Maybe it’s our fault for creating a history of elaborately themed parties for his older sister Poppy or for sustaining a Thursday-night ritual in front of CBS at 7 pm, but not so long ago we were walking along the arroyo and my son London declared, “I know what I want my birthday party to be this year.”
Since London’s eighth natal day falls at the end of what many parents call “that dreaded season,” my wife Lala and I were expecting some sort of copycat locale of the parties London had attended recently: children’s museum, roller rink, climbing gym or something called Kidzone, which accurately describes the mental state of a child on the way home after frenzied time spent in any of these establishments.
Instead, London said, “I want a Survivor party.” I should probably mention that he was clutching a six-foot bamboo staff and his hair hung in white-boy dreadlocks.
For those Waldorf parents who don’t believe in television, Survivor is a reality show in which a group of good-looking, articulate Americans are dropped off in some isolated (though often quite scenic) locale where they bicker with one another (and lose weight) for a little more than a month. Sad to say that although our family has resisted cable and satellite, our children have been reared on this television program, and now our son wanted to star in the day of his birth like a modern version of Mike Teevee from Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
“When my friends get there,” he said excitedly, “I’ll divide them into two tribes, hand them their buffs, and have them build shelter, gather water and start a fire.”
“Where will they get the water?” Lala asked, highly entertained by this Technicolor idea and ignoring the obvious fire question.
London rolled his eyes. “Duh! The river is flowing, Mom. Look.”
Sure enough, the Santa Fe River had enough water running to re-earn its name.
“It’s kinda dirty,” I mentioned, thinking Hep A, beaver fever, and birthday parties in the time of cholera.
“They can boil it just like they do on Survivor. No prob.” London then explained that we could devise a series of challenges for the two teams that would include a test of skill (hatchet throw), a test of teamwork (tie everyone together) and, most importantly, a test of will.
“What would that be like?” Lala grinned in anticipation.
“Well, each team would elect a player that would have to eat things that are from around here.” London scanned the riverbed and—thankfully ignoring the bottle caps, broken glass and rusty tin cans—came up with a snail. “Like this. And we could dig up some worms and beetles. Stuff like that.”
“Better call, I mean invite, our lawyer,” I said.
Instead of pony rides and inflatable jumpy castles, London envisioned his classmates voting each other out of our backyard and sending them to Exile Island located, according to the self-proclaimed show’s host, in the drainage pipe down the river close to the dog park. Pretty soon it dawned on us that London’s fantasy would stay just that. The sets were too elaborate, the insurance costs too high, and besides, Lala and I felt like we’d been trapped on the school-year island for too long and we were tired.
“How about a pajama party?” Lala suggested. “We could get a movie, popcorn, pizza and you could pick the dessert?”
I could tell London was thinking about relinquishing his power to extinguish flaming torches and exiling kids who had beaten him in the Panther Run. “Won’t be as cool,” he said and we agreed. “Can I at least tell them to silence their cell phones and deposit their trash in the specified containers?”
“Sure you can,” Lala said, rubbing his back. “We can even buy plastic phones for them to pretend to talk on, then silence.”
“OK.” He smiled. “That’s fine.”
“The tribe has spoken,” I said like a true addict.
Robert Wilder’s latest book is Tales from the Teachers’ Lounge. His column, Daddy Needs A Drink, appears the first Wednesday of each month.