James Monroe, a Zip Line and an Emergency Room

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Abby looked at me from atop a straw bale, as chaos reigned all around.

“You guys have the best parties.”

Sign, sealed and delivered, the second-grader made everything worth it.

Of course, the moment didn’t last long as Ryan shook up and down on the end of the zip line, “Come on, let me go, let me go.”

Off he went, black coattails flying in the air, down the zip line with me holding the end of a long rope, slowing him down at the end of the line, so he could land softly into a pile of straw bales and Rambo blankets, which worked all day, until it didn’t (more on that later).

Miles’ eighth birthday party, like all his birthday parties, brought its challenges. We don’t do Chuck E. Cheese’s, or bouncy house or piñatas. No, we create our own extravaganza that winds up being part Halloween, part birthday party, part cocktail party. 

Miles decided on a presidential-themed birthday party this year. As he’s memorized the 44 presidents in order and knows that Rutherford B. Hayes was shot five times in the Civil War, Chester A. Arthur ate seven-course dinners and Franklin Pearce’s son was killed in a train wreck shortly before he became president, it opened a big door.


Miles decided he wanted to dress up as James Monroe. James Monroe? What does he look like? We Googled the fifth president, of course, and actually saw the resemblance Miles kept talking about, although, we weren’t sure anybody else would see it. We brought some hair gel, heavy duty. We bought a Paul Revere costume (funny enough, no one actually sells James Monroe-specific costumes) and turned Miles into James Monroe. He loved it.

His friends represented an assortment of presidents, there were a couple Abraham Lincolns (remember Ryan’s coattails), a George Washington if I remember correctly and yes, sadly, one Donald Trump. The girls came in an assortment of first-lady costumes, there were several Jackie Kennedys of course, Martha Washington in full hoop dress, Abigail Adams and, yes, a few Melania Trumps. Ah well.

Annie went to her vintage section of her closet and pulled off Jackie Kennedy like only she could and I went down the easy route as Teddy Roosevelt in khaki hunting gear, mustache and wire spectacles.

We failed to find any Civil War re-enactors or presidential actors, but the rest of the party came to life. Life-sized cut-outs of Teddy Roosevelt, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan (Miles’ grandfather, Papou, considers him the best president in his lifetime), red, white and blue streamers and bunting turned the living room into an inauguration. An American flag cake topped it off. We even played old inauguration addresses over Sonos until the kids drowned out Eisenhower, Kennedy and Roosevelt.

The zip line, a Christmas present last year, came out of the attic the day before the party and was rigged from an oak tree near the house to the far shed in the corner of the yard. Two chains, a come-along and some MacGyvering and we were in business, as Annie warned that kids get hurt on these things all the time. I scoffed, until Miles barreled into me like I was turn two at Daytona. We attached an 80-foot rope to the plastic seat, it acted as a rip chord for soft landings, crisis diverted.

Martha Washington had trouble, trying to wrap her skirt around the zip line.

“How in the world did Mrs. Washington ride a zip line?” I asked.

“I don’t know. I really don’t know,” she said.

Off she went, a taffeta blur into the wind.

Kids shivered in the cold, waiting in line for the zip line, one, two, three, 50, 100…a conveyor belt of laughter, legs and the zing of the zip.

In between zip line runs, we ate pizza and sandwiches from the Upper Crust Bakery, stoked fires raging in two rooms, did a treasure hunt looking for president Pez dispensers and figurines (Poppy found the most) and Miles hosted his own version of Presidential Trivia, stumping all the kids and most of the parents with 10 questions ranging from the War of 1812 to the Model T. The Glucks won a bottle of Prosecco for answering three questions correctly – next stop Jeopardy! for them.

With the light fading, the die-hard zip liners asked for one more run. Off we went, I took my spot and the kids scrambled up the straw-bale ladder. By now, I had lost my mustache and my safety standards. Brodie implored me for a solo run. Perhaps it was the earnestness from behind his Lincoln garb, I dropped the rope and he set sail. At the end of the line, the zip line shuddered to a stop, Lincoln rocked back and forth and wobbled. It could have been Ford’s Theatre. With his one good hand (he was in a cast with a broken arm long before the party), Brodie touched his forehead, “I’m OK. I’m just going to take a break for a minute. I’m OK.”

I escorted him to the kitchen door, checking for blood (there was none), asking for coherency (he knew his name, the day and who he was dressed up as) and thinking we had dodged a bullet.

It did not last long.

“Brodie needs stitches,” Annie yelled, minutes later.

The zip line went slack.

Brodie went to the emergency room for a two stitches and the party eventually faded out.

At the end of the day, Miles scrubbed hair gel from his head, the final remnants of James Monroe washing down the drain.

“Dad, that was a great party,” Miles said. “It was just a great party.”

Somewhere, I hoped Brodie was thinking the same thing.