The onslaught of summer birthdays begins soon and as Adam is fond of reminding us, we will not be getting off easily this year.  He’s made it clear: he expects a full-blown multi-day celebration with parades, hot air balloons, trumpets, stallions, the entire contents of the FAO Schwartz flag ship store on 5thAvenue – you name it.  Oh, and either Scooby Doo or Transformers themed party decorations; he remains undecided on that point.

As Dick and I began negotiating a birthday budget for King Adam’s celebration, we couldn’t help but long for the good ole days of birthday oblivion when our children were too little to be aware of elaborate birthday fanfare let alone to express opinions about the breed of stallion that should be pulling their golden carriage through the city streets.  All our previous birthday celebrations were quiet family affairs featuring simple pleasures like a picnic, a day in the park or a trip to the zoo.  Birthday cake was homemade and ineptly decorated by your’s truly.  Party decorations, if any, were sparse and hung hastily by Dick while the kids were napping.  A few times we went crazy and got some balloons.  As Dick and I wax nostalgic on these modest family birthdays I can’t help but feel that we’re viewing events with the same kind of reverence our own parents had for the good ole days of 3 TV channels, AM radio, and rampant racism.


Now that Adam has (predictably) fallen prey to birthday party peer pressure, we can assume Tabitha’s a goner as well.  We figure once she sees how Adam enjoys being King for a day, she’ll be plotting her own little parade route through the streets and perfecting her royal wave as well. 

Having attended about a dozen elaborate & semi-elaborate birthday parties for school mates this year, the bar has been set high.  Tabitha is still flexible on the birthday details.  But Adam knows exactly what he wants.  He knows what a “real” birthday looks like now and it doesn’t take place at home and it doesn’t feature one paltry balloon, 2 parents, and 3 gifts.  He’s made it clear that he expects nothing short of:

  • Two parties – one with us and one at school
  • Bouncy castles for his family birthday party and water-play for his school party
  • Both parties will serve pizza, and both kinds of pizza – pepperoni AND cheese
  • Two birthday cakes; one for each party
  • Themed décor (see above) 
  • Music, singing, and “fire” on his cake (lit candles, I’m hoping)
  • Gifts – LOTS of them

I’m sure I’ve left off a few big items - like the fireworks extravaganza and the tributes of gold, frankincense and myrrh – but you get the idea.  The boy’s got big plans and we’ve got a big bill to foot.

Dick and I foresaw the unavoidable birthday expenditures this year and mentally prepared ourselves to take the hit.  But TWO parties? One involving expensive rentals, party play “coordinators”, themed décor and pricey bakery-crafted cake?  That’s all proving to be much pricier than we’d imagined.  Less of a hit and more of a knee-capping.  Forget asking the grandparents to send a gift to the birthday boy.  Have them send all gifts to the parents in the form of a check made out to “Mr. & Mrs. Pathetic Sucker”. 


On top of all the stress about the money being spent is the fiercely competitive nature of other parents who are all vying to secure that most coveted venue and the even more coveted Saturday morning/early afternoon slot for their kid’s birthday party.  Trust me when I tell you that the competition is BRUTAL.  Roller derby is less cut-throat. 

Of course the consequences of NOT securing an acceptable party venue and a good time slot are even worse.  Even with months of advance planning, preparation and a fair amount of bribery you could still end up desperately scrambling for a picnic table at the local community park.  If that happens, you’ll be lucky to convince any kids or their parents to come to  your kid’s mosquito-ridden, haphazardly organized party, particularly if they’re required to ditch some other kid’s ultra-cool, bouncy, air-conditioned party.  Shame, ruination, and complete social ostracization will follow…and that’s just for you.  Years of therapy won’t even begin to scratch the surface of the damage done to your innocent child’s self esteem.

I’m kidding, of course; just being extreme to make a point.  But from talking to other parents about the absurdity of it all – the fees, the planning, and the scrambling – many of them come across as believers in the very kind of birthday party urban mythology I just laid on you.  So traumatized by the process and intimidated by the social pressures, these poor people are actually relieved to throw money at someone else to “make it happen”.  They consider it a bribe gladly paid to offset even the potential for guilt feelings later on down the line.  When I ask what made them decide to go for the canned & pre-planned birthday party, they all recite the same lines:  

“It’s a totally hassle-free way to throw a birthday party for your kid.  They do all the invitations for you, provide all the toys, the music, the oversight, the food  & drink AND they do all the clean-up!  It’s a bargain, really.”

Wow. They’ve all had a drink of the birthday punch, Kool-aid no doubt, and there’s no going back. 

Frankly, it makes me a little bit sad to think of the demise of the simple, old-fashioned family birthday party.  Even sadder when I realize that Dick and I are treading down the party path of least resistance, right along with all the other Kool-aid swilling parents.  I wish I could say that we’re going to do things differently, that we were going to stick to our less-is-more stance by hiring a balloon artist and having all the neighborhood kids over for some weenies on the grill and a pinata in the backyard.  But the truth is, we’re not going to do that.  In the end, it’s not about us or our birthday dreams for Adam.  It’s about what Adam wants and when what he wants is within our grasp, for good or for ill, we’re going to bust our chops to get it for him.  We will bleed money and Adam will be King  (with either a Scooby Doo or a Transformers theme – he’s still deciding) and all will be welcome.

Funny how the birthday lust object of my youth – the pinata - now seems like such a quaint notion, like those articles in science magazines comparing the computing power of an 80’s era calculator to the latest MacBook Pro – ridiculously simple.  Much like the pinata, the low-key birthday celebration at home is a quaint thing of our not-so-distant past. Now that our mini-humans have their own ideas and opinions, Dick and I are left standing by wondering what happened to the good ole days when life was simple, telephones had chords, and kid’s birthday parties didn’t require a signature loan.


Don’t Forget to Donate!


Spread the Love:
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • TwitThis