Saturday, November 7, 2009

Another thing you need to tell me

I've said a few times that parents need to tell me beforehand if their child has any issues I need to know about. Parents tend to be very good (overly good) about alerting me to allergies. However, they're not as good at alerting me if their children have developmental or behavioral issues. Autism, ADHD, whatever. The kid might just be A Great Big Jerk -- I like to know that in advance, too.

Parents: One thing that you might want to bring to my attention is if your child has a severe anxiety disorder of some kind. Let me give you an example.

Last week I was teaching my favorite class of kids. One of the girls, a nerdy, bespectacled whiz kid named Beth* started to tell me halfway through that she missed her mommy. The girl is in third grade. She looked fretful and because she'd pulled the same thing last week, I told her that her mother would come for her in half an hour, and she only had to wait until then.

Five minutes passed. "I miss my mommy."

Fifteen minutes passed. "I miss my mommy."

Twenty-eight minutes passed. Two minutes left in the class. By now, she looked really troubled. She started crying. Her face got hot and flushed----she up and told me she was "feeling very hot." I sat her down and asked her to just breathe, and that her mommy would see her in two minutes and she didn't have to worry. She continued to stress, hyperventilate, and freak out----until she looked at me and told me she had to go to the bathroom.

I reached for her hand and said we'd go together. She shook her head and said, "I'm leaking." All of a sudden, she wets her pants. An eight-year-old girl just wet her pants. Not a little bit, either. Her bladder exploded. In the span of three seconds, there was a small puddle of urine on the floor. Five seconds, and it looked like someone spilled a two-liter bottle of lemonade.

This is not the first time I've had a child wet herself in my class. I had a five-year-old girl fuss and whine for a few seconds and then wet herself during a summer camp----weird, because she'd been just fine about using the bathroom before. But she was five. Five! I remember having accidents when I was five. Beth, on the other hand, is eight, and the accident clearly came as a result of some kind of freakish panic attack.

Immediately following the accident, it was like the dam breaking had relieved all her pressure. She immediately felt better. She didn't seem remotely concerned that she was sitting on a urine-soaked bench in urine-soaked pants, swinging her feet above a urine-soaked floor. The other students were starting to make comments and I had to swoop in and keep them occupied while one of the dads (the school janitor!) was kind enough to grab his mop and clean it up without me even thinking to suggest it (the last time I had to clean it up myself, so I'm so thankful he was there). She looked up at me, the red color fading in her face, and said: "Hey, at least it's cooling me down!" I appreciate the optimism, I suppose.

When her mother finally arrived, we were still cleaning up the mess. Beth still had wet clothes. Her mother didn't seem the least bit concerned. In fact, she acted like it happened all the time.

HELLO? If your child has a disorder which causes them to have panic attacks until they wet themselves, I NEED TO KNOW THIS. It would prepare me. Maybe give me a tip on how to help her cope with it. Maybe I could send her off to the bathroom before she pees all over the floor. Maybe I just wouldn't be fucking horrified by the situation if I knew it was coming. Do her teachers know? Did they find out the hard way? This is something you NEED to mark on her health form. Seriously.

Just... fuckin' seriously.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

The stuff nightmares are made of

Do you ever get nightmares about work? As an actor, I grew up with the "actor's nightmare" --- the dream that puts you on stage without knowing any lines. This kind of thing is common. It's the dream where nothing goes right, where everything that could go wrong does go wrong. When I started working for this company, I started to get nightmares about what would happen if everything went wrong. If I wasn't prepared, or if the children didn't respond. Sometimes I have bad days at work, but they're never as bad as the ones in my nightmares.

Until today.

Today's party was surreal. Another Halloween-themed party, the day after Halloween (oh, goody). Now, the Halloween party is a little juvenile. It requires suspension of disbelief. I have to tell stories about imaginary characters and act like witches and vampires are real. For little kids, they are real. But once you hit nine or ten, or if you're just a jaded rebellious pain in the ass, this party becomes downright stupid. My first warning bell was that the birthday child in question was nine years old. That's a little old for this kind of thing. But... okay! I was feeling good, because the party also was only supposed to have ten kids. Easy peasy, despite the cotton candy add-on. (Cotton candy is the worst add-on to a party. It's sticky, it's messy, and the equipment is heavy as hell. Also, kids are assholes about it and pretend to get sugar rushes. They think it gives them the right to act like monkeys. But anyway.)

One thing the mother did NOT tell me, however, is that the birthday child is mentally handicapped. I would have liked to know this prior to him coming into the room at the start of the party. I've done parties for autistic children before, or children with mentally and physically handicapped siblings/friends. I just like to KNOW. I like to know what's expected from the child, if their behavior is going to be out of the ordinary, or specific ways how to handle the child----warnings about what they can and cannot do, etc, notes on their attention span, etc. Is that too much to ask for? But no, not a word from mom! Birthday boy was loud, restless, and irritating. He couldn't control himself, and continued to get up and wander around behind my table to look at my equipment and TOUCH my equipment----something that is not allowed. He wouldn't budge when I asked him. He wouldn't budge when I told him. I don't blame him. He doesn't understand. But I would have appreciated parental assistance in handling this kid. I barely got any.

