I woke up on Halloween, the first day of my next decade of full-time single motherhood, riding a serious high.
My son's tenth birthday party the day before had been a roaring success. I had created a The Amazing Race-like scavenger hunt through town for seventeen fourth graders in four teams.
After eating pizza in the gazebo at our town's harborside park, I sent the boys out with their first clue. Accompanied by a few adults who wanted to come along, the boys visited twelve businesses where they were asked to collect something (e.g. a home-listing flyer at a real estate agency), answer a question (at a restaurant: How much does the Goat Cheese Crostini cost?), or perform a task (pump up a tire at the bike shop).
Do You Know Your Town? That was the theme of the quest.
The last clue brought the boys to Dunkin' Donuts where they were told to buy a hot chocolate then to bring it back to the park. I calculated exactly how much money each team would need for the warm beverages and enclosed the dollar bills and coins in envelopes. (Upon returning to the gazebo, one team reported that they'd been one penny short. Apparently, someone had purchased a large cocoa instead of a small one, and that had thrown calculations off!)
Ah, kids. They are so funny.
I brought out a The Amazing Race-decorated cake, which quickly got half devoured before I thought to take a picture, then I gave everyone a can of Silly String or temporary hair dye. Most of the boys got the former, but Target didn't have enough Silly String on the shelf to meet my need. "Please take your can home. It's for Halloween tomorrow," I said.
I defy you to show me a fourth-grade boy who can resist going wild with one of those cans in a public park surrounded by his friends! The boys reported having a blast at the party, and it made me very happy to watch them laughing and running around freely without a care in the world. When I later asked Christopher how the party stacked up to others he'd attended or I'd held for him at locations such as Chuck E. Cheese's, a laser-tag facility, a bowling alley, etc., he said it was tied for first place with the one he went to at Sky Zone, an indoor trampoline park near Boston.
Sky Zone is where he wanted to celebrate his birthday, which conveniently fell on a half day at school. (Parents are pleased when this happens because it means they don't have to deal with busy weekend sports schedules when planning. And kids are happy because there's something extra special about being able to celebrate with your friends on your actual birthday.) However, I had been wanting to hold a scavenger-hunt party for Christopher for a long time. And ten is the perfect age to introduce one.
In third grade, kids who live close to our elementary school are permitted for the first time to walk to school unsupervised. Fourth grade can bring a little more independence such as venturing around our very small town in the company of friends. The boys would enjoy the bit of freedom my party afforded them, I reasoned.
I explained in great detail how the party would work in an e-mail to parents, and I believe a few of them bowed out due to not feeling comfortable with its parameters. Others, however, elected to come along or agreed to be stationed in the town to help me maintain order and safety.
Safety first! Always No. 1 in my book.
I have a soft spot for scavenger hunts. It started during the summer of 1984 when I took a post-college whirlwind trip to Great Britain and Western Europe. One of my stops was Mainz, Germany, where a college friend was living at the time. She had studied in the city along the Rhine River her junior year and had returned after graduation to work.
With a hilarious German friend of hers as the driver, she took me on a scavenger hunt through the countryside in cars. I can't remember if someone else was in the passenger seat, yet I do know Jamie and I were in the back. I also can't remember exactly what it was about the driver -- his accent speaking English or the off-the-wall things he said or, probably, both -- but Jamie and I were laughing hysterically the entire time. In fact, I remember very little of the actual hunt other than it was extremely difficult. Of course, it was impossible for me since I don't speak the language!
Anyway one goofy task was to cook a potato. How the heck were we going to do that out on the road? Our driver thought to put it in the car engine. Strange, but that's all we could come up with. As it turned out, we did quite poorly in the competition. Probably too much laughing and teasing our driver! The winning team, incidentally, managed the potato challenge by pulling over at a roadside restaurant and asking to have the spud cooked.
When I returned from the trip, I threw a scavenger-hunt party for my friends out of my parents' house in Darien, Connecticut. Again I don't remember much about it because it was a very long time ago, but I did send the teams to the city next door via train! Imagine the horrified looks on my friends' faces as I watched them board the New York City-bound commuter rail. Priceless. No harm done. I picked them up at the Metro-North station in Stamford.
Originally, I envisioned Christopher's birthday party scavenger hunt starting out of my home. Since my place was not picked up, however, I thought we could get away with setting up base camp at the park. October 30th is fairly late for an outdoor party in northeastern Massachusetts. Still, it had been a gorgeous month, so I was hopeful the weather would hold up. Well, wouldn't you know it? It rained that morning. But I was in way too deep to postpone the 12:30 p.m. adventure. We would all just have to suffer through it together. Eureka! The precipitation stopped at 12:29! The air temperature and wind also weren't too bad down by the water.
We were in luck.
Boston Strong all the way!
The only way the day could have been better would have been if we had attended the game in person. That would have meant missing late afternoon football practice, however, and his brother Charlie wouldn't have been able to go trick or treating in costume at an event at a nearby college. Charlie needed this treat because he hadn't been allowed to go to the birthday party. I didn't feel comfortable sending my seven year old around town unsupervised, so he went to the school's wonderful after-school program where he painted a scary death mask. He was fine with missing the party, and I was most grateful that he understood.
The day worked out perfectly. What a splendid way to finish off ten years!