Your legs are pumping and your teeth are clenched as sweat trickles down the side of your face.  You push, you pant–you groan and cry–but you know you just have to get through it.  You try not to look at the clock too often; that only stretches the agony.  After the first painful minutes you start playing games in your head, using mental trickery to distract yourself from the long slow burn:  Replaying old Seinfeld episodes in your mind, ticking off what you’ll buy for the master bedroom once you “have the money,” revisiting Christmas dinner with your in-laws–only this time you say what you really should have said then.  (Unlike the rest of your time spent on the Stairmaster/party, this last bit feels really good.)  

It seems it will never end.  Your body is working so hard, moving so fast, throwing all of its strength into the grueling demands now placed on it, and yet:  it does not end.  Like the cruelly indifferent Stairmaster, the birthday party will not reward your effort, only your time.  Greater exertion on your part will do nothing to shorten the duration of your penance.  That invitation you sent out last week (back when you were an idiot) specifically told parents to come pick up their children at five ‘o clock.  Regardless of how hard they pretend to ” just love kids!” not one parent will arrive a single minute prior to five ‘o clock.  Guaranteed.  I mean, would you?  (You would not.  You have not.  You know this, and so does everyone else.  It’s payback time.)  Whether you grind it out or laze it away, five ‘o clock will not arrive until, well, five ‘o clock.

But grind it out you do–you direct and serve and play, and you do it all with a smile.  Doing so won’t shorten the ordeal, but it will make it worthwhile.  You step on the Stairmaster to make something intense happen, and you plan a party for your first-grade boy with the same objective in mind.  Intensity hurts, but it beats complacency.  And if complacency is unfortunate on a Stairmaster, it is unforgiveable at a little boys’ birthday party.  Which is why you:

  • Doused the living room and kitchen with enough Cars 2 paraphenelia to make Finn McMissile mcbristle. (Sorry.)
  • Employed your ultra-talented, ultra-busy sister to slave over yet another showstopping cake for your child and then thanked her by eating a large piece yourself (you don’t want to be rude.)
  • Oversaw a treasure hunt to find “Axelrod,” a competitive game of Pin the Gun on Finn McMissile, and violently sporadic breakouts of Werewolf Tag (whatever that is–the chase started when the first boy walked through the front door and each boy who arrived joined in immediately.  They were still playing when their parents picked them up.)
  • Oversaw your husband–your darling, virtuous, loyal and faithful husband–lead the boys to the park next door for the last fifteen minutes of the party.  Imagine how it would feel to have someone unplug the Stairmaster fifteen minutes early but tell you that you would still burn as many calories as if you’d pumped the entire time.  Just imagine it.  Awesome.

And just as with the Stairmaster, when the infinite stretch of time has finally elapsed and you are able to shout out “done!”, you disembark, look around you, and feel like a million bucks. You did it.  It was kind of horrible and kind of fun and now it’s over and you did it. 

But unlike crawling back on the Stairmaster tomorrow morning, you will not throw a birthday party for your seven-year old boy for another year.  And when you do, he’ll be an eight-year old boy, and that will be a whole different post.  Probably one of the long, sad, sappy ones.  But for now, he’s still just seven, and you can laugh at how ridiculously hyper and loud and adorable he is.  And you can wish him a big happy birthday and feel good about that chocolate cake you ate because you know you burned all of those calories (and then some) with the sheer effort it took to pull this whole thing off.  And then you wonder: who needs a Stairmaster when you’ve got a little boy? 

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