Monday, November 10, 2008

A night with all the groan-ups

This weekend was yet another reminder that I’m just not cut out for the parent thing. Sure, I’m good about spending time with the kids, the love, the discipline and the misguided instruction that will likely lead to years of psychotherapy for the both of them.

It’s giving up my time to spend it with other parents that forever grates on me. Saturday was a case in point. It was the annual cheerleader and midget football combined banquet. After eight weeks or so, cheerleading had come to a merciful close and there was a grand ball for about 250 cheerleaders, midget football players and their kin. And that meant mingling.

Understand, I have an innate love for my fellow man -- right up until the instant I have to mingle with a single one of them. But that’s a big unwelcome part of parenting for me.

I’ll never understand why I need to be chummy with people with whom all I really have in common is the coincidentally timed conception of our offspring. Plus, I’m suspect of any parent who gets their children involved in activities that involve adult supervision, the sole shining exception being my darling wife (yep, she found out I’m blogging and is vigilantly monitoring 8Days2Amish for perceived slights).

The first disappointment came when I saw dozens of immaculately uniformed U.S. Marines of all ages crowding around the upstairs bar to celebrate the proud 233rd birthday of the Corps. I was calculating the odds of what would happen if I walked in and bought a round of drinks in exchange for the simple privilege of eavesdropping on their stories.

Instead, I was steered down stairs to a spacious facility that made Chuck E. Cheese seem like an ICU waiting room. In desperation, I looked for an open bar. None. It was cruelly booze-free.

It was going to be one of those excruciating functions that made me wish I’d years ago had taken up smoking. That would at least allow me a handy escape hatch to partake in the kinship of the cancer prone, the brotherhood of the butts. At least smoking parents have something in common, albeit a death wish.

Then the gods must have sensed my unease and took pity. Instead of a table full of adults, Val, I and the girls were assigned to table with four 10-year-old boys and two girls of about the same age. Here were people with whom I could commune.

“Who wants to have a spitball fight!” I screamed.

“Yea!” they yelled.

It’s more important to me be cool and feel accepted at a table full of preadolescents than it is for me to earn the said same from their parents. So I tried to ingratiate myself by telling them that I, too, was a football player and a good one. Maybe they’d heard of me.

“What’s your name?”

“Terry Bradshaw.”

It was a scheme destined to fail. They all knew Bradshaw, my eyes were doing that shifty thing they always do when I tell a real whopper and, worst of all, my daughter lashed out with venomous scorn, “He is NOT Terry Bradshaw!”

The failure of that lie meant I wouldn’t dare go up and try and fool the Marines into thinking I was one of them. And let’s be honest, I’d have trouble impersonating a Cub Scout.

So we made the best of it. The dinner with the kids was fun -- they gave me all their unwanted olives from their salads -- we talked to a few friendly parents and Josie said, “Dad, can we go home now?” about five slim minutes before I was about to secretly offer her $10 to tell Mommy she wanted to go home.

Still, there was one episode with one parent that I’ll not soon forget. Billy, one of my table buddies, truly appalled me when he told me his favorite team was the Dallas Cowboys, a team the real Bradshaw used treat like a government mule. When his father came up to scold him about not eating his salad, I interrupted to narc, “Hey, do you know you’re raising a Cowboy fan?”

He glared at me like I’d blurted out his kid was stupid (and Cowboy fandom does bring the issue to the table). Didn’t say a word. He should have just smiled at my stupid little joke and just smugly sauntered back to the table with the rest of the grown-ups. But he had to be a jerk.

It was an insult I could not let stand.

So before we left, I bet Billy he didn’t have the guts to go upstairs and not come back until he persuaded one of the old Marines to buy him a beer.

Sure, it probably could have gotten the kid in trouble with his sourpuss father but -- who knows? -- it might have led to a proud career for the young Cowboy fan.

The Marines are always looking for a few good men willing to risk it all on a dangerous mission.

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