The Things I Do For My Niece & Nephew

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The first sign was disturbing: “Socks must be worn at all times.” Where in the hell were we headed, I wondered with sudden trepidation. Upon opening the doors to the Tree Paad (I don’t understand, or want to understand, the additional ‘A’ in the name) I was greeted with the unmistakable odor of, well, socks. The second thing that hit me was the noise. The noise, noise, NOISE!!! Fighting such decidedly Grinch-like feelings, I took a deep breath of socks and questionable pizza, and headed into the swirling vortex of children.

Packs of kids roamed the expansive fluorescent-lit space like roving bands of wild animals. Shouts and screams and flashing lights surrounded me. It was like ‘The Lord of the Flies’ without the order and structure. I honestly didn’t realize that many children actually existed in the world.

As I was about to settle into a sarcastic revelry and cutting social commentary, I walked over to the bottom of the slides, where Emi and Noah were playing with their cousins. Kids were flying out onto the safety mats, giggling and running back up to do it again. Suddenly, I remembered what it was like to be a kid at a birthday party – the initial shyness and slow indoctrination into the social scene, then the relaxing into the event, and finally the enjoyment and fun and adventure.

Both Emi and Noah were excited and talking with their friends, and then everyone bounced around in a bouncy house before convening in a room for pizza and cake.

As they blew out the candles on their fourth birthday cakes, the magic of childhood drifted across the room on a cloud of smoke.

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