Before my oldest son entered school, birthdays were not a big deal.
I used to be able to get away with a one day family gathering and an afternoon at the park with some of my mom-friends’ kids: a little cake, a score of presents and a lot of happiness. I went to bed peacefully knowing that my kids did not feel slighted or complain that my “birthday at the playground” idea was totally lame.
Within the first month of kindergarten, the end was already upon us. Almost every single one of the 17 children in my 6 year old’s class had a party. I cringed each time I saw another birthday approach on the class calendar. Just as we prepared to start homework, my son inevitably found yet another invitation tucked in amongst his math and writing papers.
As I learned rather quickly, Pin the Tail on the Donkey is about as hip today as MySpace.
For the Wii/iPod/Facebook generation, grandiosity rules the day. After attending birthdays at Chuck E. Cheese, Pump It Up, Fun Zone, the and in the company of all of all of his school mates, what was left?
My son spent five continuous months discussing the logistics of who he would invite to his own birthday party, where he would have it and which activities he would do. For a while he amused me with his fantastic ramblings, but then I realized I had to break the news to him that the Mets had a better chance of winning the World Series this year than he had of having a deluxe party.
I began with the gentle, rational approach by asking if he understood the logistics of inviting 50 kids to his party: “If you invite 50 kids, you have to make 50 peanut butter sandwiches. That’s 100 pieces of bread!”
To which my wise guy confidently replied, “I know you can do it, Mom.”
Simply saying “no” to a party was not an option. I used to fallaciously think that saying “no” to my children would be easy, but I failed to account for the delicate nature of a child’s psyche and the lasting effect of crushing my kindergartener’s spirits.
In the end we struck a compromise that would have won accolades from Henry Clay. Instead of a colossal party, we agreed to invite two friends for an afternoon at Chuck E. Cheese. I pared down expenses as much as possible: choosing the Super-Amazing Birthday Package versus the Super-Duper-Amazing one (they do not know the difference); bringing my own cake and goodie bags; and keeping the guest list tiny.
The small-scale party left our son’s delicate psyche intact and spared the precious pennies in our coffers.
Happiness won the day: we did not need to sell any jewelry on eBay to pay for the party, we did not need to raze the house after hosting 17 kindergarteners, and we did not need to superglue our son’s crushed spirits back together.