Small Wonders: Booting the locust swarm out the door

Things sure to take a late-summer heat wave to new levels of torture:

Woolen long-johns. A car without air-conditioning. Ten manic girls camped out in your living room.

Last week we entertained a gaggle of princesses for our 9-year-old’s sleepover birthday.

Have you noticed how kids’ birthdays seem to last an entire week?

Seven days early: “My birthday is this week! Can I open a present?”

The day before: “It’s my birthday eve. Can I open a present?”

At 11:50 p.m. that night: “I can’t sleep. Can I open a present?”

Birthday morning: “Don’t you have something to say to me?”

And that was only Wednesday. A midweek celebratory lunch at Bob’s Big Boy was followed by relatives dropping off frankincense on Thursday and myrrh on Friday.

It wasn’t until Saturday that we held the actual birthday party, the pinnacle of a child’s high holy days. The chesty, tight-sweatered KCAL9 weather ladies promised triple-digit temperatures. They did not disappoint. But what's a family without a pool to do?

When I was young, we were content with running through sprinklers on scorching hot days. We envied the kid with an oscillating sprinkler on his lawn; the one that shot high in the air, fanning slowly like Farrah Fawcett’s liquid eyelash.

Today, kids get a 5-in-1 bounce house with waterslide, obstacle course and basketball court delivered to their front yard. The closest we had in my childhood was a soiled mattress we found down the dirt road.

Having children has blessed me with many “aha!” moments of self-discovery. And parties like this are the low-hanging fruit of life lessons. For instance, I’d always wondered if the soothing tone of my voice was inaudible only to my own offspring. I am pleased to confirm that your chemically-imbalanced preteens cannot hear me either.

“Close the door behind you, please.”

“Dry your feet off, please.”

“Who left the door open?”

“Why are there water tracks through the living room?”

“Seriously, guys! Close the door!”

And people who bemoan the hyperactive chaos of boys have never seen the “Lord of the Flygirls” reaction when one subset of maidens decides they don’t want to go down the waterslide exactly as prescribed by the other island denizens. Barely an hour into the party, pitchforks and torches were out and beheadings scheduled for those who did not comply.

Parenting tip #113: Diversion.

“Time for pizza and cake!”

With gaping maws filled, the Locust Swarm descended upon the living room to watch the One Direction concert DVD for the 837th time. Unfamiliar with One Direction? Picture a Beetles cover band cast with male teenage runner-ups from any TV singing competition, synthetically engineered by Simon Cowell.

As they argue over which singer is their boyfriend and whose hairstyle is cutest (the answer to both is Liam, I am told), I slowly creep into the sanctuary of my bedroom with a bottle of Trader Joe’s single-malt Scotch. Two-Buck Fergus, I like to call it.

On sleepover nights, the wife and I cede the entire house, save our bedroom, to the Locust Swarm. We’re content with an adult beverage, video-on-demand and catheters. Yet, such successful annexation of territory is not enough for the Locust Swarm, as evidenced by their constant scratching at our door.

Requests for drinks, reports of improprieties, suggestions for better feng shui flow in our living room. It took us five hours to watch “The Five-Year Engagement” — too long for any movie not directed by Scorsese.

Sleep, capricious and shy, finally blessed our home between 1 and 2 a.m. When I turned the TV off, the scene in the living room looked like a PG-rated sorority house after the big game.

And here’s something else I don’t get about birthday parties today: goody bags.

When I was a boy, a goody bag was what you lit on fire and left on your neighbor’s doorstep. Today it's required swag for every kid's party. Noisemakers, plastic rings, to-go candy and other landfill detritus to throw out or consume on their drive home.

And at each party the goody-bag bar gets set higher. That one parent whose death we plot when we get together without her starts handing out Target gift cards, iPods, 401k matching contributions.

You know what we gave the Locust Swarm?


Pop Tarts, microwaved cinnamon rolls, a pat on the head and a boot out the door.

That and 18 childless hours for their parents to rediscover how peaceful life was before procreation took its toll.

Top that!

PATRICK CANEDAY isn't such a bad guy. Contact him at Read more at

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