Parenting

The good old (birth)days


My mom and I are already planning her annual trip from NYC to Atlanta for my daughter’s birthday in April. In her email to me today, she asked what we were thinking of doing for A’s birthday and then observed, “It seems that these days you don’t just go to somebody’s house where their Mom makes a cake, everybody sings Happy Birthday & you go home.”

Like my mom, I’ve observed that every year, the parties are expected to be more lavish, interactive and expensive. I’m on a local moms’ list-serv and as a batch of new birthdays comes around, the queries about places to hold parties, where to order the most amazing custom cake and so on start appearing in my inbox. Now that A is in preschool, she’ll not only have a party at school, but also a separate one where probably at least half the kids there will be the same ones she knows from school.

However, I was cursed with Inept Mom Gene. Planning kids’ birthday parties, arranging playdates and other kid-centric stuff just doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m much happier playing class photographer at the kids’ events than organizing them. Even at A’s birthday party last year, I preferred taking pictures to managing the details. That became painfully apparent when my father noticed I hadn’t made sure there were any sodas or waters for the adults. And although no one said anything to me, I realized with embarrassment later that I never provided the kids with party favors. Oops!

But my mom is right. Why can’t we just have kids come over for homemade cake, play with toys or games for a little while and go home? Why must there be increasingly expensive themed parties, coordinating favors and a designer cake? Why do we put that kind of financial and social pressure on ourselves simply to impress other parents or show that we really, really love our children? Toddlers don’t care if they’re going to a themed party, but the unintended effect of outdoing ourselves each year is that as kids get older, they get jaded. It becomes a lot harder to really bust out the “wow” factor for a birthday party. Do we really need to put themselves through that kind of anxiety?

In many ways, it is nice having the party somewhere else. Less to clean up and after it’s all over, we can go home and relax. I’m certainly in favor of that. Not to mention that our house isn’t so ideal for entertaining. I’ve been to the other kids’ houses for parties and I would frankly be too ashamed to have the other preschool moms traipsing through my house after seeing their custom-built homes with designer kitchens and perfectly coordinated decor. I know that’s my hangup, but there it is. I did hold A’s first birthday party at our house, but it was attended only by family and a few close friends. They already know our bathroom is decked out in 1960’s era Mary Kay pink tiles and that the kitchen is a feature straight out of Ghetto Tour of Homes.

It’s January and I’m already stressed out about my kid’s birthday party in APRIL. Child Birthday Party Anxiety is ramping up. Where am I going to hold the party, how much is it going to cost, how many kids do we invite, what theme do I go with for the cake and favors…this is enough to send me screaming to my therapist’s office. At least I’m one step ahead from last year,when  my daughter’s nanny came up with the guest list for A’s party because I was working full-time and didn’t even know half of the kids she socialized with during the day! Lame-o.

I know some of you probably think I’m nuts and that’s OK. I probably am. I find myself increasingly torn between my desire to give my kid the most awesome birthday experience EVER (not sure what that means for a 4 year old) and stepping off that crazy train to do something a bit more laid-back, like a party outside in the park or a very small event at Ghetto Home with family and a few of her best friends. Either way, when we’re gathered around, singing Happy Birthday, all my daughter is going to care about is blowing out the candle and shoving as much cake as she can into her mouth. Where she is when she does it is hardly going to matter.

(Photo credit: Will Clayton on Flickr)

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4 thoughts on “The good old (birth)days

  1. here here! couldn’t agree more. Springtime has become a time of dread, rather than a time to look forward to, mostly b/c I have two springtime babies. Isn’t that awful? I always do the parties at home b/c I’m old fashioned like that, but there is a lot of stress that comes with it for all the reasons you outlined. (Guess who else has a pink bathroom a la 1950s?) I vowed to pare back this year, to keep my sanity. I just hope I can hold to it.

  2. We’ve always done parties outside of the home for some of the reasons you mentioned. When we lived in South DeKalb we didn’t have room, didn’t have usable outside space, and frankly some people were snobbish about coming to our house at all because it was in South DeKalb. 😦

  3. Cecilia: I have no idea what A would want. She’d probably be happy with whatever we did, to tell you the truth. We already went through some of this birthday stuff with my stepson, who will be 13 this year. He got to the point where nothing impresses him anymore because he got so used to us going overboard every year.

    Rachel/Blair: glad to hear other moms share my issues/concerns! Thanks for sharing your comments!

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