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A THRILLER WRITER'S THOUGHTS ON WRITING, LIFE & WRITING LIFE.

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The (Bounce) House of Horrors


Every night I fall asleep reading the most disturbing stories I can find, I search out movies that make me scared to go to bed, and I've written books about anonymous tormentors, psychological warfare, dark secrets, disturbing rituals, twisted relationships, and even murrrrder. But the most agonizing, nail-biting, suspense-saturated drama I've experienced lately was the three hours last Friday night when I thought I wouldn't have a bounce house for the 40 six-year-olds arriving the next morning.


Back up a few days so you can understand my frame of mind. It's Monday. I'm feeling pretty good. I've got a lot on my plate this week - responding to an agent request, day job obligations, keeping up with the house, and adjusting to a new routine as my husband starts a job that shifts kid drop-off/pickup responsibilities solely to me. Monday and Tuesday night we have to be at my son's new school for kindergarten orientation stuff. Wednesday is his first day of kindergarten. Friday is his sixth birthday and my parents arrive from out of state. Saturday morning is his birthday bash in our backyard, followed by a block party (all my parents out there know how delightful their kids are after a day of overstimulation and junk food). So yeah, lots going on but I'm organized and my parents are coming Friday and they are are always good for helping me kick some to-do list ass.


Tuesday hits and I realize I may not have enough time to do it all. More party RSVPs are flowing in and we're at 40 expected kids, my emotions about my eldest going off to kindergarten are bigger than expected, I'm falling behind on the author platform I'm supposed to be building, and I'm double booked in back-to-back meetings at my "real job." I already have Friday off thanks to my work's generous flex schedule, so I treat myself and tell my boss I'll be taking a mental health day Thursday to get some stuff done. An extra day should do the trick, I think.


Then the dog gets diarrhea. And Amazon can't deliver all the extra party favors I'll need to ensure all our little guests get the same exact goodie bags - and you know how forgiving six-year-olds are about things like that. At least my husband has been very understanding, asking what he can do to help me out, I remind myself. I'll be okay.


But wait, what's this? A text from hubby saying he's leaving work sick?


I email my boss again: Sorry, I think I'm going to have to take Wednesday, too. I explain about the party and the meetings and the dog's butt. She understands. She has kids, her dog has a butt. She gets it.


My husband comes home and heads straight to bed. I leave to pick up the kids, but my stomach starts to feel a little funny and at one point the room spins a bit. But surely I'm just manifesting these symptoms because of my husband's illness - who doesn't, for example, suddenly feel a little tingle in their throat when a housemate announces they have a cold? Or maybe it's nerves making my stomach seize up like this. It can't be a real bug coming through to wipe out my family during this week of all weeks. This is real life, not a bad family sitcom.


Well, cue the studio laughter because I do get whatever my husband has. (We now suspect salmonella or listeria from some vegetables we ate. Who would have thought the kids screaming and throwing their "disgusting" veggies on the floor the other night would turn out to be a blessing? Remember that the next time your kids shun their roasted broccoli - it could be the universe saving you a whole lot of trouble). Anyway, somehow we survive the two hours my kids are home and awake before bedtime (and by somehow, I mean thank you heavenly Father for leftover pizza and Netflix).


By 8:30, we are both lying in bed moaning for the unsexiest of reasons. Somehow I find the strength to clasp my hands together to pray that we are at least well enough to escort our son to his first day of kindergarten. Prayers answered - we are quite literally just well enough to shuffle him to school. It's hot and humid and our son runs the entire way and our two-year-old whines, but it is still a special moment and I even feel ridiculous, motherly things over top of the other things I am feeling in my stomach. My eyes fill with tears but I am happy we are all together for this moment.


Then we walk home in the heat, I drop the little one off at daycare, and I fall asleep for four hours before forcing myself to get Something done. I simply do not have the luxury of having a day where Nothing is accomplished. So I go to Target, the grocery store, and Party City (we traced our illness back to food at this point, so I am not spreading a stomach bug to other frazzled party-planning moms). I stuff some piñatas and goodie bags, make homemade Superman ice cream, and clean up some toys and clothes that are pulled out and laying on the floor again within hours.


That's Wednesday. Thursday is a little better. I get some more stuff done. My stomach still isn't feeling great but if I don't eat anything, I can get by. Dog's butt is still a problem but I've got a new pack of paper towels from the grocery store and we all survive another day.


Friday comes. Things are still looking up despite a lingering weakness in our stomachs. It's my son's birthday and I'm excited for everything we have planned. My parents come after I drop the kids off at their respective day jobs. We absolutely nail everything on my Friday to-do list. We surprise my son by picking him up from kindergarten in a pedicab. We order double dough pizza (I may have the only child whose favorite part of the pizza is the crust). We eat overbaked sugar cookies and Superman ice cream, open presents, and read bedtime stories with Grandma and Grandpa.


