Party planner during a pandemic isn’t something I ever thought I’d add to my resume.
But Best Fest Buddy Tom’s granddaughter turned 5 on Saturday (April 4). Her parents had planned a birthday bash at a Chuck E Cheese. (To protect the innocent, I’ve given the kids in this tale names that they can use when they enter the witness protection program.)
The kid party pizza chain ranks high on my list of places that could be ground zero for an inevitable outbreak of a contagious disease. So thank you COVID-19 for providing a really good excuse for not having to visit Chuck E Cheese.
For a 5-year-old, though, the party being cancelled was devastating news.
How do you explain precautionary measures necessary to flatten the curve of the potentially deadly coronavirus to a tot anyway? Way too many adults don’t understand this either.
Millie cried when told the bad news about the party. Then she moved on to other things.
That’s how it is with very young kids. One moment they’re little WIlly Loman family members, acting out their own gut-wrenching versions of Death of a Salesman. Next, it’s time to enjoy the inane, innocuous famous, mind-numbing YouTube Rush Fam. It’s an endless cycle that wears down the best of parents.
Still, having the rug pulled out from underneath you at any age hurts. It hurts even more than slipping on spilt soda and pizza sauce at Chuck E Cheese, I suppose.
So I took it upon myself to see what I could do to help organize some festivities.
I called the local fire department to see if they might do a birthday mini-parade or drive-by of some sort. Those were happening across the country. I offered that Millie and her kin could walk over to the nearby station and wave from across the street or watch an engine ride past the nearby park.
They told me they had been inundated with such requests, so no go. That’s understandable and offered proof that more than just conspiracy theories and cat pics make it onto Facebook.
Next, I consulted experts. Okay, I messaged friends for ideas on how to throw a kiddie party without any guests, besides immediate family.
I spend my quarantine time mostly at home and a few hours a day Tom’s house, and Tom’s only. My only other travel is by car for provisions or by foot for exercise. That’s it.
From my own gray matter sprang the idea to collect funny, G-Rated photos from friends – jpeg images Millie could view on my phone. Hey, it’s what the kid likes to do.
On a foraging trip to Walmart, I waited so I wouldn’t be in line with a guy wearing a Confederate flag bandana to cover his mouth and nose. Finally, a good use for that symbol!
For the birthday party, I bought four small 50-cent apple pies and a sparkly Frozen shirt. A friend suggested the pies for an eating contest, so it was one-stop shopping at the local Super Center.
As for the shirt, well, Disney’s magic marketing spell means Millie’s favorite things revolve around the Frozen flicks – and unicorns. That means a lot of purplish and pinkish stuff, like from a child’s version of Miami Vice.
During walks with her and her two brothers, she’s persistently mentioned she wanted a Frozen scooter for her birthday. I said they were out of them at Walmart, not really knowing if this was true. Not a fan of scooters here. I saw an adult try to ride one while eating ice cream. That sealed the deal.
Millie reminded me to check Target, where she was sure I would find her Earth-friendly mode of transportation.
Yeah. I’ll head right over to Target after I figure out how to make a face mask using rubber bands and an old t-shirt, I thought.
Birthday Saturday rolled around, and I headed to Tom’s dressed as a dragon. I tried with no luck to tape a cardboard toilet paper roll to the head it to become a makeshift unicorn. Yes, I have a dragon costume. What’s in your closet?
While waiting for Millie to finish having her hair braided, I played with her 2-year-old brother, AJ. He likes to be lifted “uppie”. He’s a hefty 35-pounder, so it’s weight training for me. On this occasion, though, on one hoist above my head, he drooled right into my left eye.
So soon after I gave Millie her shiny shirt, I headed home to flush toddler spit out of my pupil. It’s a wonder we don’t have more pandemics.
