You’ve all been there, or you’ll be going there. The Birthday Party at a Bouncy Place is pretty easily navigated, actually. So consider these advanced tips for maximizing your experience.
OK, so, let’s be clear, we’re not talking about those small places in the corner of the mall with one little bounce thing and a ball pit. I’m talking about these industrial-sized warehouse-housed Bouncy Places with several Huge Bouncy Things, obstacle courses with huge climbs and slides, castles, bouncies with full court basketball hoops, the whole deal.
Here’s how it works: they shuffle you all into the sign-in/waiting room area and you sign the waiver which must have all sorts of legalese about how they aren’t responsible for your inevitable separated shoulder. You’re sitting there at 2:59 for this 3 o’clock party that cost your friend/cousin/sister like $250 but you’re waiting cuz the Underhill family’s 2 o’clock party is still bouncing around. They paid $300; they have more people and got a different package.
Finally, they let you in, and here’s where, as a parent, just get ready to breathe in not only the stale plastic-meets-sanitizer scent of the place, but also get a big whiff of that pure joy on your kids’ face as he runs, no sprints toward Some Huge Bouncy Thing. Screaming. It’s pretty amazing.
While we’re bouncing, the Underhill party had been shuffled into the Party Room to get the pizza portion of their party package. And so this place is just constantly rotating parties of 25 or so, taking $250/pop, herding us from room to room, blasting us with extreme exhilaration followed by pizza and cupcakes. It’s like a drop-off point for cash. It’s practically money laundering. It’s more like the cocaine trade, just easy money, giving these wonder-seeking little kids the ultimate high of holding the keys to climb as far as they possibly can and jump and tumble down and bounce around and crash into stuff and, basically, just go crazy. It’s like they’re flying.
Soon, the girls in the orange shirts are rounding us up and getting us off the bouncy stuff and over to the cubbies to put our shoes back on and hit the party room.
Here’s where it gets dicey. Dads, I’m mostly talking to you, but Mom’s get hungry too. First of all, Rule #1 for most of these shindigs is Don’t Show Up Starving. You don’t wanna be That Guy, Homer Simsponing his way through half a pizza while the other parents look on mortified. So, best rule of thumb is to assume that they are not feeding the adults, and will just have a couple plain pizzas for the kids. That way, when they do finally say “C’mon parents, there’s plenty, help yourself!” You’re pleasantly surprised as opposed to sprinting to start the line and crack jokes about not being shy and “they don’t have to tell me twice!”
Of course, you’re thinking, “That’ll never happen to me, I’m not goin’ to a Birthday Party at a Bouncy Place,” but it will. It will happen, and the sooner you accept that, the better you can prepare.
Maybe this next time your son is in pre-school, so he’s getting invited to random parties with more rapid frequency. It’s not just cousins and nephews anymore. You barely know these people. Use that to your advantage. I recommend getting there early. Let’s say your party starts at 3pm. Show up around 2:30. The pizza room is adjacent to the front/waiting room, but it has an exit door accessible from the front lot. So you wander in, act like you know where you’re going, and BOOM, you’re in someone else’s pizza party. It’s not the Underhills today, but it sounds like their kid’s name is Brendan or Brandon or something. Don’t make eye contact, just grab a slice or two and look like you’re standing near a bench that has a purse or something on it. They’ll assume your wife is somewhere and you must be so-and-so.
Casually act like you’re looking for your jacket or a restroom, and slip out. Now you’re ready for the actual party you were invited too. That’s an easy hang. The kids are so entertained by the Huge Bouncy Things that they are running themselves ragged. Perhaps try your hand at some massive house-shaking dunks in the bouncy thing with the hoops in ’em.
Note: if you’re going to try to crash multiple parties on the same day, there’s usually a smaller, kinda bunk bouncy thing that the kids don’t play on, and you can sneak a nap wedged in the corner where no one can see you. I recommend having a few outfit changes stashed in your car so the staff doesn’t recognize you throughout the day.
So now they’re ushering you into the pizza room, but you’ve already taken the edge off with some of Brendan or Brandon’s pizza earlier. Let the game come to you. You’re there to help them not have any leftovers, which are a hassle. [And there’s nothing sadder than being at these Birthday Parties at Bouncy Places and dropping your tiny 4-oz plastic soda cup in the trash and noticing a slice and a half of perfectly edible pizza that got thrown away.]
Soon enough they’ll be inviting the adults to help themselves to some terrifically bland and almost-cold pizza, and it’s going to be lovely. But take it easy, use your manners, and don’t make a fool of yourself. Cuz you will be back…