Party excesses

Ah, partying. Good times. Nah, not the type we used to talk about. Not the late night, chemical substance enhanced, blistered dance feet stuff. I’m talking about parties thrown for the prepubescent set because a good friend wrote me a delicious rant about obscene birthday parties. (I have permission to post this, in case you’re worried that I’m a willy-nilly email copy-and-paster. Let’s call this large direct quote a guest post so you don’t worry that I’ll similarly rip off your rants. Unless you want me to.)

Here is the rant/inquiry/musing/conversation starter:

>>>When did children’s birthday parties as events become de rigueur? To be clear, I do not have children of any age, size, or variety. I am sitting in my wooden house throwing stones at all the glass I see. Having said that, being a woman tip-toeing her way towards 40, I have a lot of friends with young children. And from what I can tell, it seems commonplace to throw hardcore parties for children under the age of 10.

Don’t get me wrong–I’m all for big family and friends-of-family get-togethers for the 3 and under crowd. Similarly, as kids get older and get what birthdays mean, I’m all for getting their friends together for cake, whether gluten and refined sugar free or from Costco, and games and meltdowns and such. But it seems that among my middle-class friends, Events are becoming commonplace. Like the birthday party at the beginning of Parenthood. (The movie, not the TV show. Although I do like the TV show, the movie is really more Gen X. I mean, I know Martha Plimpton has resurfaced in “Raising Hope”, but she was in Goonies and dated River Phoenix–how much more Gen X can you get??)

Anyway. When did it become reasonable to invite every kid in the class to a birthday party? When did it become normal that a seven year old gets a spa party? Or cheerleader lessons? And when did goodie bag distribution become required? Maybe I’m just having a “when I was little, we didn’t have mountain bikes, we had Schwinn’s with banana seats, and we didn’t have TVs in our room, we had a black and white TV in the living room without a remote control with rabbit ears, and we didn’t have iPods, we had the radio and maybe Walkmans with mix tapes made by recording FROM the radio” moment. Or maybe my friends really aren’t middle class. But it seems like kids these days are being raised with crazy expectations. If you’re having spa party at seven, what happens when you turn ten? Thirteen? Sixteen? Graduate from high school? Is there a parade in your honor? Aren’t these things ridiculously expensive? <<<

Well? What do you think? I haven't been to one of these extravaganzas, nor have I hosted one. We're cupcakes-and-art-project birthday party types. We host burritos-at-the-playground birthday celebrations. We're an invite-one-friend-for-every-candle-on-the-cake family.

What do you do? What is considered standard among your friends, families, and school? What's your line for too much?

[Thanks for the guest post, Dear Friend. For the record, I still have mix tapes I recorded from the radio. I was AWESOME with the record/play/pause button dance that resulted in not-even-close-to-seamless transitions.]

19 thoughts on “Party excesses

  1. To answer the “When did it become reasonable to invite every kid from the class” question, no one wants to hurt someone’s feelings. We’ve all been the kid who wasn’t invited to so-and-so’s party. It hurt. Besides if you invite the whole class, then you get to hand out invites and thank you cards at school without guilt and without paying postage.

    As for the themes and over the top themes, I have observed, especially when I worked in and around the schools in OC, that many parents feel guilty for not spending more time or more quality time with their kids, so these parents make up for it with giving the kids What Ever They Want. A lot of parents do this. The other fun dynamic is the SAHM versus the WOHM. The SAHM feels pressure to be over-the-top for her kids because hey, she doesn’t contribute to society, she’s at home watching TV. So to prove she’s not lazy, she themes her parties and crafts decorations, games, and prizes. She makes elaborate themed food. Then there’s the WOHM who feels pressure to prove her love for her children because she coldly picked working outside the home instead of being there 24/7 for her kids. She goes over the top to match the SAHM or one up her so the next SAHM has to one up her so the next WOHM can one up her. Personally I think this pressure is from us individually.

    I just threw Sean a birthday party and put pressure on myself to come up with the perfect food, only to realize the ONLY reason I was doing this was because I wanted to show off for the other moms. LAME. Sean was happy with a cake with Bowser on it and punch.

    Ok, that was my two cents. Or fifty. God, I talk a lot.