That wasn’t as bad as picking dog poop three times – the last two runny – when I took Coco the confused pit bull out for a walk that afternoon. I may have yelled out loud a bit while heading to the nearest garbage can after the first mushy bowel movement. Wouldn’t you do the same if I went for a walk with you, and you were required to pick up my crap? Plus, shouting in a park helps create social distance.
That was it for my role in the Saturday birthday celebration, other than Tom printing out pictures my friends sent for the youngster.
As a former member of the fourth estate, I worked my connections in the deep state and alternative underground and came up with some things besides the photos. Well, others thought of things. But since I am in charge of this blog, I can take credit. It’s how the world works these days.
I told my sources Millie liked Frozen and unicorns, but probably not frozen unicorns.
My pal Elizabeth happened to know a group of adult cosplayers with Costumes for a Cause who dress up like characters from the two Frozen flicks. I’m already a dead ringer for Olaf, but that involves partial nudity, branches and a carrot.
Opting not to scare a kid with the latter, my friend Tonna offered to paint a picture of the Scandinavian snowman. She also made a cardboard unicorn cutout. Millie loved them both.
Since the cosplayers weren’t available to video chat until early Sunday afternoon, I decided that would be the time to give Tonna’s artwork, too.
Yes, social distancing was involved in picking up the party package. In fact, it felt so Amazonian that I was going to pay myself $12 an hour with no benefits and set unrealistic work quotas for the rest of my Saturday.
By late Sunday morning, Millie’s mom had turned Tom’s living room into a fabulous Frozen fangirl set. I felt so empowered just looking at this makeshift studio, I almost broke into song. But the cold does bother me, anyway.
Millie posed for photos like a true professional and positively beamed with the painting of Olaf and unicorn. Tom was the same way when he received a Farrah Fawcett poster and his first Darth Vader mask back in his college days.
Mostly ready on our side, there remained two hours to kill until showtime. Millie dressed in silver pants, Frozen shoes and Frozen shirt for the occasion. As a backup, she had an Elsa costume on a hanger. You have to make contingency plans for moments like this.
Her mom made her put on her rubbery purple and pink plastic Frozen sandals to play outside. And that’s what we did.
First we went for a walk down and around the corner, her brothers in a wagon, Millie pushing her old scooter – a subtle by a 5-year-old’s standards for reminding me once more of the gift she wants me to buy her.
A ball from Tom’s house followed us for part of the trip, courtesy of the wind. We were all mystified how the ball made it around the corner.
I said hello to the few people we saw along the route. Two little boys were playing outside with their dad and wanted to meet Millie, Ozzy and AJ at a safe distance. All of a sudden, the trio under my charge turned shy.
Only AJ finally waived back. He’s friendly and fearless. So fearless, I had to stop him from playing in the street in front of Toms house a few times. He also tried climbing under a car in the next door neighbor’s driveway. Such a rascal.
We held an outdoor dance party, but the battery on the speaker died. Ozzy invented a way to keep the ball from rolling off again using a Coleman cooler and two plastic step stools.
What to do next? Oh yeah, we’ll try pushing Mike into the street. That’s funny. Grab his belt Ozzy. Let’s see if his pants fall down.
AJ, beg Mike to pick you up, then grab the Notre Dame cap off Mike’s head. Toss the hat AJ. Once you’re back on the ground, gently gnaw on the back of the hat as if it were a bologna sandwich. Now let’s take turns crying and running around the lawn to places where Mike can’t see at least one of us. Ozzy, kick the ball down the street so Mike has to chase it.
I’m pretty sure that’s what I heard. I needed oxygen.
As the big event inched closer, I quizzed Millie about what she might ask the Frozen people and what they might ask her. Her answers were what you’d expect to hear on any talk show.
Millie loved all the Frozen characters and all the songs. Purple and pink are her favorite colors. She loves both Anna and Elsa.
But for a blister from the sandals, Millie seemed ready to meet her idols. One more thing needed to be done. Tom let the dog out to pee, ending her whining.