It's perfect. We're almost there. Everything is aligned. I've taken care of every task I can until the morning of the party. I'm going to read a couple chapters of My Lovely Wife in the tub and go to bed early so I can rock this birthday party in fourteen hours. First, though, I'll just call the bounce house place to confirm the order. Everything should be fine because I received an invoice with all the details, but I'm a double checker.


It's 8 PM but I know from my experience last year that someone will be there to answer. A lovely girl named Ashley answers and confirms everything should be set. "If you didn't receive a call, that probably means everything is fine," she explains.


Hmmm. I'm a writer. Words are kind of my thing. When I call to confirm something, I don't like phrases like should be and probably. I almost consider leaving it be, letting should be and probably be good enough for tonight. It's 8:00 at night and I don't want to be that customer, but...


"Could I give you my order number, just to be certain?" I ask . I like words like certain.


"Sure," Ashely says cheerfully.


Great. I give her the info.


"Yep," she says. "You're all set for tomorrow with a 9:30 setup."


Awesome. I almost hang up again but it's me, so I don't. "Could you read me what I have coming?" I ask.


"Let's see," she says, "I've got a rectangular table, a round table, and sixteen folding chairs."


"Yep," I say. "And the bounce house?" It should be a giant one with a 20-foot water slide with big inflatable palm trees. My son picked it out.


"I don't see a bounce house on here," Ashley says.


Dun, dun, dun.


I tell her I hope she's joking. She's not. I forward her my invoice. She doesn't know what happened but she is so sorry. I don't know what happened either but I am so sorry, too. Because I f-ing cannot have forty children in my backyard tomorrow in 90-degree weather and no shade without some sort of giant water feature to keep them all cool and sane. Not to mention facing the disappointment of the birthday boy.


We are literally on the phone texting for three hours. At one point, Ashley finds a solution! There is a slightly smaller version of the same bounce house available, she tells me. It even has palm trees. Yes! I'll take it! I instantly type back. I don't want to take the risk that some other desperate mom snatches it up before me.


I thank Ashley profusely and let her know that I just saw the email confirmation come through. She tells me goodnight. I open up the confirmation and follow the link to see pictures of this new bounce house. Sure enough, it looks just like the old one. But there's one very big problem - this one doesn't have a water feature.


I check my weather app. Yep, still going to be August in Illinois tomorrow. "What, was a giant oven not available?" I can almost hear my friend Mary asking.


I text Ashely back, letting her know that this is not going to work. She's not a mom so I explain to her about how kids implode when they get hot. Ashely is sorry again but insists they have nothing to offer that has water. I insist something has to be possible. Every fifteen minutes I propose a new possible solution. Is it possible my order is under the wrong name or address? No. Do they have connections with other bounce house dealers they can reach out to? No. Has someone cancelled their order in the last two minutes since I last asked? No. Surely when I placed my order two months ago, I was the first to reserve this particular bounce house - couldn't they call up whoever usurped my bounce house and screw them over instead? No.


In between all this, I'm calling other bounce house places, but of course everyone is booked or closed or can't accommodate a last minute request like this.


I take a bath but I can't concentrate on my book, even though it's the page-turniest book I've picked up in ages. My stomach feels sick again, though I think this time it's from the Great Bounce House Disappointment and not the salmonella or whatever we had.


I try to fall asleep because it's 11:00 now, two hours later than I wanted to be in bed. But I can't sleep. What the hell am I going to do with a disappointed birthday boy and an army of overheated kindergartners?


I look back at my last texts with Ashley. She keeps saying, "Let me ask the boss" every time I propose a new solution that so far has failed me. Her most recent text from five minutes ago says, "I'm going to bed now. I'm really sorry."


But no one is going to bed until I have something fun and watery for these kids.


I need your boss's number, I text her.


She takes a while to respond but finally sends his info over. I doubt I'd have gotten this far earlier in the night, but after three hours of dealing with me, she's ready to pass the buck.


I text the owner and he calls me back within ten minutes. Despite being told all night that there's nothing that can be done, the tired owner finally relents and magically pulls TWO bounce houses with water slides out of his ass. Which one do I want? Both, I tell him, and for the price of one.


We make a deal and although I don't have one hundred percent confidence in this company's ability to deliver at this point, a weight is lifted and I manage to get a couple hours sleep. If it rains a little bit at the party or it's stifling hot or the cupcakes or balloons don't get delivered, I'm not going to sweat it. I've got 500 square feet of wet n' wild bounce house magic secured and that's enough for this tired mama.


I don't even mind too much when I wake up to find the dog's butt has exploded all over his cage and the surrounding floor and cabinets.