Monday, February 21, 2011

Birthday Parties

This weekend, I attended three children’s birthday parties. We went from Star Wars Jedi Training, to MY GYM, and closed out with a ‘make you own’ Organic Pizza Party. The kids loved it but I came away from it all exhausted, overwhelmed, and scared. I wanted to understand…how the Hell did we get here?

When I was a kid, I loved my birthday. I don’t remember anything extravagant about them…they were just simple and special. I would invite friends over and we would do things like make up dances to Michael Jackson and play Marco Polo in the pool for hours. Back in the old days, a few friends, a couple of gifts, and a cake was all you needed…not anymore.

Let’s start with parties for kids between the ages of 1-5. These little grubby people can barely walk, talk or use the bathroom by themselves…why in the world are we throwing them huge parties they will never remember? Are we afraid they won’t be happy if they don’t have specialty cupcakes and a humongous Princess Bouncy? Do we really think our two-year old is going to be sitting in their high chair, about to eat their Birthday cupcake, and suddenly say, “What the F*** is this? Is this store bought? Hell no! I’m not eating this crap!”

The truth is, the kids don’t care…at all.

So far this year, I have been to birthday parties with balloon guys, face painters, bouncy houses, portable petting zoos, hot dog carts, reptiles, fancy tea lunches, and Super Hero training. We have been to amusement parks, art zones, indoor playground, and ropes courses…and these are just for kids under 3!

Instead of kids having a creative moment for themselves, the new parent feels they must make sure every minute is accounted for. For example, let’s revisit the My GYM birthday party. At this party, two semi-cute college kids, who are obviously on meth and have been wait listed for hosting positions at Applebee’s, were responsible for entertaining our 20 kids for two straight hours. They spent the entire party chasing, lifting, dancing, singing, and jumping with a bunch of sugar-high children. The kids played on zip lines, jumped on trampolines, and threw plastic balls at each other’s face. The parents sat in the back and talked awkwardly while continuously checking their cell phones for emails or Facebook updates. Organic pizza, sugar-free Apple juice, and homemade Gluten free cupcakes were served.

The Star Wars party was even stranger. Three grown men, who I assume where dropped off by UFO, entered the party wearing tights, capes and other outfits no one over the age of 5 should ever be caught dead in. The kids were then taught how to speak, act, and fight like a Jedi Warrior. Many of the kids had a obvious and understandable fear of Dark Vadar and spent much of the party underneath their parents legs. The poor soul playing Luke, the only one not wearing a mask, was visibly embarrassed and probably went home and debated killing himself. From the look on his face, the performance in the community center was a low point in his life.

There was a constant theme at these parties…every minute is accounted for and every detail has been well planned out. Because I have always known I could never keep up, I have decided to take a different approach. For my son’s 5th birthday, I took him and 2 of his friends to a fairly grubby, slightly nasty restaurant down the street. It wasn’t perfect, but it had a little arcade and when I gave those stinky boys $5 each, they were good to go. No clowns, no caterers, and no goody bags.

I don’t like telling people what I do for my kid’s Birthday’s because after sharing my plans with one mom she said, “That’s nice. Maybe you can do something really special and fun next year.” From now on, this is what I am going to say (in a heavy British accent) when asked what I am doing for my son’s birthday:

“My son’s birthday? Oh that little thing! Well, to begin, I have decided to invite every Kindergartner in Los Angeles, I just don’t feel comfortable only inviting the kids from his class. And instead of going to Chucky Cheese down the street, I have decided to rent a Lear Jet and we will be flying to a Chucky Cheese in Sweden…it’s never too early to expose children to other cultures. Lastly, I had planned on giving them bouncy balls in their goody bags, but what does that really teach them? Instead I will be giving them each Ipads, because as you know, they only turn 5 once!”