Tech being what it is, though, the invite to Google Hangouts didn’t arrive.Then we tried Zoom, the risky-to-use video conferencing platform. Anticipation and pre-flopsweat in the air, up popped Elsa and Anna on Tom’s laptop computer video feed.
Millie looked at the screen, smiled and froze. OMG, Elsa really can turn people into popsicles!
Starstruck, Millie turned away, hiding her face. She refused to look at the screen. Ozzy copied his big sister’s behavior. It reminded me of when Tom and I met the brewmaster at Guinness for the first time.
Elsa and Anna remain calm, cool and collected, their dulcet voices gently trying to coax Millie into a conversation. The young one ran off to the bathroom pursued by her mother.
Seizing the opportunity, and with little convincing, AJ had a seat and started flirting with the princesses. The 2-year-old has a killer smile. That is, his smile has kept him from death after several instances of the evil small children do.
Once back in the living room, Millie still wouldn’t willingly watch. She dove onto the couch next to me, burying her head into the furniture.
Tom had switched the video feed to an iPad, and he brought it over to where I was sitting. After getting Millie to laugh, I held her upside down. She giggled, took a quick view at the screen, then covered her eyes with her arms.
Oh well. As many if not most people have experienced over the last few long weeks, no amount of planning can account for what a child might do. Or what a childish adult might do, either. Especially at a party.
We thanked the gracious princesses for their time and departed virtual reality.
As I headed back to my place for a bit, Millie was outside drawing on the sidewalk with chalk. It’s what young artists do to process their feelings.
Upon my return for dinner, the usual chaos filled Tom’s house.
One kid cried, followed by another, followed by the third part of the eventual trio. Imagine the endless wailing of tiger cubs being raised by Joe Exotic combined with the sound of a dentist’s drill, plus a layer of death metal thrown into the li’l demonic dance party mix.
No need to waterboard terrorists. Just tie them up and put them in a room with at least three preschoolers for an afternoon.
On this Sunday evening at least, Ozzy was the Mozart of this mad musical genre, a true genius of symphonic cacophony.
AJ’s special talent for the night was throwing food like a budding frat boy. That, and biting.
Millie proved to be diva and dog instigator, the latter for scientific reasons.
Per the ingenue act, while taking a shower, she screamed at her mom from the bathroom, demanding her Frozen bath towel.
All clean, Millie returned to action in a unicorn pajama onesie, replete with tail. Once in the kitchen and near Coco’s kennel, Millie’s appearance drove the dog crazy.
A walking experiment, Millie pushed her luck, standing not far from the dog, despite repeated warnings. Coco had barked at a unicorn toy on a prior occasion. Thus, the adults in the room came to the conclusion the not-too-bright dog thought the toy and the Millie in her pajamas were other dogs of some sort.
Millie, of course, refused to change her outfit. Rather, testing her own theory, she put on some pants over the unicorn garb. Tucking the tail into the pants, she walked back near the kenneled dog.
Coco remained calm. Science, of sorts, prevailed.
A little later, Millie returned from a bedroom to the living room. Still wearing the onesie, hood covering her eyes, she sauntered about mumbling “Peaky Blinders, Peaky Blinders” over and over again. It was awe-inspiring, like attending opening night at a performance art gallery.
The night closed in a more subdued suburban place.
Upon her mother’s request, Millie retrieved her mother’s undergarments and other items from the clothes dryer in the kitchen. No fuss, no muss, Millie quietly went about her task. She used a small step stool to reach into the dryer, and carried a small load of stuff back to a bedroom.
In addition to that, before I left, Millie gave me her toy unicorn and her Anna princess outfit. She made me promise I would bring them back.
Like there was ever any doubt I would take that deal.
Sure, the dress isn’t my size. I might bark at the toy unicorn in my sleep.
Throwing a party for and keeping promises to a kid, writing stories and laughing in the face of adversity are good, reasonably safe ways to get through this crisis. Add in good food, an occasional Tullamore Dew, listening to science and kindness.
Be careful out there.