Lately, we’ve been on the birthday circuit. Today was a 2-year-old’s Thomas-the-Train celebration, tomorrow is a 3-year-old pony riding extravaganza, and next weekend 6-year-old twins are celebrating with a gymnastics party. I love birthday parties. When Ava gets invited, it reassures me that she is popular and I can look forward to eating the piece of cake she decapitates by furiously licking away the frosting. Everyone wins. With all these parties on our calendar, I have to take a list with me to Target just to remind me of the presents I need to buy that month. But a $15 Barbie is a small price to pay for popularity and it beats the cost of child therapy, which I imagine is the sad lot of the uninvited.
Over the Top
But birthday parties have gotten a little out of hand. The other day I happened upon an old episode of “Desperate Housewives” in which one woman spent $50,000 on her 3-year-old’s birthday party. My wedding didn’t cost $50K. My entire education didn’t cost $50K. And if I had that much money, I would not be spending it on a 3-year-old’s birthday party. I’d spend it on clothes. Comparing my world to that of the “Desperate Housewives of Beverly Hills” is like comparing Dom Perignon and PBR. Caviar and Fruity Pebbles. Disney World and that plastic play swing the kid next door used to have. But even in my circles, there has been a trend to throw outlandish birthday parties, not in an attempt to out-do the other parents, but to try and do something novel for our children. With bouncy castles on every corner, play dates five days a week and the expectation of a toy with every meal, our kids are underwhelmed by the pedestrian party that features pin the tail on the donkey with double-sided tape. They need Bibbity-Bobbity-boutique makeovers, horseback riding, helicopter rides, Vegas vacations . . . Or do they?
How Birthdays Used to Be
My mom kept my birthdays simple. I could invite six girls. If one girl couldn’t make it, I could invite someone from the B-list. Mom would bake my favorite cake—German chocolate with that gooey walnut and coconut frosting. Today, it’s the lead-poisoning of all cakes and would likely send half of all partygoers into anaphylactic shock. But the 1980s were a different, nut-safe era. Our moms hand-wrote our invitations, made goody bags from lunch sacks and decorated with those streamers that—when wet—irreversibly dyed our party clothes. We didn’t have helium-filled balloons; we kicked the manually inflated ones around the floor like soccer balls. We had egg tosses and three-legged relays. Gifts never cost more than $10. Often they were “wrapped” in the plastic sack they came with. But mostly, we had fun.
Throwback to Simpler Times
I’m not saying that today’s kids aren’t having fun at their birthday parties, but I am going to suggest that maybe “fun” doesn’t have to come at the price of a full car payment. It was refreshing to see that Thomas-the-Train party went the route of what I consider to be the Beverly Hills backlash. It was a Recession Revelry: cake, playground, Goldfish crackers and goodie bags. Sure the cake was store-bought and the Goldfish were multi-colored and there was a child-safe pull-the-strings Thomas piñata, which is like holding a sparkler when the other kids get to throw hand grenades. But it was a refreshing throwback to simpler times. The playground was made of wood rather than recycled plastic. The tire swing had dangerous wires emanating from it. One kid got so dizzy he almost threw up and several others sustained injuries tripping over unmarked tree roots.
Present Time…Or Is It?
My only complaint was that the birthday boy did not open his presents at the party. Instead, the family waited until they were behind closed doors. No risk of visible disappointment, a forgotten “thank you,” or partygoers melting down because they wanted presents too. All those opportunities for partygoers to learn that it’s not about them are snuffed out like a spat upon birthday candle. All those teachable moments forever lost in the name of propriety.
I had started saving for Ava’s birthday in February, but I think instead of a spa-cation for 5-year-olds, I’m going try out a Recession Revelry and pay my mortgage instead.
About the Author
Andrea Goto writes The Culinary Coward, a monthly humor column for PaulaDeen.com about her struggle to become a domestic goddess, or more simply, to cook an edible meal. She writes her own Blog, Mom Without Makeup, which discusses the messy art of modern mothering. Andrea lives and writes in Savannah, Georgia, with her 4-year old daughter (who thinks she’s a superhero), her husband (who is a superhero) and one geriatric cat.
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