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Birthdays are notable for near-fiascos

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My son is on the verge of being 10. How to celebrate has been a topic of conversation for quite some time, possibly dating as far back as the day after his ninth birthday.

"How about if you have some kids over, we have a cake, sing `Happy Birthday,' open presents, you know, the usual?" I asked, fool that I am."Mom, I'm gonna be 10! No singing!"

It's sad how they grow up and turn into regular people. I remember Zack's fourth birthday party when I baked, to his very exacting specifications, a Tyrannosaurus rex birthday cake. To this day I haven't forgiven my husband for not getting a picture of it, although a friend did document the party for us on videotape and the cake is visible for about two seconds. Still, it's not suitable for framing.

The thing I remember most about that cake was the fact that Natty, a particularly obnoxious little brat whose parents claimed that he listened to Mozart to relax, threw a show-stopping temper tantrum because he wanted to eat the dinosaur's claw, which of course the birthday boy himself had claimed.

Natty, stuck with a mere foot, went bananas. The good news is that this tantrum was also captured on that videotape, which we've watched several times over the years.

One time we felt compelled to show it to Natty's parents, who had not witnessed the actual event. "Too bad we didn't have any Mozart records to calm him down," my husband said at the screening. We never saw Natty or his parents after that.

Another memorable year was when Zack turned 6 and was deeply embedded in his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle phase. I paid 30 bucks for a special cake in the shape of Michaelangelo, Zack's favorite Ninja. He looked just like the other three except he had an orange, I repeat, orange belt.

When I picked up the cake at the bakery it was wearing a blue belt. "No, NO, you fools, that's Leonardo!" I screamed at the counter girl, who barely spoke English and had no idea what these things were in the first place. With about 20 minutes till curtain, before 10 other Ninja Turtle fanatics descended upon us and Zack became the laughingstock of the neighborhood, I mixed up a batch of frosting and corrected the error. My husband stood by solemnly, shaking his head and saying, "And you thought labor was bad."

With Zack's next birthday only two weeks away, my husband suggested we take the kids bowling. "No way," I declared, remembering an unfortunate occurrence during my own formative years.

My father was an avid bowler. He had his own shoes, his own ball, a closet full of snazzy shirts and the obligatory gloves with no fingers. He was also vice president of his league.

One night he came home from a tournament looking upset. "What happened?" we all asked. "Morty had a heart attack, right there on lane 14." Since Morty was the league president, it had sort of put a crimp in the evening. (I suspect if it had been one of the others, they would have dragged him out of the way and continued.)

"How is he?" my mother asked.

"Dead. And he was having a great game, too."

The next week when Dad came home from bowling he reported that in Morty's honor, all the lights in the bowling alley had been turned off except for lane 14. After a minute of silence, my father, the new league president, "bowled one" for Morty. "Thank goodness it was a strike. I would have been really embarrassed if it had been a split," Dad said earnestly.

Since then, whenever I go bowling I think of Morty, and I never even met the man. You can see why I vetoed bowling as a birthday celebration for my son. So now we're going indoor rock climbing - that is if we get the paperwork done in time.

All the parents have to sign an "Assumption of Risk, Release of Liability & Indemnity Agreement" before we go. It's quite lengthy, peppered with words like "heirs" and "executors" and statements like "I know that I risk personal injury or death from many causes, including, but not limited to," followed by the six most likely ways one might kick the bucket while climbing.

"We cannot do this!" I said to my husband. "It says here they can get hurt in ways that are unknown and unexpected!"

"They'll be fine," he said, seemingly impervious to danger.

"It says that even with helmets, safety equipment, supervision and enforcement of rules, they still risk injury or death!"

"Honey, you worry too much," he replied, barely looking up from his book.

"Should I include this form in the invitation? It's sort of depressing, if you ask me."

"Nobody asked you."

Apparently we're going rock climbing. I'm bringing my Mozart tapes, just in case.