MY DAUGHTER is currently planning her 10th birthday party, which means my wife and I are under enormous pressure to make the event spectacular or else quietly hang ourselves in the attic.
The thing to remember about birthday parties these days is that you have to keep the kids constantly entertained.
If there's even a momentary lull in the action, one of the little monsters is liable to whine: "Where are the fire-eating dwarfs?"
Whatever you do, don't say: "Well, um, the truth is, uh, we don't have any fire-eating dwarfs. But, look, we have these pretty balloons! And you can make them into different shapes, like a dachshund or a giraffe or . . ."
Because then the kids will roll their eyes and mutter: "God, this is such a drag."
So you better have some fire-eating dwarfs around for the slow times, is what I'm saying.
Or you better have Madonna standing by in a Day-Glo bustier. Or someone getting shot out of a cannon. Kids expect an awful lot out of birthday parties these days.
That was something I forgot when my daughter approached my wife and me for ideas for her party.
"Here's something," I said. "Why don't you invite some friends over and we'll serve cake and ice cream, and you can play games like Musical Chairs and Pin the Tail on the Donkey and then open your presents."
"Dad," she said, "be serious."
I'll tell you this: don't even bother holding a birthday party at a bowling alley or roller-skating rink anymore. That's considered really lame these days. Now you have to do something like, I don't know, rent a NATO air base.
And even that probably wouldn't impress these kids, unless you get the base commander to fire a dozen Tomahawk missiles over their heads as they sing "Happy Birthday" on the tarmac.
I remember when having a birthday party at McDonald's was a big deal.
You try that now, the kids will be so bored they'll be dozing off head-first into their Happy Meals.
Or else the ones on Ritalin will be running up to the manager and chirping: "Hey, chief, what's the overhead on this place?"
I don't know exactly why things got so out of hand with children's birthday parties, but I have a theory. And the theory -- without lapsing into psycho-babble -- is this: a lot of parents have lost their minds. For some reason, they've come to believe that a kid won't be happy with a party unless it's a spectacle on the order of "Ben-Hur."
Parents like that, you want to whack them over the head with a 2-by-4. Because they're ruining things for the rest of us. And probably ruining it for their kids, too.
That reminds me of something that happened a few months ago at a cocktail party I attended. As usual, the women were in one room, talking about books and movies, while the men were out on the deck discussing something much deeper, like a tire sale.
At some point, this one guy mentioned that his son's birthday was approaching. He also mentioned the kid was heavily into the Power Rangers. Suddenly he said: "What do you figure it would cost to have the Power Rangers show up at his party?"
"Not much," another man said. "How much could it cost to have four guys dress up in those goofy outfits?"
"No," the first guy said, "I mean the real Power Rangers. The actors who play them on TV."
We all looked to see if he was for real, and damned if he wasn't. He had this wild, David-Koresh-as-the-tanks-moved-in look in his eyes, and now his feet were jiggling up and down like twin pistons.
Me, I made it a point to get out of there pronto, since it was clear the poor guy had snapped.
I figured it was just a matter of time before he started smearing bootblack on his face and rummaging around for the battle fatigues and an assault rifle.
Anyway, it turned out that the guy actually did make inquiries into having the Power Rangers show up at his kid's party, and was promptly told he had a better shot at seeing the pope walk through the door.
But this is what it's come to with these parties. Meanwhile, for her party, my daughter is leaning toward some kind of Ice-Capades-meets-the-Home-Shopping-Net- work extravaganza at a local rink.
I've lined up a troupe of Russian dancing bears, just to be on the safe side.