Sunday, March 25, 2012

Downsizing and Outsourcing: A Child's Birthday Party

When did children’s birthday parties become so overblown that they deserve their own reality show?  Whatever happened to the ol’ fashioned stay-at-home birthday party?  Before we go back to throwing parties 1980s style, though, a few things need to happen. 
  1. We need to be able to invite just the friends our kid wants at the party
  2. Children need to be entertained by chairs and music instead of lasers, enormous inflatable structures, and dressing up like miniature street walkers
  3. An expectation for birthday party food should be cake.  Not chicken nuggets, pizza, hot dogs, cake, ice cream with an accompanying sundae bar and a separate buffet for the parents with alcohol.  Although booze would make some of these soirees more bearable. 
Let’s begin with #1.  We have raised our children to include everyone, to be everybody’s friend.  This is not the real world.  Buck up kid, and learn early that you will not like everyone, and not everyone will like you.  When you are sitting at work one day and 3 of your co-workers go out to lunch and don’t ask you, it’s going to be a hard lesson to learn.  You will not be able to march into your boss’ office and demand that lunch invitations be placed in everyone’s mailbox.  Therefore, this difficult lesson must begin with birthday parties.  When we have to invite everyone in the class, that’s a lot of kids, a few of whom my child has no desire to spend his special day with.  And his mother has no desire to spend 15 bucks on to watch said child spin in circles and hit my kid on the head every 10 minutes. 

#2: When I was in first grade, I had a Strawberry Shortcake-themed birthday party.  In my living room at home.  Everything was Strawberry Shortcake – my dress which I was so excited to wear to my birthday party, my cake which my mom made for me, the tablecloth, plates, and napkins.  A family friend who was an artist made me a big poster of Strawberry Shortcake without the strawberry on her hat and we played “Pin the Strawberry on Strawberry Shortcake’s Hat.”  We played musical chairs and drop the clothespin in the empty soda bottle.  We ate our cake, drank juice and VOILA!  It was a super-fun birthday celebrated without my parents having to forfeit buying groceries for the week to pay for my 7th Birthday Extravaganza.  I wasn’t at all upset that Pat Benatar didn’t show up because I had no expectation or experience with such outlandish and lavish birthday party scenarios.

Fast forward 30 years, and we are living in an age in which elementary school-aged children celebrate their births for no less than $500.  We parents have given in to peer pressure and feel the need to have our kids’ parties at The Bounce House-Gymnastics-Dress Your Daughter Like a Whore-Karate-Pottery-Kindgom otherwise we will suffer the criticism of the girls on the playground.  The 30-something year old girls known as other moms. 

And #3: Although I appreciate that some hosts want to feed my child and all the party-going adults to the point of vomiting, it really is not necessary.  I can handle two hours without a sub sandwich or slice of pizza.  A simple water bottle is sufficient.  I don’t want it on my conscience that the birthday girl just lost part of her college fund because her parents wanted to keep up with the Jones’ and offer complimentary ice sculpture tequila shots at their kid’s “Lil’ Diva” party.

And this is the part where I let you know that I am a hypocrite. This is the first year in which I have sort of fallen prey to all of this birthday party hoopla.  Prior to this year, I organized Monkey Man’s parties.  Each year was a different theme with the games (researched and executed by yours truly), cupcakes, and goody bags all coordinated.  I had the parties in a church hall because my father-in-law is a pastor and we could get a bigger space than my living room which was and is not spacious enough for 20 preschoolers.  And last year we had it at the movies, and I provided all their snacks by sneaking them into the theater.  There are several reasons I snuck the snacks in: 1) C’mon, everyone brings their own food to the movies 2) No one needs to eat 1,000 calorie popcorn 3) I live and die by a budget.  Call me cheap if you must.  My husband does.

Getting back to this year.  I am working full time and don’t have the time or energy to party plan.  I love planning parties, but I also love to sleep, so I decided to hand this one over to someone who does this as her job and I’d just catch some zzz’s instead of googling party games.  However, in my defense, I did not spend anywhere close to $500.  I found a local YMCA that has sports parties and Monkey Man loves all kinds of sports.  Add to that the price, which was pretty close to what I would have spent organizing it on my own, and I was sold. We invited only the boys in his class, so although I farmed this party out, I did not do it to keep up with the Jones’.  The kids played basketball, dodgeball (the parents even played a round against the kids!), and flag football for an hour, ate some chips and a cupcake with juice, then played in the Wii/X Box arcade for 45 minutes.  Monkey Man played with his friends and said several times during the party, “This is the best party ever!”  It was a simple party that I could’ve done at my house, but because of time of year, and the need to keep my sanity, I outsourced it.  Simple, fun, and yes, Monkey Man, the best party ever. 

Happy 7th Birthday, Buddy.  I love you to the moon and back, bunches and bunches.