So then…she asks, “Do you have a lifeguard on duty?”
I look at my backyard. All the kids are on the sport court or grass. The pool cover is pulled tight over the pool, completely obscuring the water — and the pool itself is surrounded by a 5-foot-tall locked iron fence.
And it’s November.
“No,” I say to the concerned mom. “Tucker’s birthday party is really just on the sport court and patio. There won’t be any swimming today.”
“Well,” she says, with a little self-righteous cock of the head. “You never knooow with kids…”
Oh, but I do know. That’s why I locked the pool fence, ensured the pool cover completely encased the pool, and invited all the kids’ parents so they could enjoy lunch out on the patio while simultaneously keeping an eye on their kids.
Also, the kids aren’t 4. They’re in 4th grade.
But I calmly reassure the mom, Karen, that no one will be admitted to the pool. I’ve just met her today – and I’m committed to making friends with all the parents at Tucker’s new school. It’s why I invited the moms to attend the party in the first place. I know 25 kids is a lot for a birthday party, but we wanted to include all his classmates.
Karen seems slightly mollified by my assurance and wanders off.
I greet more parents, stack birthday gifts, and snap photos of Tucker having a blast with the kids from his class.
Then Karen sidles up next to me and says in a loud whisper, “Some of the kids are riding scooters and bikes!”
I look over to see a few kids riding around on the sport court.
“Yeah, that’s great,” I say. “Some of Tucker’s and Chloe’s old bikes are a little small, but the kids seem to be having fun.”
“But you don’t have enough helmets for all the kids, do you?” she asks.
Um, no. I don’t keep 25 helmets at my house. I have 2 kids, for God’s sake. So I have 2 helmets. And a couple of their old smaller helmets. Was I supposed to buy 25 helmets for this backyard party? I want to say this, but instead, I say politely:
“Oh, it’s just a flat sport court; they’re not going very fast. We’re in the backyard, so we’re not near the street at all. I think it’ll be OK.” I find myself feeling a bit defensive.
I check out the kids – will they be OK? They’re 9 and 10 years old – they look pretty hale and hearty – I think they’ll be OK, right? Right? This chick is messing with my head.
Chloe, age 6, calls me over to refill the chip bowl. She’s so excited to be at her big brother’s birthday party hanging out with older kids.
I meet more moms; we laugh and talk; I keep an eye on the kids; all seems to be going well.
Karen approaches me with a determined look. “You’re going to let the kids jump on the trampoline?”
As opposed to what? Sleep on the trampoline? Eat the trampoline?
“Um, yeah, it’s ok. My kids and their friends jump on it all the time,” I say.
“Trampolines are so dangerous!” she exclaims. “Someone could be paralyzed for life!”
“Well, um, OK, but it’s completely enclosed by that netting that’s like 10 feet tall – and it’s on the grass.” I say. “Besides, everyone’s parents are here, so if they don’t want their kid on the trampoline, I’ll let them tell their kid.”
She stares at me.
“And the party entertainment will be here any minute, so the kids will do that soon anyway. I think it’s OK if they’re on the trampoline for just a few minutes,” I say cheerfully, biting my tongue.
She says, “OK” with that tone of voice where the “K” part goes up an octave – like OKaaaaay, it’s on your head…
Now I’m second-guessing myself. Should I have forbidden kids on the trampoline? Was it a bad idea to have a backyard party?
I know accidents do happen, and I try to take reasonable precautions — but I don’t want to live in a constant state of paranoid panic.
Someone asks me where the ice chest is, so I hustle over and start handling other party duties.
The doorbell rings and the Sports Coaches enter. Tucker’s so excited! These Coaches run the after-school sports programs in our district – and you can hire them to run different playground games. The Coaches set out cones, flags, and various-sized balls on the sport court. The kids are hopping around, eager to start playing.
I glance in Karen’s direction to see if she’s going to grill me on liability insurance waivers in case the kids are injured while playing Capture the Flag.
Thankfully, she’s engaged elsewhere – she’s skulking around the perimeter of the yard, no doubt hunting for other hazards – poisonous mushrooms or a perhaps a rusty nail.
Meanwhile, Tucker’s grinning from ear to ear, running around the backyard with his classmates and the Coaches. We’re cheering and laughing as the kids play the games. It’s a gorgeous crisp sunny day and I’m really happy everything is going smoothly.
I slip into the house to set out the lasagna, pizza, salad, and the rest of lunch, along with some cookies in case someone prefers those to birthday cake.
Just as I set the cookies on the dining table and I’m about to relax, Karen is at my elbow saying, “Is everything here nut-free? Some people have severe allergies, you know.”
OMIGOD! She’s like the Harbinger of Doom! Honestly!
I ask through clenched teeth, “Karen, is your child allergic to nuts?”
“No,” she says, “but other people might be. Some people can die from eating nuts.” She says helpfully.
“OK, well, all the parents are here, so if one of them has a kid with a FATAL nut allergy, then they probably would have mentioned it by now,” I say, with just a teeny bit of exasperation seeping into my voice.
I am trying so hard to remain friendly and cheerful – but I swear to God, every time I turn around today, she’s like the frikkin’ Grim Reaper telling me how everyone at my party is going to die!! I’ve never been so stressed at a party in my life.
She cocks her head, shrugs, and says smugly, “Well, you never knooow…”
I stare at her. I march over to the patio, with her trailing quickly behind me.
I loudly ask the parents, “DOES ANYONE HERE HAVE AN ALLERGY TO NUTS?”
People look at me and shake their heads.
I say, “DOES ANYONE HERE DISLIKE NUTS?”
Now they look bewildered, but they still shake their heads.
I say, “WELL, THE COOKIES HAVE NUTS. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED!”
And you know what else has nuts? This party. And Nut Numero Uno is Karen.
And the only person in danger of meeting her maker at this party is Karen.
Because if she says one more thing to me about drowning, fatal allergies, being paralyzed, or head injuries – or starts yakking about asbestos, choking, rusty nails, snakes, or enemy insurgents suddenly appearing in my backyard to mow people down with AK-47s, I swear to God, I will kill her. (In the pool. While wearing a helmet. And eating nuts.)
— Darcy Perdu
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(Know any parents like Karen? How would you have handled her? Any party guests who drove you crazy? Share your tales of parties, infuriating parents, or bizarre guests!)