You know you are creeping towards middle age when you get a thrill of excitement that someone other than you has emptied the dishwasher. Another sign of middle-age encroachment – you start to do a great deal of your socializing at children’s activities: birthday parties, swimming lessons, dance lessons, after-school sports and school fundraising events. Your diary gets cluttered with things that have less to do with you and more to do with your children; you spend an inordinate amount of time ferrying people around. The lazy Saturday afternoons you used to spend shopping and meeting friends for lunch suddenly become fraught with making cupcakes for parties and finding presents for other people’s children. I’m not quite at the Advanced Stage of Losing Control of My Own Diary, but I sense it’s only a few years off.
My mother, the kids and I are headed to a place called Kid Ventures for a child’s birthday party. Since learning about this party through my mother (who has a lot more friends than I do), I have been stuck on one detail: the time. It starts at 5.30pm on a Sunday. Do these old family friends not know that it’s happy hour/cocktail hour, flop-around-the-house hour? I’m assuming we are at the wrong place when I drive up to what appears to be the headquarters of a multinational corporation. There are huge fountains that dwarf the children, surrounded by a massive circular concrete wall that they wouldn’t be able to climb without rope; perfectly manicured plants are artistically lit up. I see a flash of light glinting off huge floor-to-ceiling windows.
Inside it’s palatial in an industrial sort of way. Looking at it with my London eyes, I quickly calculate how many flats could fit in this place. I think it could be three. Whoever owns this place is surely a millionaire many times over by now, because they have caught on to what every parent already knows – birthday parties and kids’ themed indoor play areas are big business. When I was a child my birthday parties consisted of a store-bought cake and a handful of friends. Today it’s a crazy, competitive experience that puts pressure on parents to outdo each other. Let’s remember that Catherine and Pippa Middleton’s mother made her family’s fortune from what boils down to party bags.
Tonight’s party guests can play with a gigantic pirate ship, a huge castle with a slide, and an entire town, including a saloon, a jail, a fire station, a theatre/disco, a supermarket (organic, of course), a baby room and a schoolhouse. It’s an entire high street and they have it all to themselves because it has been hired privately for this party. Each themed room has different toys to play with, which are matched to the theme. The kids disappear in the space of one second. The next time I see the Chatterbox she is wearing a mermaid costume; her playmate is dressed as a nurse.
The people at Kid Ventures not only cater to kids, they cater to parents. There is a cafe with a menu consisting of brewed coffee ($1.75; fancier options will cost $3.25), gourmet sandwiches and salads ($8.50), pastries ($2.50) and a child’s lunch plate ($5). While the kids run themselves ragged, the parents can relax with friends or just stare off into space. I’m familiar with this concept – in London I used to visit something similar, but it was all on a much smaller scale and, frankly, much dirtier. I think this place must get disinfected by an army of cleaners because it is spotless. You could probably eat off the gleaming bathroom floor.
What does tonight’s party cost? I’m guessing they got the basic two-hour private party at a whopping $385. The ‘extravaganza’ party is $5 shy of $500, while the ‘platinum’ party is $795. For that money I’m guessing the kids might actually receive watches and jewelry. I would not pay these prices, but I know people who would. As we leave, the kids are handed their party bags. It wouldn’t be a party without them.
The next day I wonder how I can muscle into the kiddie party business. I don’t need a job working for someone else, I need a fantastic business idea that will exploit parents. Oh, and I need a lot of capital.