Having this answer makes me feel better. And when my kids say, “How come we never do cool stuff like this for my birthday?” I tell them the truth. “Kids, life is not always fair. You are turning 3 and 5... your party will be about playing hide-n-seek, tag, and hopscotch. It will be fun because we’ll sing Happy Birthday to you, you will get some gifts, and we may even let you choose the restaurant for dinner. Consider yourself lucky and remember…life is long, pace yourself.”

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Girls Night Out: The Revolution

As a kid, I remember my parents going out and leaving me with a babysitter. I also remember times that they would ship us to our grandparents so they could spend the weekend alone. And of course there were many times when my dad would go on fishing trips or leave to play golf with his friends. What I can’t seem to recall is a night where my mom would throw on her tightest jeans, a low cut shirt and 6-inch stilettos, and head out the door to party with her friends.

But that was then, and this is now. These days a Girls Night Out is a very common event. So common that it has earned itself an acronym… “GNO”. Personally, I hate acronyms, especially this one. It gives me chills when I see people write it, but due to my journalistic responsibility, I thought you should know. I needed to share this because it stresses how important this night is for our generation. These days, you can easily text a friend and say, “Hi BFF, I need a GNO badly. WTF is wrong with my husband? He makes me crazy, LOL.” Everyone would know exactly what you are talking about.

I believe that these nights have become so important to women because sadly, many of us are on the brink of depression, debilitating anxiety, and seemingly unmanageable stress. Therefore we each need a place to unload, compare, complain, and commiserate. What better place to do that than in some random Mexican restaurant, dressed up like we are going to the Prom, and slamming Margaritas as we try to relive our youth and find a way to remember what it was like before it all got so crazy.

This past Saturday night I went out with some girlfriends. I blew dry my hair, threw on some eyeliner and searched through my closet for something that didn’t scream ‘Ann Taylor’ or ‘Spring Break 1995’ (my closet seems to have only those two categories.) As I was getting ready my kids came in and said “Mommy, are you going on a date with daddy?” I looked at those sweet faces, those precious faces that I was literally racing to get away from, and said, “Not tonight little ones. Do you think I would be taking this much time to get ready to go out with Dad?”

See, the thing about going out with your girlfriends is that it makes you feel young and happy. Going out with your husband can be fun too, but at times, it can also make you feel old and tired. The problem is that when you go out with your husband, the expectations are extremely high. In about three hours you have to accomplish many things. You somehow have to find a way to reconnect with your husband, fall in love all over again, and successfully plan out your next ten years. It can be exhausting. And the best part is that in order to do this, you have to pay some teenager $18 an hour to check Facebook while your kids are asleep. How can that not be fun?

None of this is an issue when you go out with your girlfriends. Instead, all you have to do is hug your kids, kiss your husband, and head out the door. The drinking and driving issue is easily settled because some poor girl in the group is always pregnant. She has been forced into driving everyone to the bar and watching her girlfriends make fools of themselves. She stands there yawning, while holding her pregnant belly, and daydreaming about how much weight she will lose and what cocktail she will slam as soon as that kid is out.

I went out Saturday night and it was just what I needed. It wasn’t the craziest night I have ever had, but it made me laugh. These days, that is about as good as it gets. We started by rushing to the bar and ordering drinks, so quickly that you may have thought we were dying of thirst. For the next four hours we talked about three main topics…our husbands, our kids, and our sex life. Near death child experiences were shared, past boyfriends were remembered, and martial problems were solved. At the end of the night, a midget (this is not a lie, a real midget) came up to our table and told us we were beautiful and wished he could go home with us all. Does it get any better?

By 10:30 everyone was yawning and the waiter came over to give us the bad news. We needed to vacate our table because our two-hour time limit was up and another group of younger, hotter girls were waiting to be seated for dinner. Once I got home, I took off my painfully high shoes and snuck quietly into my house. I felt refreshed, content and grateful to be alive. I peered in at my two sleeping kids and lay down next to my sweet, snoring husband and smiled. Sometimes you just need three hours, a group of girlfriends, a margarita and a midget to realize that these may just be the best days of our life.