Monday, October 19, 2009

Beware Birthday Party Madness

My sister, who lives in LA, just sent me photos of a birthday party that her four-year-old daughter attended over the weekend. The birthday tot chose a Fancy Nancy theme; the miniature guests were given jeweled tiaras, sparkly sunglasses, and feathered boas. The place cards were printed in a Fancy Nancy-like font, in glittery pastel colors, with each girl's name (Fancy Samantha, Fancy Katrina, etc). But the piece de resistance? A topiary-shaped cake, dirt made of brown sugar, and decorated with sugared strawberries. The whole thing was absolutely stunning, a fantastical, magical party for someone's little princess.

But it got me thinking: what's next? If this is her FOURTH birthday, what will these well-meaning, adoring parents do for her sweet sixteen? her prom? for her wedding day? Can you say "live doves and ice sculptures"?

There's a new virus going around, and it's called Birthday Party Madness.

Whatever happened to Pin the Tail on the Donkey (or the crown on Ariel, or the microphone on Hannah Montana, or whatever) in the backyard? What happened to a nice sheet cake from your local grocery store, or one that your grandma made, with "Happy Birthday Timmy!" and some candles on it?

When did kids' parties start to rival the Inaugural Ball? It seems to me that parents have gone a little crazy with the party planning, the prep, the sheer dollars spent, on a ONE DAY event that, let's face it, the kid didn't ask for anyway. Even an at-home party with cake and ice cream and trinket-filled goodie bags will run you $5 a kid, at least. What do these "parties on steroids", as my friend Tina calls them, cost? What's the going rate for ponies and a bounce house? And what's the cover charge - I mean, how much do I have to spend on a gift? I'm thinking a Littlest Pet Shop playset might not cut it.

I admit, in years past, I've been accused of overdoing it. For my oldest's fifth birthday, we hosted a Tinkerbell party, with a bejeweled, sparkly treasure box for each girl and a hairdresser to create updos ala Tink. Several moms made snarky comments about the "extravagance" involved. But the hairdresser was a close friend who'd asked to come because she loves my kids. The invitations, decorations, and thank you notes were my sister's gift to her niece, also her goddaughter. I bought the treasure boxes at a Michaels sale (2 for $1), spray-painted them, and then glued giant jewels (from a party we'd gone to the year before) over the sparkles. Fun, yes. Extravagant, no.

My favorite party was my youngest's third birthday. We invited all her friends over for a luau and had a Lilo and Stitch theme. Two hours outside on the swing set and in the sand box, some cake and ice cream, a sand bucket with a beach ball inside for each kid, and we were done. Still considered one of the best parties ever by our friends, it was also the easiest and cheapest one I've ever done.

Slacker Mom Says...just say no to Birthday Party Madness! I feel the pressure to have the "best party ever" for my kids every single year. I feel the need to outdo and outspend and outshine the best Martha Stewart mommies in the neighborhood. But it's not about showing up the neighbors or getting compliments for myself. It's about having fun, enjoying my kids, remembering and celebrating the day they entered this world and my life. It's about THEM, not ME; it's about showing them how special they are. Spending $100 or 100 hours making the cake to end all cakes is fine, if that's what you want to do. But birthdays aren't any more special for my kids if I'm sleep-deprived and cranky (and poor!) just to show them (me?) that I love them. They know how much I love them. Homemade cupcakes are just as good (and maybe better, since they get to help make them!) as the fancy cake. And that leaves more time for hugs and kisses - and playing, together, with those new toys.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. And maybe I'm mean, but I limit the number of people, which I admit is easier since birthdays are in the summer, but I simply don't have the space for 20 kids--so she's allowed only the kids that she really hangs with. Best party at our house? Pioneers. Kids came dressed in pioneer stuff, if they had it. We made covered wagons out of marshmallows graham crackers,pretzel stix, and lifesavers, put together some handkerchief pioneer dolls (clay marbles for the boys) with the help of some neighbour girls who are too "cool" for parties but who will jump at the chance to come to one as helpers, and then outside to play some pioneer games, which didn't happen because the kids were having more fun playing on the swingset and didn't want to stop. Treat bags? Brown lunch bags with a few old fashioned, inexpensive toys and candy tied with twine, and we were good to go. The kids and I had a ball. The neighbour girls thought it was a hoot to be able to go to a kids' party (gave them treat bags, too!), and the cost was more than doable. I know so many people who completely stress out over the birthday thing. Chill!