Dave Barry

Ask Mr. Manners

(This Dave Barry column was originally published Sunday, April 28, 1985.)

TODAY'S ETIQUETTE QUESTION IS: I feel there is not enough suffering in my life, and would like to hold a birthday party for my preschool child at home. What is the etiquette involved?

ANSWER: This is really not much different from most other social situations, except that of course if you mishandle it, you will probably scar your child emotionally for life. Fortunately, the etiquette involved is fairly straightforward, requiring, as is so often the case with etiquette, no more than common sense, sensitivity to the feelings of others, and some means for getting fudge sauce out of your draperies.

CHOOSING A PARTY THEME: This is an area where you may be as creative as you wish, letting your imagination run riot, limited only by the fact that the theme must consist of a copyrighted licensed character featured on a half-hour television cartoon show with at least 26 minutes of advertising for colorful breakfast substances manufactured by pouring liquid sugar into molds shaped like copyrighted licensed characters.

Appropriate themes for little girls include: The Smurfs; Strawberry Shortcake; The Snorks; Rainbow Brite; The Care Bears; The Concern Pigs; The Dweebs; Wee Whiny Winky; Bingo the Leech; The Pustule People; and The Smarm Worms. Appropriate themes for little boys include: He-Man; G.I. Joe; The A-Team; The Transformers; The Destroyers; The Eye Eaters; The Limb Whackers; The Fascist Youth Corps; and Testosterone Bob's Hurt Patrol.

Whatever theme you select, it should appear on all your official party plates, cups, napkins, favors, centerpieces and, above all, invitations, so that your child will receive as gifts at least eight exact duplicates of each licensed toy he or she already owns.

THE GUEST LIST: You must of course invite every child in your child's preschool class, including the one that a professional child psychologist would describe as "tending to engage in 'acting out' behavior patterns, " but which you personally, as a layperson, would describe as "a total snot." You must also invite all the neighborhood children, and any other child who has ever invited your child to a party. In fact, to avoid inadvertently leaving a child out and thus scarring him or her emotionally for life, it is best to invite every child of preschool age in your immediate Zip code.

Do not be concerned that the parents of these children will be suspicious because you, apparently a stranger, are inviting their children to a party. Although parents of preschoolers ordinarily watch their children like hawks, they think nothing of dropping them off for birthday parties at the homes of people they know virtually nothing about, on the assumption that the children are somehow vaguely connected. On any given Saturday morning, you could select any neighborhood in America at random and drive around until you found a preschool birthday party reaching critical mass -- look for a dog attempting to hurl itself out of a picture window -- and you could just drop your child off, and nobody would ask any questions. When you returned two hours later, your child would be wearing a geeky hat and have cake smeared in his hair just like all the other children. Very short runaway teen-agers have been known to survive this way for months.

THE MENU: The menu should feature something that is simple, fun and nutritious, yet easy for small children to throw. I have obtained good results using chicken nuggets. For my son's fourth birthday party a few months ago, I purchased, at a bulk rate, nearly 300 nuggets for 17 children, and we have since located almost all of them. I'm talking about the nuggets.

Smart Serving Suggestion: If you're running behind schedule, you may say yourself some time on the ice-cream course by bypassing the children and rubbing the fudge sauce directly into the draperies.

THE OPENING OF THE GIFTS: The birthday child should open the gifts in the presence of the guests, and should graciously acknowledge each one by asking in a petulant voice if there are any more. You should of course keep careful track of who gave your child what ("Jason -- He-Man Road Ripper; Jennifer -- He- Man Road Ripper; Chris -- He-Man Road Ripper" etc.)

ENTERTAINMENT: In addition to having traditional party games such as "Let's See What Happens When You Put a He-Man Road Ripper in the Commode, " you may want to consider hiring professional entertainment. This will usually consist of a community college drama student who Really Loves Kids and who has started a business where he dresses up as a clown and shows up at your child's party with helium balloons and magic tricks and puppets. This will of course terrify most of the children to the point where they are scarred emotionally for life. Some of them will have to climb into your lap before they can even work up the courage to wet their pants.

SAYING GOODBYE: As the parents return, hand each one a child who is clutching a licensed-character bag containing an assortment of broken party favors, including at least one "paddle ball" game manufactured by a Third World nation company that, to spare children the trouble, has a policy of breaking the rubber band right at the factory. Do not concern yourself overmuch with whether the children and the parents match up in exactly the same way as when they arrived; if there are any errors, you can sort everything out at whatever random birthday party you all attend the following week.

(c) 1985, Dave Barry

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