Adventures in Chaperoning
by Greg Rawlings
My daughter Hannah celebrated her 11th birthday in late April with a party for a dozen of her near and dear in the party room of my building. This year, the crew included a handful of boys, as well as the usual suspects I’ve met at previous birthday parties, sleepovers and criminal mediations. We weren’t far into the festivities when I realized that, to put it mildly, 5th-grade boys are very different than 5th-grade girls.
While the boys had a perfectly fine time playing Twister, Trouble, and various card games, their true joy was slamming pool balls at each other across the threadbare felt of our building’s pool table. I now know the meaning of chaos theory. The effort these kids put into trying to crush their friends’ fingers was awe-inspiring. Sometimes one of the boys would be successful and another would fall to the ground, grabbing at a crimson hand as if he’d been stabbed.
And that was before the cake and ice cream.
As for the girls, they compared toenail designs, danced to every song the Disney Channel played all afternoon — especially the ones the boys moaned at with disgust — and cut to shreds any classmate who wasn’t at the party. These girls are scary. And smart. And talented.
The biggest surprise was all the dancing the boys did. They even had routines. Trust me, this did not happen at Roosevelt Elementary School, in Portsmouth, Ohio, in 1969 (yes, I’m that old).
While my ex, Julie, kept the girls from starting any particularly vicious cat fights, and I attempted to save the hands of the boys from disfigurement, the afternoon slowly but surely trudged toward 6 p.m., and freedom. I decided to walk the kids over to Wash Park and let them burn off their sugar buzzes. But I made a serious strategic error — then came tag.
We all played tag when we were young: "Tag, you’re it!" "No, tag, you’re it." Plenty of innocent running to and fro. Great fun for all. Ever played TV Tag or Toilet Tag? I remember Freeze Tag, but these variants threw me for a loop. Apparently, tag is now played at maximum volume, at maximum speed and with maximum bloodshed. Yes, tag has become a blood sport. I grew up in a violent Appalachian hell-hole, but I’m fairly certain I never attempted to kill anyone while playing tag. Football, certainly, but tag? I also didn’t know that fifth-grade boys ululating like wounded Central Asian warriors were involved. They are.
By then, I was numb to the bone. I was counting down the minutes to 6 p.m., when parents had promised to pick up their kids. I made them all take the stairs up to the tennis court that sits over our parking garage — where they went crazy. Yet, for all the screaming and darting about, nobody was seriously injured until, well, The Fall.
One of Hannah’s oldest friends had come into town from the ’burbs for the party. Like most of Hannah’s friends, she is smart, pretty, etc. and unbeatable at gross-out. Really. Well, she was flying around the north side of the tennis court when she took a major tumble. Skin, denim, blood — everywhere. I bolted from my bench and ran to her, wondering all the way, am I liable or is the condo association? The whole crew came to a halt and surrounded her. She bit her lips and looked up at me. "Are you okay?" I ventured. Wiping dust from her bloody shoulder, and her bloody elbow, and then her bloody knee, she surveyed the damage and replied, "It happens every day."
By the time Julie cleaned her up, parents started to arrive, to my undying thanks. Were these weary children bound for home and a little rest? No way. They were all, including the bloodied one, on their way to a sock hop. Oh, well, until next year, when they’ll all be too cool for tag. Nothing goes faster than a child’s first years. Especially to parents.