BROWN'S CLOSE: Birthday Battle Royale
Back at a time in the distant past of October 2019, my friend’s son turned eight. He and I share a special bond; I once spent an afternoon helping him fold paper airplanes. At his instruction, I then threw said airplanes at him; he wanted to practice his ducking skills.
We’ve been friends ever since.
During that time, the citizens of Anchorage could mark such an occasion with a celebration. Thus, my friend threw him a “Harry Potter” themed birthday party, held at The Dome; she magnanimously offered me my pick of activities. I could make pizza, make butterbeer, make a pinata, make a cake, or referee Quidditch.
Refereeing was most in line with my life goal of bullying humanity. I volunteered for this, under the condition that I could use a loud, high-pitched whistle.
On the day of the party, I set out for The Dome for the first time in the history of my Anchorage residency. I drove around the neighborhood three times looking for the entrance, consistently getting pulled into that vortex known as the Changepoint parking lot.
Once inside, it was obvious which section of The Dome was designated for the Harry Potter party. One of the soccer fields was cordoned off, with three Quidditch goal rings erected on either side.
I walked over to my friend, easily spotted as a tall thin woman dressed as the Golden Snitch in a glittery jacket.
“Can you round up the kids and start Quidditch?” she squawked by way of, “Hello.”
“They need to burn off some energy,” she continued. “I’ve got a dad refereeing with you.”
I bristled at relinquishing any portion of my power, and grumpily walked flat-footed over to The Dad. He smiled at me bemusedly.
“Uh, you know the rules?”
“Nope,” he grinned. “No idea!”
My mood lifted.
Now I had an adult to push around, in addition to thirty children.
We strolled to the middle of the Quidditch pitch, where I picked up a white volleyball, and blew my whistle.
Children looked up from wrestling matches, punching matches, and other rudely energetic forms of aggression.
“Anyone who wants to play Quidditch, come to the middle of the field NOW!” I barked.
Twenty-nine small people scampered to my side.
“I need you to break into two teams!”
Instead, everyone went back to wrestling a neighbor.
I blew my whistle again.
“Hey! Two teams! NOW! Let’s go!”
A handful of obliging children splintered off into a second team. Everyone else stayed put, looking at me expectantly.
“Uh, the teams need to be even. We need more of you to move.”
All 29 children ran over to one side.
The Dad walked over.
“I think we should just count off, ‘One, two, one, two,’” he offered knowledgeably.
I bowed to his wisdom; reasoning with children is a perpetual struggle for me.
We counted off, and yet two-thirds of the kids were still magically on one team.
“You five over here. The rest of you, stay put!”
Birthday Boy sidled up to me.
“Can my mom play?”
“No kiddo, she’s doing other things.”
Birthday Boy’s lip quivered.
“Can Zed be on my team?”
No, we’ve only just got the teams even.
“No, Zed has to stay where he is.”
Birthday Boy looked completely crushed.
“Can we be Gryffindor?”
A blond boy with large eyeglasses blinked at me.
“Uh, sure,” I agreed distractedly.
“Wait, we want to be Gryffindor!” a tall gangly boy cried out, asserting his side’s rights.
“Sure, you can be Gryffindor too.”
I blew my whistle.
“Alright, listen up! I need you to pick one person to be the Beater per side.”
In Harry Potter, the Beaters have the enviable power of throwing balls at their fellow players. And, as in the books, this position proved popular amongst my 29 charges. Two boys from one team both declared themselves Beaters.
“Uh, you’ll be a Beater first, and then you’ll switch,” I pronounced.
Again, I made the mistake of ascribing utter reasonableness to school children.
Beater No. Two turned an impressive shade of crimson in an even more impressively short period of time.
“BUT I WANT TO BE A BEATER!”
He threw himself onto the ground and began to pull out his hair.
I looked at him, nonplussed. Even I had to admit, I was unequipped to deal with this total meltdown.
I chose to ignore him, and turned away to blow my beloved whistle.
“The rest of you, throw this volleyball through one of the rings on the other side. If a Beater hits you with one of their red balls, drop the volleyball and run back to your team’s rings.
“On my whistle. One, two –”
I blew the whistle and tossed the volleyball directly above my head.
The outcome of the match was immediately certain. The big gangly kid scored twice in under a minute.
Both sides’ Beaters watched their fellow teammates running joyfully around the field. Seemingly regretting their positions, each started tossing their red balls through the rings.
“Goal! Goal!” they screamed helpfully.
“No goal! No goal!” I waved my arms around maniacally. “Beaters, you have to throw your red balls at the other team!”
Both Beaters ignored me, and continued to throw their balls through the rings, and not violently at their fellow players as J.K. Rowling intended.
Gangly Kid scored four more times.
My friend, the glittery Golden Snitch appeared, holding the hand of a very tiny girl dressed as Tinkerbell.
“We have another player. Can she join the melee?”
I puffed my chest out authoritatively and waved my hand dismissively. I had more important things to concern myself with than some small child dressed as a character from the wrong story.
My friend directed Tinkerbell to join the game. Alas, she appeared to have very little actual interest in playing. Instead, Tinkerbell sauntered off and began hitting a punching bag.
The volleyball fell to the ground, and was snatched up by Big Eyeglasses, who was promptly tackled by four other players.
I contemplated breaking up the fight, but decided against it. It was high time these children learned the law of natural consequences.
Gangly Kid yanked the ball away and scored three more times.
I waved to my friend. As the Golden Snitch, she was the most desirable object in Quidditch; per standard rules, the first team to catch her won 150 points.
I decided to simplify the scoring; I did not want to do complex addition.
“We have now come to the final portion of the game!” I bellowed, blowing my whistle. “I need everyone to line up over here to my left.
“This,” I gestured to my friend, who was now wiggling to and froe at the other end of the field, “is the Golden Snitch. The first player to tag her wins his team 10 points.”
“She’s worth 150 points!” Birthday Boy corrected.
“On my whistle. One, two—”
On the whistle, 30 children ran forward.
The Snitch was tagged by Gangly Kid within seconds.
I trotted over to him.
“You! Kid! Yeah, you kid! Which team were you on?”
He looked momentarily confused.
“Uh, that team!” he decided. “The team going that way!”
I blew my whistle.
“The team going that way wins!”
One of the moms walked up to me.
“Wow, you really had those kids in line. You really made them hop-to!”
My chest swelled with pride; kinder words were never said to me.
“It’s all in the whistle,” I mumbled humbly. “All in the whistle.”
Sarah Brown is training to be a world-class drill sergeant. In the meantime, she can be reached at [email protected], and on Twitter @BrownsClose1. “Close” is a British term for alley or cul-de-sac. For more of Sarah’s musings, visit Browns-Close.com.