  2. Fae, you only think you’re talking a lot because someone’s finally listening. If you want, you may type that I should get my shoes. Please get my shoes. Do me a favor and get my shoes. Put on my listening ears and get my shoes. Would I PLEASE get my shoes? Somehow that seems like more talking. I guess. Ugh. Anyway, we all read your words the first time. Doesn’t that feel delightful?

    Ah, guilt. Good point. Now I have to go be neurotic and worry that the other moms think less of me because…ah, wait. They can’t. I’m totally the slackass mom of the group. So I don’t try hard for parties. Or ever. Seriously, I don’t try hard for parties because I try to keep the bar low for the kids. I refuse to let them think that they’re only celebrated if we spend a lot or stress ourselves out. And even with low expectations birthday parties are really freaking hard.

    Maybe next year the magician will do the dishes. And the cooking and the board games and the decorations and the cleanup.

    Oh, wait. I don’t do decorations. Because…did I mention?…I’m the slackass mom.

  3. No lie:

    Parties I have been to for children under 5: a Hawaiian-themed party with two bona-fide Hula instructors and a virgin pina-colada machine, a Wild West-themed party with pony rides, a carnival party with face-painters and a juggler.

    And you wonder why I love my wine?

  4. Out of the 500,0001 kid parties we have attended, exactly FOUR of them were at the child’s actual house–most of them happen at “party places” (with jumper castles, climbing gear, pools, etc.). It does indeed seem to be The Thing These Days.

  5. i don’t go to the parties, i don’t even tell my kids about them most of the time and when i do they tell me they don’t want to go anyway. they make me crazy, the ones at places make me want to implode. we go “old school” family and friends and maybe a balloon at our house. although you all apparently live on a fox show called 9021someting. since we’ve never been invited to one with horses or at a spa! lol! i like to focus on simplicity. i even try to make each kid something for the bday wrapped in some brown paper. i started a new tradition in our family where we write birthday letters to the kid every year about how glad we are to have them in our life, got these ideas from soule mamma, she’s a superhero, but she’s got good ideas. we try To celebrate the person and who they are not what they want or have. i make them a scavenger hunt in the morning to find their presents. when it’s just the 4 of us we go around the table and tell the birthday person what is is we remember from the year, wish for them, or love about them. we do that as many times as the kid is old. i do it for our bdays too so the kids learn it’s not all about them. it’s a constant battle against all things huge, corporate, plastic and evil but i keep on trucking hoping that someday my daughter will never wear clothing with words across her ass and my son will avoid girls with words across their asses. and they will be kind and wonderful people who can make change (monetary and otherwise) and say thank you. and if not at least i’ll know i tried my hardest.

  6. I hate goody bags. HATE THEM. I’ve ranted about it on my blog before, and I hate that I want to do it again.

    I think parties are getting out of control. Someone recently said – when I was commenting on how pricey a place was for my son’t 6th bday party – that it was “only about $500” when all was said and done.

    $500? Do you know what I, personally, could do with that kind of money? New wardrobe. Vacation. Laser treatment on all my new facial hair with $ left over for my armpits. I cannot spend $500 for my kid and his friends to jump around for 2 hours. Even if i was a millionaire I wouldn’t do it.

    I love the parade bit. I agree with this. I don’t mind ‘big’ (to me) parties until they are about 6yo. Then it is a few friends and something low-key like the movies or a sleepover.

  7. I think I’m either glad I don’t live where these parties happen, or think I’m in for a RUDE awakening come kindergarten. We’ve only been to one playplace party and I will never go to another. We did bowling with four kids the year Peanut turned four because I was 40 weeks pregnant, literally, and wanted everything to happen with or without me. Does that count as one of these dismaying parties?

    Kitch and Ink, Dudes! ICK! Is that a location thing? Blech.

    Tara, yummy. I like the letter and stories traditions. Consider them stolen. And the ass ads? As horrifying as your comment is hilarious.

    Letmestart, I agree. $500 is more than we spend on eating out all year. Why would we blow it on an effing event?

    Shouldn’t all birthdays be for the mom, anyway? Don’t we pay the knitter, not the scarf?. ;-)

  8. Nap,
    It does feel good to be listened to the first time.
    I totally need to become the slackass mom of my group, but I’ve read what you cook and make and what you do with and for your kids, so I have to believe you’re not the slackass mom of the group. And if you are . . . Heaven help us; you’re surrounded by real life supermoms.
    I admit. I’m debating throwing a party at one of those bounce places. Because I don’t know how moved in we’ll be at the new house, I’m tired of asking my parents’ to host at their house, and Evan’s birthday is july 5th, meaning if we had it at a park, we would have to have it at like 8am or we would have melted kids everywhere.

