Rocco wanted a laser tag birthday party at real laser tag place, and I was happy not to host it at home after last year’s cataclysmic party. Not having been to a real laser tag arena myself, I imagined a kind of cartoony set-up where the kids would be asked, “Do you want the minty green gun or the lemon yellow one?” Then there would be an hour of them running around saying pshew pshew in their chipmunky little voices.
I did not expect to see what looked like a real weapons arsenal with real looking guns that made real sounds and had built-in kick-back action. To see your sweet seven-year-old boy who is missing two front teeth and has an adorable a speech impediment strapped up like he’s going to war…
Well, it’s both precious and horrifying. I was conflicted. I wanted to say awwwwww and NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT, NO NO NO at the same time.
With all the kids strapped to gigantic guns and closed into a windowless, post-apocalyptic looking room, all there was to do was wait and watch the leaderboard numbers go up and down—health, kills, points, emotional scarring–it was all there. I watched the numbers and was again conflicted. Do I feel proud of my kids when they get a lot of kills? Am I hoping they win or lose at the game of war?
When Rocco went on a nine-person killing streak and got MVP of the final round well, there were tears in my eyes and I’m still not sure what kind they were.
For the most part, we didn’t know who was “killing it,” so to speak, because there weren’t any names on the leaderboard, just numbers. The kids were nothing but stats. We had some pretty good guesses though, as four of the kids were eighth graders, most were fourth graders, and one was a second grader. We knew that No. 29, who had twice as many kills as anyone else, was definitely an eighth grader. And we knew that Leo–the youngest of the pack and the only one to rage quit the game–was going to come in dead last.
But we were wrong.
The top scorers were third graders, not eighth graders, Leo finished somewhere in the middle of the pack, and Rocco’s sweet best friend who loves puppies and his little sisters and who wats to give the whole world one big gigantic hug—that’s the guy who was blowing everyone else out of the water.
On the car ride back I got the stories of how mistakes were made and lessons were learned. Like how Carson walked up to a bunch of his allies and said, “Hi guys!” and one of them instinctively shot him. And how during “Last Man Standing” Gabe watched Rocco slaughter half the kids in the arena while he cowered in a corner, then Rocco walked past him and Gabe killed him with one shot, winning the game. All is fair in love and war. The bad news is I’m afraid to have any of these kids over to spend the night. The good news is I know who to give the meat mallet to if an intruder ever enters the house.
As the kids were marched out of the battle arena, bright-eyed and dripping in sweat, reeking of testosterone, I made a promise to myself that next year we are having Rocco’s party at a place that lets kids do humanitarian work. Does the Peace Corps have some kind of XTreme Peace Building Arena for birthday parties?
WHAT’S COOKIN’ 2NITE:
Going out to eat!