Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Party Games

Imagine, for a moment, that you are the parent of soon to be a six-year old, and you have spent weeks and weeks getting everything right for your little darling's Big-Six Party.  Balloons, clowns, cake, pizza, pinball and video games, a mad professor who does Mr. Wizard magic tricks, no expense has been spared.  You are an organizational star—nothing has been left to chance.

There’s one nagging little worry, just tugging at the edges of your consciousness.  Your heir to the throne happens to go to a very nice private school, and the rule is that every child in the class must be invited—in Kindergarten, there is no discrimination, no social barriers, all are equal, all are welcome.  Invite as many family members as you want, of course, all you son’s friends from nursery school, his soccer team, the entire Young Piranha club from the Y, but when it comes to Ms. Brightsmiles’ K-102, it’s all or none.

That means, it’s all.  Including that nasty Teddy who for some reason is very much a favorite of the immaculately groomed assistant teacher even after delivering more than one bloody nose (there’s speculation that Captain of Industry Father-of-Teddy may have put in a good word or two where those words count).  And, there are a few socially awkward ones—the burper, the one who won’t wash his hands and grabs at food, and the little pageant queen who always wears a princess dress. But all (or mostly all) from excellent families—the type of people you would be more than happy to spend the next four years (or eight, there’s nothing wrong with eight, takes you right to High School) chumming around with. 

You will master this.  Kids need structure, and that’s what you have done—choreographed everything.  Your nanny will be there, as will the evening babysitter.  The party space specializes in children under ten—plenty of kid-wranglers.  There will be no meltdowns. You’d gone so far as to skip the hotdogs in puff pastry even though your son loved them because you had heard one of his classmates was a “committed vegan” (and the parents owned a chain of high-end organic food shops.) 

You smiled inwardly when they started filing in.  There was Little Carly, escorted by a starched English nanny—very, very punctual.  She immediately began organizing the girls in high Queen Bee fashion. Jeb was next—Jeb had been out sick for a week, and looked a little pale, but with a practiced eye made his way to the gift table to drop off his present.  Jeb was very well brought up.  John’s mom confided he wanted to be an altar boy—and then a teacher.  Mikey made a dash for the nearest “Guitar Hero” pinball machine, grabbing a handful of candy-corn on the way.  Marco’s parents both came—you were curious, because you had heard Marco was a teacher’s pet—the “very best boy” and Marco was all dressed up and shiny-faced.  He said thank you for being invited, sounding just like the maĆ®tre d’ at a fancy restaurant.  Chris was next—tugging out of his coat and grabbing your son in a half hug-half tackle.   Ronnie brought his dad, who knew Professor Wizard (apparently Ronnie’s apartment was filled with all these marvelous toys and Rube Goldberg contraptions).  Ben showed up a few minutes later—very deliberate, very composed—and engaged in some quiet, private conversation that seemed eerily beyond his years.  OK, things seem to be working out.

And, then came Teddy—with his older half-brother Donnie, who was home for the weekend from boarding school.  Donnie was big—very big, like his big-bodied Dad.  Mom/Step Mom apologized.  Father-of-Teddy (and Donnie) had a golf date he couldn’t break.  Donnie was a terrific kid—a little loud, but a video-game fiend—loved the glitz and the flashing lights—so he would just plant himself in front of a screen and be no trouble at all.  Besides, Father-of-Teddy would swing by after golf and scoop him up.  By cake-time, Donnie would be gone.  All will be well.

Or not.  Donnie didn’t want one machine, he wanted them all, and would move from one spot to the next, elbowing aside the smaller children. Teddy turned out to be a rather gifted psychopath, planting himself down wherever Donnie had just left and staring down anyone else.  Marco, the “very best boy” had a real potty-mouth.  John and Jeb at first tried to get everyone to play nicely, but no one ever listens to John, and it turned out Jeb wasn’t quite over his flu—you had to find him a couch to lie down on.  Carly, having skillfully played off one kid against the other, told a whopper and got scorned. Ben pulled out a book and told one of his two escorts to go home—and she did.  Ronnie actually had a ball—instead of mixing with the other children, he hung with Professor Wizard—which is really all he wanted to do in the first place.  

I realize I have pushed the metaphor too hard, but here is a just a small smackrel of what has happened over the last few days: Cruz continues to gain strength, but Trump suggested yesterday that Cruz’s Canadian birth might be a problem, and the rest of the GOP establishment now, for the first time recognizes Ted’s path to the nomination, and frets.  Cruz has told his supporters to “strap on the armor of God” (you can’t make that up).  Carly Fiorina managed to win the pander of the year award (admittedly, the year is quite young) by tweeting out that she was rooting for Iowa in the Rose Bowl—against her own alma mater Stanford.  Justice was swift—she was roundly mocked, and the Hawkeyes were crushed, 45-16. Carson’s senior advisors are jumping ship (he says they are being fired)—he’s still raising a lot of money, but a high percentage of it is going to professional fundraisers, which seems to confirm suspicions that he’s not a serious candidate.

As for the so-called Establishment candidates,  they are going at each other, thinking that only one will survive to face off against Trump and Cruz.  Kasich is running anti-Jeb ads and distributing leaflets in New Hampshire “Chris Christie, Tough Talk, Weak Record.” Jeb is frantically reallocating resources and punching at everything he can.  Rubio and Christie are having what can only be called a pissing match.  Marco’s ads and rhetoric have grown harsher in recent weeks, particularly, and predictably, at President Obama and Hillary.  But now, stung by comments from some of his primary opponents that he’s not exactly a hard worker, he’s aiming at fellow Republicans, and Christie is a favorite target—both Rubio and his affiliated Super Pac have been calling out Christie for being too liberal on gun control, health care, and Common Core.  Marco’s problem is that Christie is no shrinking violet—Christie fired back with “I just don’t think Marco Rubio’s going to be able to slime his way to the White House.”

Will all of this settle down at one point or another, and the all the elephants rejoin the herd to trample the hated and feared Hillary? At this point, no one really knows—even the 1968 Nixon/Humphrey/Wallace race, which seems to have some of the same emotional elements, isn’t a perfect analogy.  

But, being a veteran parent, I can say one thing with certainty—after the clowns have gone, and Professor Wizard packed up, and the half-eaten hard candy pried out of someone’s hair, you still have a bunch of sugared-up children teetering between elation and ego-breakdown.

Even the grown-up ones.  Especially the grown-up ones. Already, I’m pooped.

Michael Liss (Moderate Moderator)

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