China Party–the Monkey King

Silas has been obsessed with China since he was about 10 months old. This interest was only bolstered by the introduction of the Big Bird in China movie, a special made in 1983. In the movie (which, unlike the subsequent Big Bird in Japan, is really good), Big Bird wants to meet the beautiful Chinese phoenix bird. He gets a scroll that has four pictures of places in China, so he, along with Barkley and the adorable Chinese girl Xiao Fu, goes “all over China” to find these places. At each place, the Monkey King gives him a clue. Finally, he finds the phoenix and has this great cross-cultural bird experience.

So, I thought a fun game would be to hide Silas’ birthday cake, give him a scroll with pictures, and have the kids find the Monkey King to get clues to find the cake.

The prep went fine. My step-dad, Gary, aka the Frisbee Guy, is a professional entertainer. He agreed to let me paint his face and be the Monkey King.

JC helped make the scroll, digitally altering photos of the play areas in our yard to look like drawings.

The tire/sandbox, in JC's rendering--one of the picture clues on the scroll.
The tire/sandbox, in JC’s rendering–one of the picture clues on the scroll.

I distracted the kids while JC, Myers, and Peter made the cakes “disappear.” They all had seen the cakes when they came in, so they knew where they were supposed to be. I told them that I had found this scroll where the cakes had been–could they help me find the cake with the phoenix on it?

The mysterious scroll
The mysterious scroll

Lillian figured out that the first clue had to be the sandbox.

And that’s when things sort of fell apart.

I figured that Silas might be a little young to really solve this game on his own, but I knew we would have three older kids (Kindergarten and first grade) there, who would definitely crack it. He blissfully followed along, until we got to the sandbox and everyone saw the Monkey King. Silas completely freaked out. I picked him up and told him right away that it was Gary, just pretending, but he shook and cried through most of the game. The other kids didn’t seem to notice. Silas giggled when the Monkey King turned cartwheels, but then would go back to crying.

The Monkey King
The Monkey King

The clues were…

Down the spiderweb road…

Where the river sometimes flows…

In a house with no walls…

There you will find the phoenix.

The house with no walls was a dead giveaway–there’s a picnic shelter near our (sometimes dry) river, and most of the kids had been there before.

The whole way, Benjamin pointed out every spider web, deciding that it meant we were on the right track.
The whole way, Benjamin pointed out every spider web, deciding that it meant we were on the right track.

In the pavilion, we had cake! And candy! And fortune cookies! And we sang “Happy Birthday” and ate.

The perfect blend of delight and embarrassment at having everyone sing to/at him.
The perfect blend of delight and embarrassment at having everyone sing to/at him.

I think that most of the children enjoyed the game. The other moms told me stories about their children crying and freaking out during their third birthday parties. Must be something about the third birthday, but I’m not sure what.

"This is a very strange party."
“This is a very strange party.”

All was forgiven.

Gary didn't wash it quite all off.
Gary didn’t wash it quite all off.

Of course, as soon as Gary changed out of his Monkey King costume, Silas was asking when the Monkey King would come back! For days and days, he talked about nothing else but the Monkey King coming to his party. He mentions his fear of the MK as if it were so silly and childish and inconsequential–but he was, at the time, utterly shaken.

I think that, at his age, the line between fantasy and reality is rather tenuous. When it’s crossed, it causes a serious reaction. Maybe this is his first experience of the Uncanny Valley?

A few days ago, Silas said, “Did Grammie miss Grandpa when he was being the Monkey King?” It’s like he didn’t quite understand how Gary could be both at once.

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One Comment

  1. September 28, 2013
    Reply

    So maybe he was crying because he was missing Gary at his party? Maybe the 3 year old brain can’t come to grips with dual realities.

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