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.”