to my surprise, he really loves it. Go figure.

4:08 PM  

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