Every year around this time, my kids’ elementary school APT puts on their Family Fun Night. In theory, it is a chance for the kids, with parents in tow, to get an early start to Halloween by dressing up in whatever video game character, princess, Anime hero, or fuzzy animal they want (except no gore or weapons…ninjas and Jason Vorhees need not apply). In theory, it’s an opportunity for the kids to gather for games, snacks, and a chance to have the winning costume for a gift certificate to a retail toy store. In theory, the kids will dance, have fun, and be on their best behavior since, even though they are there after hours, they are still in school. In theory, Family Fun Night is just that. Fun. Fun for the entire family for a few hours on a Friday night.
In reality, Family Fun Night is like a prison riot with the prisoners dressed up for Halloween and fifty cent brownies for sale.
I’m not sure how you define “fun” but if it involves being trapped in an elementary school cafeteria with an ambient temperature approaching a Kelvin measurement with a hundred or so costumed kids who are running at a full sprint while simultaneously screaming, while a DJ plays the worst the music world can offer …then look no further. Welcome to Family “Fun” Night.
The parents, once then get in to the cafeteria, typically will scatter for one of the few tables or chairs set up along the walls of the cafe. They will also congregate in the center of the cafeteria. Wherever they can best avoid being run in to by one of the kids, they set up their base camps and let their kids run free like the velociraptor from Jurassic Park. The parents huddle together in groups of four or five (probably because they know there is safety in numbers) and begin to talk about how disappointing the entire event is. I sat down at one of these commune tables and heard three ladies, like the Macbeth witches, commenting on everything from the lack of games to play to why there weren’t more tables. Welcome to Family “Fun” Night.
The kids are like a star globule at the end of the Milky Way Galaxy. Clustered together occasionally some break from the gravity field of the main group to orbit around the cafeteria. By orbit I mean running around, slamming into other kids, unfortunate parents who had to congregate in the middle of the cafeteria instead of the tables, and taking up residence in the hallway outside the cafe. Some wander aimlessly. Some seek out their parents (90% of whom, by my estimation, are trying to stay hid amongst the shadows along the wall). Some, well some I don’t know what are doing. My youngest and one of her classmates, a little boy who was wearing an Incredible Hulk costume, came up to me in a panic. Tiny Hulk: “Mr. Ettele, I have to go to the bathroom and I can’t find my mom!” Me: “Okay, let’s try to find your mom. What was she wearing?” Tiny Hulk: ”I don’t know but I have to pee really bad.” (he emphasized the point to me by putting both his green hands between his crossed legs) Me: ”Well lets walk through the middle of the cafeteria and see if we can’t find her (if she hasn’t already hidden behind the stage curtain curled up in the fetal position)?” Tiny Hulk: “Can you take me to the bathroom?” It was at this point when I realized I as going to have to ditch this kid. I was not about to take a boy I didn’t know very well into the bathroom and help him take off his costume to go to the bathroom. Thankfully, a 4th grader who knew Tiny Hulk found Tiny Hulk’s mom and the two of them went to the bathroom. Welcome to Family “Fun” Night.
The constant noise from the kids, DJ, and parents is enough to cause involuntary tremors in your spine and arms and have dogs howling from miles around. For those poor citizens with houses near the school, I can only imagine Friday night was the closest thing they had ever gotten to living next to La Guardia Airport. My headache from that night was only halted after about 6 beers on Saturday night. Welcome to Family “Fun” Night.
The games that night consisted of a bean bag throw, a family pumpkin decorating contest (where it doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to discover which ones were done by industrious parents while their kids no doubt played video games), a “guess the number of candy corns in the jar” contest (Answers ranged from 17 to 5,000. The real number was 253), and a grade by grade costume contest. A costume contest emceed by the DJ. A costume contest that lasted (read: agonizingly drug on by the DJ) over an hour (the lone bright spot was my youngest won the best costume for Kindergarten). To hold kids’ attention for an hour, when they are hopped up on sugar and adrenaline is like trying to keep a Lindsay Lohan sober. Welcome to Family “Fun” Night.
Dodging kids sliding across the floor, trying to escape the blast furnace heat of the cafeteria, trying to find out where my kids had gotten to, doing my best to avoid pleas for help in the bathroom, listening to the worst pop music has to offer, having to overhear parents who would rather complain than help, and being subjected to the marathon costume contest (which bordered on the United States’ definition of enhanced interrogation). Welcome to Family “Fun” Night.
When the lights came back on and the music stopped, I rustled my kids together, made sure all pieces of their costume were on their person and made my way to the exit like Mel Gibson goes on drunken tirades. The cool air of the night focused my senses and cleared the ringing from my ears. I was all but dragging my kids away from the school and to our car. I would have felt bad about my behavior but I noticed every other parent dragging their kids by the wrist to get to their cars.
I got us all in and jockeyed for position to get home. Once we turned out from the school and got on the road, I asked my kids, “So, did you have fun at Family Fun Night?” Both of them, emphatically replied, “Yeah!”. And why not? Emma won $20 to Toys ‘r’ Us for her costume. Hannah got to hang out with her friends. Both kids ate a lion’s share of baked goods and drank juice and soda like Vikings drank mead. They listened to music, I’ve been told, kids enjoy. And they got to dress up for Halloween. Despite all of these things, I asked them again, thinking they may have confused “Did you have fun” for “Do you want ice cream”. They responded again, “YES Daddy!”. I thought about it for a second and realized this is what my life is all about…my kids. They laughed, they danced, they got to pig out on stuff no child should eat after 7pm, and they got to dress up and they had fun. How could they not have had fun? Which makes me happy and which also means, by default, I guess I had fun too. Welcome, to Family Fun Night.