  9. Faemom, I have to admit that dead children is not the goal of a low-key birthday party.

    And I would never tell a mom of three, including a new sprout, to have a birthday party right after she moved.

    Any chance Evan’s birthday can be moved to March? No, huh. Tough one. All I know is the answer is not Chuck E. Sleaze. If you go small, bowling or water park or movies? If you go big, sleepover-themed breakfast at the playground? They come in their jammies, play for a bit, have pancakes, and go home before it’s hot?

    Or spike the pina coladas and ask the hula coaches to monitor them for dehydration while they’re on the ponies?

  10. Over here in San Mateo, we have the extravagant, very expensive, absolutely unnecessary birthday parties. All of them cost about 500 dollars and are pretty obscene in setting expectations for 3-5 year olds. Eldest’s last birthday party was low key, at our house, and invited all the kids in his class. Granted, his class has a whoping 7 kids in it. It was fun. The parents hong out and chatted. The kids played. It was a lot better than the bouncy house parties we’ve been to.

    Went to a birthday party in Sunnyvale for a seven-year-old girl, my friend’s daughter, over the weekend. It was at a park, low key. But one of the guests gave the girl a card with a hundred dollars cash in it. Makes the harmonica I gave her seem pretty cheap, eh?

  11. Ugh. Commenting on my phone. Rest assured, no one hong out at my house. However, they did hang out. ;)

  12. We party hard for the 5th birthday. My oldest got to host a party at the zoo. My youngest chose a bowling alley. All other parties are at our house. A minimum number of guests invited. The party includes playing, eating hot dogs and chips and enjoying some cake and ice cream. The kids always have a blast and we don’t spend a wad of cash we don’t have. We will party big again for the 10th birthday, the 16th birthday and the graduation(s). If we only party big then, it makes them all the more special.

  13. I embrace my laziness. We only have a party if the kids care enough to mention it. Otherwise, we go out to eat with family. Take *that* Joneseseses.

  14. Arrrghhhhhh Over The Top kids parties do my head in. Our kids have at home parties with just family for 1st, and then friends until they turn 5 when they have an event party. 6,7,8 and 9 they can either have one or two friends and we do something which involves money or more friends and they play at home. Our 6 year old had an almost overnight, where the kids played, we fed them hotdogs and ice-cream, we had two party games, they got changed into pjs and brushed their teeth, I read a couple of stories and they went home. 10 and 15 will also be big parties, but the rest small. I’m not sure if I’m incredibly lazy or I just don’t buy into the peer-pressure. Whatever, the kids seem happy enough.

  15. We don’t attend, on principal alone. I cracked this year and took my three year old to a classmated party where they had a retired fire truck come! Ridiculous! We travel, when time and budget affords us the luxury. But I think your favorite dinner at home, or out and a cake is enough. Or am I Mommy Dearest?

  16. The size of the party doesn’t bug me as much if it seems as though everyone there knows and loves the birthday person. I’d invite one person because I’m a curmudgeon, but if you can handle 100 people at a potluck, more power to you. It’s not the number of people that makes these Events out of control, is it? Is it the hiring of professionals? Or the necessity of entire warehouses of fun? What’s the line between modest, fancy, and gratuitous? A jump house for small kids is fun and cool…is it exorbitant? Does it only get offensive when you add a cotton candy machine and tiara booth? If your aunt does face painting, that’s clearly not over the top, but if you hire someone are you an ass? It’s just face painting. Or a magician. Or an aesthetician. Where’s the line? Is obscene a dollar amount or an unmeasurable sense of being unnecessary? To whom? I have to admit finding the pony over the line. Ditto the five-year-old prom. And the seven-year old’s spa party. Am I just jealous? Poor? Practical? Judgmental?

  17. oh the stupid goodie bags. i never got that shit when i was a kid. my girls certainly don’t need all the crap they bring home from bday parties. i feel no pressure whatsoever to hand out goodies at their party. and as far as i’m concerned, they can invite whomever they want. unless i don’t like ’em. little rats.

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