AND YET, our mentally-handicapped friend was not my problem. I can handle a child like that. I could NOT handle all his snotty friends. Only ten kids. Should have been easy. But remember what I said about this party being a little juvenile? At the start of the party, I let the kids know that I'm going to be telling some stories, so it's just fun to roll with it and pretend along with me, even if you may not think it's true.


These kids were bastards. They were skeptics. They were at that age where challenging authority is cool. There's a huge difference between questioning something out of curiosity and being a bitch just because you can be. Yes, I have a balloon the size of an egg. Yes, I'm telling you that it's a vampire. Look, I drew a face on him! Just roll with it. Don't be an asshole and tell me it's a balloon and the fangs are magic marker and that I'm stupid. I just want to get through the experiment and move on. Every single act went like this. I present a story, I get called on my bullshit, or Birthday Boy toddles up to the table and starts grabbing things he shouldn't grab and lo, reveals the secret of the magic trick. Or, while I'm in the middle of something, another kid wanders to the corner where I have things HIDDEN and starts pointing at it and going OMG WHAT IS THAT. These kids were contrary, they were rude, they made every act take longer because all they did was argue with me----or raise their hands to say really obnoxious stuff when I think they have an actual answer.

Children TOUCHED the dry ice. I was halfway through my spiel about how dry ice is dangerous. I was holding it with gloves, telling them not to touch, when the child beside me reaches out when I'm looking the other way. And touches it. He then has the audacity to say "It's not cold!" to everyone around him. I very seriously stop the party to let them know that this is a serious safety warning and that touching it is very dangerous. I let them know that they can experience it by blowing on it and watching the carbon dioxide gas come off of it. The third kid to do this sneaks a hand under my hands while blowing and TOUCHES IT AGAIN. "It's not cold at all!" he says. You want to know why you don't feel the cold? Because it's so cold that it's killing the nerves in your fucking fingers, you idiot. How much do you want to bet I'm going to get a call like this is my fault?

But oh. Oh. OH, the final straw.

I was making cotton candy, and some kids stood on their chairs in order to be tall enough to see what was going on inside the bowl. I didn't mind that. The parents said it was okay and they weren't trying to touch anything. But then the kid beside and slightly behind me snaps out a hand and knocks my cute bat deely-boppers OFF OF MY HEAD. Not like a child who is curious and grabs because they don't know any better, but like a disrespectful, obnoxious ten-year-old brat trying to be an asshole. This is akin to walking up to a clown and tearing off their red nose, or kicking a balloon-seller in the shins just because you think it's funny. I was ready to cry. I was ready to lose my mind.

You ever see party entertainers in movies or on TV where they're abused and it's funny? Fuck you! It's sad. Next kid who touches my deely-boppers is getting hit with a sock full of rocks.

Homey don't play that.

Um, hello?

The label for this says "birthday parties." That's not really true. Every once in a blue moon I do a party that's not a birthday. For example, we have Halloween-themed parties that are often used as birthdays in October. Sometimes they're just Halloween costume parties. It's fun to see all the kids in their costumes----you can always count on a few Transformers, a Spider-Man, a Batman, a ninja, and one or six of the Disney Princesses.

Today was Halloween! I had a party at 4:45, which struck me as a little odd (and not just because when I booked it, I was told by my boss it was at 1:45). Weren't these kids trick-or-treating? Or did they hire me as a substitute now that their whitebread upper-middle-class neighborhood was full of pedophiles and killers who want to give their kids apples with razorblades? As it turned out, I was not a substitute. I was a time-filler. I was the appetizer before the meal. I was the sideshow before the circus.

Were the kids rowdy? Yeah. I was also told there would be 15 kids. There were 20. Yay! Fuck you. They were rowdy, and there were a bunch of older kids (12+) who were mouthy, who set a bad example, and who goofed around in a mocking way----which doesn't get the younger kids in an excited-for-science mood. All in all, the party went OKAY. Not that badly, but not something to write home about. The kids didn't care! Of course not! All they cared about was going out and getting candy afterward.

Apparently, that was all ANYONE cared about, because the second my party was over, everyone left. Twenty kids and all the parents, including the host mother. They all left. LEFT. They closed me in the basement and left. They went trick-or-treating. I cleaned up alone, thinking it was awful weird to not get a follow-up from anybody. Half an hour later I went upstairs and opened the basement door. The host dad was enjoying some wine with his friend and was freaked out that SOMEONE was in his home.

He forgot I was here, too! Fortunately their invoice was paid, and Dad and Dad's Friend helped me take my stuff back to the car. Dad also tipped me in a check because Mom left for trick-or-treating without tipping me in the cash that he'd apparently given her. The fact that I walked out with a tip stunned me. I hate Halloween parties. I then went to a grown-up Halloween party, directly after. My costume was an Overworked & Underpaid Professor.