For sustained levels of terror and exhaustion, there is nothing quite like a child's birthday party.
In many respects, the whole thing resembles a hostage situation. Suddenly all these wide-eyed, agitated little people burst in the door and your heart starts pounding. You're not exactly sure how long they'll stay or what they want.
All you know is, you have to keep them happy, otherwise there's no telling what they'll do.
Or so I used to think.
Then my daughter turned 7 the other day and invited 11 girls to our house to celebrate.
The girls had fun playing musical chairs and "mother, may I?" and took careful and determined (but not vicious) whacks at a pinata.
It struck me how polite and well-behaved they were, to the point where I finally put down the can of Mace and ordered the attack dogs returned to their kennels.
Later the girls all enjoyed cake and ice cream, and not once did anyone snarl and jab a plastic fork into someone's arm, or head-butt the person next to them for no apparent reason.
In other words, there wasn't that lunchtime-at-Leavenworth feel so often associated with these affairs.
Boys are different, of course.
First of all, I would not allow 11 boys in my house for any reason, never mind a birthday party. I'm not sure I'd allow 11 boys into a reinforced concrete bunker with me, not unless we had plenty of security personnel armed with -- at the very least -- stun guns.
If there is a lull in the party, girls will chat amiably among themselves.
Boys will set fire to the drapes. Or jab the fireplace poker into an electrical outlet. Or stick the cat in the freezer.
Just for something to do. Boredom is the enemy of all children at a birthday party, only boredom whispers a little louder to boys than to girls. If that sounds sexist, well, I'm sorry. But that's the way it is.
Anyway, it was after the cake and ice cream at my daughter's party that I witnessed a truly amazing sight.
As my daughter opened her presents, the other girls all stood quietly (quietly!) around the table, oohing and aahing as each present was opened.
Boys will not do that -- not unless you were to line them up a half-hour earlier and pass out Dixie cups containing powerful sedatives.
What boys will do is club each other over the head until . . . well, I'll tell you what boys will do.
When I was 10 years old, I went to a birthday party for a budding young hoodlum named Joey Oblinger.
Toward the end of the party, he began opening his presents. And one of the presents was a bow and arrow set which some idiot parent had deemed appropriate for a boy who showed every sign of being the next Al Capone.
Oh, sure, the arrows came with those rubber suction cup things on the end. But as soon as we got a look at them, our eyes started to glow.
As Joey continued opening his presents, the rest of us slipped down into the basement with the bow and arrows.
Within seconds, the suction cups were pulled off. Then we found another bow and started firing the arrows at each other. It was considered sporting to aim at a person's eyes back then -- this was the early '60s and eyes were considered expendable, I guess.
Suddenly -- you talk about knowing how the movie will turn out during the opening credits -- there was a piercing scream and one of the boys went down holding his eye.
I think they rushed the kid to the emergency room, but if they did, none of us was paying much attention.
Mr. Oblinger told us to put the bows and arrows down, which we did, but then we found a dart board and four metal darts, which, to my way of thinking, was like leaving a loaded .45 on the coffee table.
But Mr. Oblinger took those away, too, saying he couldn't "trust" us anymore -- although not before one of the darts went sailing into an autographed picture of Dwight D. Eisenhower.
Then we all sang happy birthday to Joey and ate cake and ice cream and went home.
It was a great party.
OK, I say it was a great party. But maybe not for the kid who caught an arrow in the eye. He could be walking around today with a patch over his eye, I don't know. Or he could be working on his third cornea transplant.
I'm not saying he gets all misty-eyed at the memory of that party.
But the rest of us had a good time.