Sunday, June 29, 2008

Birthday Party Fatigue

Back before I was a late blooming mom, I remember attending a birthday party while visiting my then preschool-aged niece. There was a rented Jump-a-lene, there were goody bags, there were lots of kids bouncing, eating, or crying, and my niece -- who is a super kid -- could not have been less interested in the presence of her aunt and uncle at this party, justifiably so. What I also remember was being bored out of my mind.

Now, preschool birthday parties are a regular fact of my life. Happily, now that I'm minding my own kids at these affairs, and actually know many of the parents, with whom I can quite amiably chat for, oh, say, three minutes at a time before being interrupted by the kids with some request, they're pleasant affairs. Even fun. Until Thing 1 or Thing 2 has the requisite "I don't wanna go home" meltdown.

But I gotta admit, party fatigue sets in, simply because the birthdays come willy-nilly one after another for five, six months at a time, until every kid in a preschool class has been suitably feted. My kids are immune to party fatigue, even when attending parties at the same venue a mere few weeks apart, and eating the same food at each party. For grown-ups, though, it can get monotonous. Of course the monotony is punctuated by the unexpected injury that happens when Thing 1 doesn't look where he's going and slams into a wall -- or another kid -- at GenericKiddieGym. Then there are moments like this: just yesterday, Thing 2 broke into spontaneous tears of terror when the rented Jump-a-lene, which we'd touted all the way over to the party, turned out to be decorated with the enormous inflated head of Spiderman. She never set foot in the thing and had to be carried, eyes closed, arms clutched tightly around a parental neck, every time she passed it. "Batman" she declared with a three-year-old's logic, is "nice," but "Spiderman is scary."

These moments, I have come to learn, are the hazards that come with the preschool party territory. They also include the fights over the goody bags on the way home -- hey party-giving moms and dads, at risk of sounding ungrateful, I must ask, why would you not include the exact same goodies in the goody bag so invited siblings can get along? And then there's the whole gift etiquette thing. At risk of sounding like the ever-kvetching Larry David of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM, I gotta mention that if the invitation specifies "no gifts," my kids will bring no gift. So what's with the parents whose kids still show up clutching a festively gift-wrapped package?

Then there's the dilemma of where to throw a party, and how much to spend on it, when it's your kid or kids who are having the big day. Late Blooming Mom threw the kids' birthday party at preschool lunch this past year, which involved the purchase of store-bought mini-cupcakes, and making up goody bags: easy peasy. The kids were turning three, and to them, this was just enough of a party to let them know it was their special day. But now that they've been to so many of their classmates' parties, the ante has been upped. I know for damn sure the in-class party ain't gonna fly next year. So what'll we do come the day they turn four? The choices are a park -- my choice of preference, but dicey in January (when their birthday party will occur) even in sunny Southern California; our place, which is probably far too small to accommodate the guest list of every kid in their preschool class plus parents plus outside-school friends; a rented venue which offers the advantage that somebody else cleans up, but which will cost a minimum of two hundred and fifty bucks BEFORE food and any potential entertainment. I shudder to think of the final bill, yet I know how many of my fellow preschool parents have already shelled out such exorbitant sums even for the most mundane of venues. And this is for birthday parties for three and four year-olds. Once I thought Bar/Bat Mitzvahs had gotten out of hand.

Thinking back to when I was a kid attending parties -- or being the birthday girl -- I can't remember a single time when I went to a pricey rented venue. In those days, moms would inflate some balloons, put up a couple of streamers, spread butcher paper on the floor and throw down a bucket of crayons. Later we'd have some cake. That was that. The building I grew up in had a community room with a fully functioning kitchen that could be reserved for a small --- and I mean small -- fee, and it was there my first few birthday parties were celebrated, as were my brother's. One time, Dad did a magic show. The one really special event I remember was an in-person appearance by Alvin and the Chipmunks -- three guys in colored robes and big paper mache heads. They did some lip-syncing to their theme song and departed. So in the intervening years, I gotta ask: what the hell has happened to birthday parties?

I suspect part of the problem is that so many of us late blooming parents work full-time, and we simply haven't the time to put together home-made party games, do all the baking, and clean the place up after the hordes have left. Renting the venue, getting it catered, and hiring the entertainment is convenient. And I'm sure, come January, the husband and I be committing some form of birthday excess, in what has clearly become the norm of the middle and upper middle classes.

My favorite party this year has been the one at a park where the mom did, in fact, make all the games (we still have the hand-decorated, personalized water bottles with the squirt tops with which we sprayed each other). If I had a little more Martha Stewart in me, I could probably get organized and "craft" a real old-fashioned, homey party like that, though I'd probably be staying up till midnight getting it all ready, and then wind up too exhausted to enjoy it. Seems like my options are that I'll either feel exhausted from trying to be Homey, Down-To-Earth Super Mom, or guilty (and out way too much money) for being Time-Starved, Throw-Money-At-The-Problem Working Mom.

But of course, the party won't be about me. My kids will enjoy whatever party we throw (well, until the inevitable meltdown as nap time approacheth). Late Blooming Mom will no doubt wind up with another case of party fatigue by year's end, but I guess it's a small price to pay for giving my kids what all kids want: just another excuse to eat cake.

1 comment: said...

Just came across your blog and I too am a late blooming mom. I am turning 40 in 3 short the heck??? I love your list.
Nice that you have two blessings and I enjoyed reading your views.