I’d like to think of myself as an up-to-the-minute parent, but the truth is…I’m not. I’m not even close to being a hip mom. I’m old-fashioned and a bit stuck in my retro ways. I believe in going back to the basics and entertaining my children in Old School style.
Oh, really? How?
I banned the birthday party.
Well, let me clarify that statement: I banned the concept of the modern child’s birthday party. The inflatables. The band. The four-tiered cake. The beer cage for parents.
Now, let me rephrase those statements: While I certainly enjoy merriment, I simply can’t throw a bash like that for a number of reasons:
1) My daughter has a summer birth date, so I’m always competing against family vacations and the grand opening of the pool.
2) Her classmates are scattered in the summertime. Plus, they’ve had enough of each other by this time.
3) Inviting the entire class, or both second, soon-to-be-third grade classes, would have been mighty expensive, and I’m self-employed operating on a writer’s modest budget.
4) Because “everyone else has a birthday party”, the kids have celebrated all year and are worn out with the same types of things (as are their parents).
5) She’s entering an age and stage that makes entertainment harder than it used to be.
Yet less is always more.
We’ve thrown parties for her before, but not to the scale that we see in today’s spirited neighborhood. I’ve stuffed treat bags full of junk from Oriental Trading, and I’ve ordered cakes bearing the famous faces of cartoon characters. I’ve hosted the smaller affair for three close friends, which made the other four pals mad. I’ve hosed down the house with enough streamers and balloons to give Party Palace a run for its money, and I’ve spent the same amount on gifts that were forgotten two hours later.
I quit. I’m through. I’m done. Party’s over.
I did feel guilty telling Ava that her birthday would be celebrated with family members on the weekend closest to June 10th. I felt bad that she wouldn’t have any girlfriends at her special occasion, and I felt worried that she’d accuse me of ruining her day once it was over. I assured her that we’d have a great time, but it would be small and it would be private.
When Mike and I discussed toning down the festivities, he admitted that he never understood the mega party.
“When I as a kid, the party consisted of one friend, one pizza and one hour. And, the friend had to be a neighbor who could walk to my house and back on his own,” he said.
Yikes. My parents did a little more than that, but once and only once. When I turned five, my parents threw a party for me in the front yard of our Kanawha City home, which brought out every neighbor on Noyes Avenue. The photos of my mother revealed how much fun she was having: Hair disheveled, icing on her blouse, a present lodged under one arm and a platter of hamburgers balanced in the other. My father? He was there, somewhere, but too busy to pose for pictures. Did I have a good time? Honestly, I don’t remember.
We broke the news gently to Ava, anticipating her normal response of smiling through broken-hearted tears. Much to our birthday surprise, she didn’t care. In fact, I think she was relieved not to have to put on a show that made everyone else happy. And, deep down, I think she was secretly relieved to know that everyone in this particular party would attend. No RSVP anxiety. No day-of cancellations. No pressure, no worries, no no-shows. Guaranteed fun with family.
We decided that we’d have a picnic in the park, relying on the movie, Gnomeo & Juliet for inspiration. I went to the dollar store and bought outdoor lanterns, in addition to pink flamingos and plastic elves. I picked up a croquet set, gigantic bubble wands, Frisbees, and hula-hoops. I ordered $20 sandwich platters from Kroger and burned a playlist of summer music. And for a couple of hours between thunderstorms, we had a garden party…and there was magic in the air!