Two- and 3-year-olds cavorted among colorful towers and animal-shaped devices that sprayed light mists or heavier streams.

Occasionally a 12-foot-tall pelican with a 5-gallon beak splashed one little boy or another who stood head-down waiting to be soaked.

Birthday parties have changed over the decades since I was a child, and I just went to a great one.

When I was a kid, my parties usually consisted of a few minutes at the end of the evening meal.

My mother would have baked a chocolate cake knowing it was my favorite.

I’d be serenaded with the birthday song and then would blow out the candles with the longest-lasting breathe I could muster.

After cake and ice cream, I’d get to open my present. I’d usually know what it was, because I’d gotten to pick it out of the catalog weeks before.

By the time my children came along, birthday parties had gotten bigger.

When my children were small, the party was usually at home with several relatives and a few family friends who happened to have children about the age of the birthday boy or girl. Those were pretty good.

As my kids grew older, they got to choose additional friends of their own and the location often moved from our house to a fast food establishment, a pizza place with stuffed animals that sang loudly or a roller rink.

I enjoyed giving my kids presents, but I usually just endured their parties.

I suspect most parents have suffered through birthday parties either of their own children or other people’s.

Last weekend, I thoroughly enjoyed one.

Partly it was because it was my granddaughter’s, and I didn’t have to plan it or be responsible for making sure everything went right.

Partly it was because Jena, every other kid and even the parents seemed so happy.

A water park in South Florida proved to be the best publicly owned setup I’ve ever seen for a birthday party for little kids. I’d love to see more such spots.

For a pittance, my son and his wife reserved one of a number of pavilions with a place to grill hot dogs, seat a large group and let the kids romp for free in a mini-water park.

Some of the children rushed immediately for the water cannons. Some dashed through the sprinklers again and again. Some held back, testing the less intimidating water toys first.

I don’t know when I’ve seen so many kids have so much fun with hardly a tear shed.

The laughter of the children brought smiles to the faces of every adult I watched.

Parents donned bathing suits and joined the fun, some just sitting under one of the mushrooms of water that cooled them on a sunny day.

It was the most fun I’ve had at a birthday party since blowing out my own candles.

Contact Bob Anderson at