My niece and her five-year-old friends gathered in a perfect circle in my sister’s family room, eagerly awaiting their dream fairytale character to arrive. Rapunzel made a grand entrance by gliding through the front door, her blond ponytail dragging behind her. The room of mini-princesses, dressed in frilly purple gowns and bright, sparkly shoes, cried and hugged one another like inconsolable fans at a boy-band concert. One of the dads gave my sister a thumbs up for her choice of entertainment.

In a voice softer than a mime, Rapunzel told the laser-focused young ladies a story while their parents gathered in the kitchen snacking on Princess Popcorn and Fairytale Fruit. We were questioning the lack of Royal Rum when my sister tiptoed in and asked us to be quiet.

Was she kidding?

This was a party, not the opera, although the girls were dressed appropriately enough to attend an evening performance. We lowered our voices — or so we thought — until my sister poked her head in two more times to ask us to please keep it down.

The “mane” attraction finished her story, gently placed a plastic tiara on each girl’s head and posed for pictures with her newly crowned royal subjects. As the girls leisurely ate cake and ice cream, the only sounds in the kitchen, aside from a few giggles from the girls, came from the parents who no longer had to use their inside voices. Before they left in their horse-drawn carriages disguised as mini vans, my niece handed each princess a party favor bag.

While helping my sister clean up, I commented about the noise level or, rather, the lack of racket at the party. Who had ever heard of a low-key, hushed tone birthday party that wasn’t being held in a library? Certainly not my sons, their friends, or me.

My sons’ parties ranged from visiting a petting zoo, to spending hours at Chuck E. Cheese, to sharing pizza with our neighborhood firefighters…my way of supporting our local fire station while providing a bit of eye candy for the moms. My sons’ parties were anything but subdued, especially the last one featuring a popular action hero.

My sons’ eager friends bounced on the furniture and raced around the room — no circle sitting for this group — while they waited for their favorite TV character to arrive. The red-spandex-wearing Power Ranger burst into the room like a ball of fire. He threw a few karate kicks and performed simple magic tricks — his sleeves were too tight to hide anything in them — while the boys cheered. His white go-go boots and matching white gloves squelched any chance I had at a thumbs up from the moms.

Unlike the princess party, I didn’t need to ask the parents to be quiet. The boys were too busy trying to poke the Power Ranger’s oversized belt buckle, making him transform, to acknowledge any noise coming from the kitchen. Unfortunately for the crimson crime fighter, a few of the guests were too short to reach his magic buckle and punched their hero in the superballs instead. I took his high-pitched cries of “Ouch! No! Stop!” as my cue to move everyone outside for pizza and cake and to consider paying him twice his hourly fee.

The boys quickly finished their pizza and cake and challenged one another to race and wrestle. After everyone played for a few minutes, my sons handed each hyped-up child a party favor bag on his way out.

Looking back, I realize that experiencing my sons’ birthday parties was as peaceful as meditating in the middle of a packed airport. Yet those loud and chaotic celebrations are still some of my sons’ (and my) best childhood memories.

While my brief glimpse into princess parties convinced me that a birthday party doesn’t have to be loud to be enjoyable, I’ll take an ear piercing, rambunctious, chaotic party anytime.

I am, however, looking forward to my niece’s Scooby-Doo-themed party in a few months. How can I pass up a chance to dress as Daphne?

She has assured me that there is no transforming involved.

This post was originally published on Sammiches & Psych Meds

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