When my sons were little, I planned their themed birthday parties weeks in advance. I tried to develop the themes around their interests...a dinosaur dig, pirate party with a plank to walk, medieval ball with costumes for the birthday boy AND all his guests...
When Jack, who is now 16, turned four-years-old, he loved the movie Spy Kids. Action figures had just been released, and he had them all. He wanted a Spy Kids party. Unfortunately, our party supply store did not carry Spy Kids paper plates and napkins; so I had to improvise. Staying true to the color scheme on the movie posters, I bought orange and black plates, cups, napkins, balloons, and streamers. For the top of the cake, we bought a brand new pack of Thumb Thumbs, action figure villains aptly named since they looked like walking thumbs wearing suits.
I dressed Jack in a tiny pair of black cargo pants, an orange shirt, and a little black jacket so he would look like the boy in Spy Kids. My husband, following my careful plans, set up a Spy Kids identification badge template on the computer. As each guest arrived, he snapped his or her picture with a digital camera, uploaded the picture, and created a Spy Kids badge to insert into the lanyards I had purchased.
By the time everyone had arrived, we had at least 15 pre-school spies running through the house. I was getting ready to line them up and direct them to the sets of laminated construction paper footprints that I had taped to the hardwood floors. They were supposed to follow the footprints to find the treasure chest...which I had filled with party favors.
Then my sister arrived...with a special gift for Jack. He rushed to his room, clutching the wrapped package to his chest and shut the door. He knew Aunt Sissy would not let him down.
A few minutes later, as Jack's guests happily trooped around on the footprint trail, Jack came out of his room...dressed as the Incredible Hulk. My sister's gift was a homemade costume...bulging green muscles and ripped-up denim shorts. Jack paused at the top of the landing to strike a pose. He growled menacingly. His guests stopped what they were doing to watch the Hulk stomp angrily down the stairs.
"Jack...Jack...," I said, realizing that Jack was deviating from the theme,"where is your Spy Kids outfit? Remember, you are a Spy Kid today. Jack, please go back to your room and put on your black pants and your orange shirt. Where is your lanyard with your Spy Kids' badge? Jack, the Hulk is NOT in the Spy Kids movie..."
In full Hulk mode, Jack would not answer. Instead, he began chasing his Spy Kids guests around the living room.
My plans had been foiled...by the Incredible Hulk. Feeling a little defeated, I watched as the kids ran through the house. Led by Jack in his ripped-up shorts, they eventually found the treasure chest and filled their goodie bags with recovered loot...inadvertently solving the mystery I had hoped the Spy Kids would solve. The Incredible Hulk was the hero of the day.
I've thought about that party over the years. It has become a life lesson for someone like me who thrives on schedules and plans and order and themes. Not only have I remembered it frequently as a mom; but I found it also applies to me as a teacher. No matter how carefully I plan my lessons or how well-coordinated a unit seems to be, I always remind myself to make room for the Hulk...the kid who has a different idea of the way things should go. I have learned, over the years, that children can still get to the prize, and have fun along the way, even if they don't always follow the footprints that I have carefully laid out for them. I try to remember to make room for the Hulk, because you never know when he might crash the party.