Halloween approaches and I'm walking down memory lane. My two older kids have October birthdays, so we often did Halloween themed birthday parties or other events. Here is the story of The Disaster that Was Doran's Ninth Birthday Celebration.
Doran's birthday is in October and he sometimes liked to have Halloween-themed parties. When he was turning 9, he saw an ad for "Madison Scare Garden," some sort of Halloween spectacular show kind of thing in Madison Square Garden. He decided he wanted to do that in lieu of a party. Given the cost of tickets, I said he could invite two friends. He chose H., our downstairs neighbor who is a little older than him, and J. J. was a new friend, a classmate for the first time that year and his Homework Buddy. They had been assigned Homework Buddies but had become friends very quickly and were spending a lot of time together. I had met her parents only briefly and thought the mother a little odd.
So, I spoke to Sharon Downstairs and all was set for H. to come. I called J's house and spoke to her father, who thought it sounded great. A date was set; I went to Madison Square Garden and bought four tickets; everything was arranged. Then J's mother called me a few days later. This was our conversation, after the obligatory introductions.
J's Mother: J. can't come to Doran's birthday.
Dale: I'm so sorry. Why not?
J (in background): Don't say that, Mom. I'm going!
J's Mother: J can't attend scary events. She has an Anxiety Disorder.
J(in background): Mom! I'm going.
Dale: Uh. Well. Gee. (assorted other inarticulate sounds)
J's Mother: Well, how scary is it?
Dale: Uh, well. I don't know, really. Doran just saw an ad. It did bill it as family entertainment.
J's Mother: She has an Anxiety Disorder.
Dale (thinking "I was a scared kid, but J has an Anxiety Disorder" but not saying that): That must be hard.
J in Background: I'm going!
We got nowhere. No conclusion whatsoever. And I really wanted Doran to get to take two friends. Plus the tickets were expensive and I didn't want to waste one. J's father called back and said J would be fine. J's mother called again a couple of days later and said J wouldn't be coming. Then she called again and said maybe she would.
This back and forth stuff was giving me an Anxiety Disorder of my own.
The day of the event arrived. We were meeting at our place for cake and then going to Madison Scare Garden. Last I'd heard J was coming. An hour before she's supposed to arrive her mother calls and says she can't come because it's too scary. This time both J and her father are in the background saying she's coming.
J shows up. Her father brought her. You won't be surprised to know I was kind of anxious taking the kids to Madison Scare Garden. As we arrived, we saw a sign saying it was not recommended for kids under 7, which was pretty good since we're talking 9-year-olds. We hand in our tickets.
As you wait to go in, you're in a kind of cabaret set up where all the performers are actors dressed up as monsters. It's pretty fun and not too scary. All the kids are having a good time and talking – happily – about how scary it will be. There's a sign saying "Do not touch the monsters. They will not touch you." Then we go in.
The show is a series of haunted house-type tableaux with each tableau having live actors acting out a scary scene. You go from one tableau to the next to the next, about 5-10 people observing at once. Each is like a small room. Each scene is different. Some are from classic tales, some just invented for the show. They are all very, very scary. The actors are excellent, the makeup is very realistic and it's so close to you. They don't touch you, just as the sign said, but they threaten you with weapons, teeth, etc. and do it very well.
I'm checking the kids, J particularly. She's holding my hand tight, and scared, but fun scared, you know? Shivering and smiling. Same with H, who is holding onto my arm. Doran OTOH is freaking out.
I wasn't sure at first – I thought he might be having fun. He's screaming, but lots of people are screaming. He's clinging to me, but so are the other two kids. I whispered "Are you really scared?" and he yelled "Get me out of here!"
But there was nowhere to go. You exit one tableau into the next. Plus, I didn't want to ruin the fun for the others even if I could get him out. So I try calming him down, putting my body between him and the monsters, etc. But he's getting worse with each successive tableau. And I'm totally at a loss. And then an unseen hand grabs us and pulls us through the curtain around one of the tableaux and suddenly we are standing in a hallway, all four of us, with a Delightful Woman With Blood and Gore All Over Her Face, who turns to me and says, "Can I help you?"
I almost kissed her, but didn't want to ruin her makeup. I explain the situation and the DWWBAGAOHF offers to help. She says there are a few things we can do. We can stop right there and go to the end of the show where there is, she tells us, a lovely exhibit of carved Jack O'Lanterns. Or Doran and I can go to the exhibit while J and H finish the show ("No way!" Was the response from them. They were having fun, but not going without me). Or I can go on with J and H and the DWWBAGAOHF can take Doran to the exhibit and wait for us there.
I asked the DWWBAGAOHF what was left of the show. She said there were two sections: Escape from Rikers Island (I thought we could pass on that) and a section with Three-D effects, which sounded cool.
So, it was agreed that we go to the Three-D one and she takes Doran to the pumpkin thing. The Three-D thing was very cool. They give you Three-D glasses and each little room has paint with three-d effects jumping out from the walls. Plus the actors have 3-D effects in makeup on their faces and costumes, but they have dark cloaks on and you don't see them at first and then they kind of flash you and you get the whole effect. Very cool, but also very scary, because they scream at you or brandish things as they do it.
So, J and H and I go through it and meet Doran and the DWWBAGAOHF at the pumpkins. Only by now Doran's feeling bad that he missed it, and worse when J and H start talking about how cool it was. And then the DWWBAGAOHF lives up to her name :-) by saying "I have an idea." We go back to the 3D section – all of us – but she goes in ahead of us to each room and says "Don't be scary" to all the monsters. So we go through all the rooms again, but in each one the monsters wave or say "hi" or shake hands instead of scaring us as they reveal themselves.
So, not a total loss. We went to the souvenir shop and then to dinner nearby. Our waiter said that the previous year everyone was saying it wasn't scary enough and that this year everyone looks shell-shocked. And I have to say I think it was wonderful for J to do that and to have that success in her emotional bank account to draw on when the Anxiety Disorder acted up.
And my dear Doran emerged relatively unscathed, thanks to a Delightful Woman with Blood and Gore All Over Her Face.