Saturday, October 10, 2015

Birthday Parties Were Hell as a Kid

Birthday parties, as a kid, stressed me out more than anyone should ever have to be.

I know that now, as a parent, the rule in my kids' school has always been that if you send party invitations to the elementary/primary school with your child to hand out, they must not exclude anyone in their class - it's all or nothing. Which I love. This meant that my kids always had somebody show up for parties, never the whole class but a handful of kids.

I don't think we had this rule when I was little. Not sure but I kinda don't think so. But either way that wouldn't have changed my own issues with parties, because I did get invited for awhile there. I'm not sure if it was because my mom was active in the church choir, the community "welcome wagon" club, and a popular group for single parents, and so probably knew a number of the parents outside of school, or if it was because they had to invite everyone, or whether it was because the kids liked me well enough. But again, that's not why I was so stressed about birthday parties as a child.

The problem was the games.

I remember specifically being in the basement playroom at the house of a girl who was having a birthday party (I don't remember what classmate it was), and they had a pin the tail on the donkey game and a game where you have to hold a hard boiled egg on a spoon and not let it drop while you do a relay race with it (in teams) and also the one that ruined birthday parties for me for the rest of my childhood:

Musical Chairs.

That is the most sadistic, heartbreaking, mind-numbingly cruel "game" that I can imagine.

You tell a group of little girls to walk in single file around a bunch of chairs lined up in the middle of the room, and tell them to keep walking as long as the music plays. Then tell them that when the music stops, to sit in the chair nearest to them as fast as they can.

okay, sounds like a plan. I can walk single file, and I surely know when music is on versus off, and I know how to sit in a chair. I even knew to be careful about smoothing my dress under my legs in the back before sitting so that I wouldn't be sitting on the chair in an unladylike way.

So I'm there in the line and the music starts and the kids aren't walking first of all. They're breaking the first rule already, right off the bat - they're practically running. And it's hardly single file because they're all laughing and pushing now. And the music stops and I sit down carefully and I am smoothing my skirt and stuff and getting situated and notice that one kid goes and sits on the couch and leaves the game. Whatever, I don't always want to finish a game either.

The music starts again and I stand up and we go around some more. The other girls are passing me and going in way more circles than me, while I walk single file as instructed slowly around the chairs. They're lapping me, running, pushing, laughing. I'm thinking that walking single file is a school thing and in school there is no running, pushing, and laughing when you're walking single file - you must be quiet and respectful in the hallways. So I'm thinking these girls are going to get all of us in trouble.

The music stops again, and I go to sit down on the chair behind me but as I'm starting to bend over and press my skirt behind my legs to sit, another girl squeezes in behind me. I look side to side, panicked, trying to find my chair but there isn't one. I stand back and turn around and look at ALL the chairs and kids are in all of them. There isn't one for me. They're laughing and pointing at me and telling me that I'm "out". I don't understand. They're all noisy and sloppy and sitting with dresses all around them, not following the rules of being polite, of single file, of respect and quiet while being single file, of not stealing someone else's seat... and on top of that they're both POINTING and LAUGHING at me?

oh. my. God.

I didn't know what to do. I was frozen there, confused and upset. They took my chair away and now they're pointing and laughing at me. Why would they DO this to me?? They invite me to their party just to make fun of me and play tricks on me? I want my Mom. I want to go home. The adult just smiles and tells me to go sit on the couch. In school you only get sent to the couch if you've been bad. I cry. They're the ones who won't share, not me! They're the ones playing tricks, not me! Why can't I play anymore? Why did you make me sit out? It's just not fair.

I didn't want to go to more parties after that but in third grade I made a friend and she was just like me (we spoke without speaking more often than not, our trains of thought ran on the same track and it was the best and only friendship like that I ever had)... anyway, she had a party coming up and invited me herself and I knew she really did want me to come and I didn't think she'd have the mean games because we were friends and friends don't do that.

I went to her party.

I only remember one part - the balloons. The fucking goddamned balloons.

They, for some horrible reason, had decided there would be a party game where they put some kind of note inside of each balloon and the notes have some kind of clue or something so that you can go find your goody bag of candy and small toys. To get to the note? Each kid is given a balloon and is supposed to POP IT.

I was standing there thinking about this when the noise started.

I can't even describe the chaos. All I remember, honestly, was the mother or the older sister taking me away, upstairs to a bedroom, and trying to console me. I don't know how long I was there. I don't remember the rest of the party. I don't know how to use words here to describe what it was like for me.

I don't recall ever going to another birthday party at a child's house after that. I think I went to one or two at a roller-skating rink, but maybe those were my own parties. The kids would come to mine just fine, but I don't remember ever going to another one of theirs. I'm sure I cried upon being invited, and probably so much so that I ended up gagging on snot and almost vomiting. I'm sure I begged my mom not to make me go.

People don't understand what it's like.

There is no choice involved with sound overload. You can't just show someone a balloon and be like "okay I'm going to pop it now, are you ready?"... there's something hard-wired in the brain/body/ear/soul which WILL react a certain way upon hearing a certain stimulus. You can't "learn" not to have it happen. You can try to find ways to HIDE your reaction so that OTHER PEOPLE are more comfortable. But you cannot make yourself not be traumatized. You just can't. It is what it is.

If your kid won't go to birthday parties because they say everyone picks on them, but the parents there assure you that isn't the case... think about the games. You can't go all that time teaching a kid the rules of politeness and manners, and then throw them into musical chairs. It could truly scar them for their entire childhood.

And for the love of God, no popping balloons.

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