Friday, August 01, 2003
Surviving Kids’ Birthday Parties
Among parenting’s lesser joys are the trials by fire known as children’s birthday parties. I remember birthday parties as selective affairs in my youth – special events when kids turned 1 or 5 or 16, perhaps, but certainly not an annual gig where neighbors and classmates are invited over for crafts and games and high- stakes goody bags. Now, thanks to a host of commodified, guilt-inducing parenting magazines and books and web-sites, we’re pressured to salute our offsprings’ every birthday with a thematized bash.
We’ve just survived this year’s parties with our newly 6 and 9 year olds, and while our daughters are far too young to rebel against us with tatoos or piercings, I thought I could sense a bit of ... limit-testing .. with their desired themes this year. Our 6-year-old, who loves frills and feminine foofery exactly as much as I dislike them, chose a “wedding” theme for her birthday party – which I tried to honor with fake gold rings and many small plastic swans filled with butter mints. Our 9-year-old, who perhaps had been taken to one peace march too many this year, asked for a straight-arrow patriotic theme, complete with singing “The Star- Spangled Banner” in place of “Happy Birthday.”
The truly tricky part about kids’ parties is not the theme or the decorations or even the cake – it’s what to DO the whole blinking time you’ve got a herd of children running around your house. Having watched ourselves and our friends crash and burn as hosts to these parties, I yearn a bit for the halcyon days when you could just hire a clown to do the entertaining, without having to worry that your clown might turn up in next year’s celebrated documentary about a deeply dysfunctional family. After all, the standby party games we amateur entertainers rely upon are pret-ty lame. Most games, like “Pin the Tail on the Whatever-Your- theme-Is"simply foster flagrant cheating punctuated by cries of, “I cannot EITHER see through the blindfold, you dodo-head! I’m just a good aimer!”
We researched alternative party activities this year, and found a psychologist- approved book on non-competitive games, including a version of musical chairs in which every child finds a chair every time the music stops. Even our kindergartner derided this pointless exercise in self-esteem. So, we fell back on our old standbys: balloon popping, mayhem, and a game featuring marshmallows threaded onto licorice whips – because if there’s one thing kids like more than candy, it’s candy skewered by more candy.
Eventually, though, the last quarter hour of the party ticks by, and you feel like that Tour de France cyclist with the broken collar-bones, grimacing his way down the Champs Elysees to finish fourth. In children’s parties, it’s heroic enough to limp into the final stretch with most of your faculties intact.
I aspire to be like a friend of mine, who, at the finish line of her children’s parties, calls out gaily to returning parents: “Stick around if you like; I’m firing up the blender for margaritas!” Now that’s what I call a party.