Birthday Party Ponderings*

Today is the halfway point in my September writing challenge! I’ve written every day for two weeks, something I haven’t been able to manage for years. I was worried that after a few days it would start feeling like a chore, or just something else on my never-ending “to-do” list, but I’m enjoying it even more than I thought I would.

Are you sick of me yet? Can you handle another two weeks? (haaaaaa)

S & I went to a birthday party today. It was for the daughter of a friend of mine, who happens to be married to one of my oldest friends in the world. I’ve known his family almost all of my life, and was so happy to see his sister and mom there at the party today. We were able to chat and catch up in a way we haven’t had time for in years, and it felt so nice to reconnect a little.

The party was at this really fun gymnastics place. The kids had an hour to use the gymnastics equipment and climbing apparatus, then we moved into the “party room” for pizza, cake, magnificent cheesecake and a magician. When he came in the room I half expected him to be corny and fake funny, but he was actually hilarious. At one point he did this one trick that had me dying with laughter. It shocked the kids and the parents definitely enjoyed it more than they did, but it was totally worth it.

As I was sitting at the back of the room, I had a bird’s eye view of all the children, who were entirely absorbed in this man’s performance. I saw my beautiful S laughing and clapping and I was so grateful that she was able to be there to witness a bit of magic. I know at some point it will probably become “lame”, but for today she loved every minute and has being doing tricks with her take home wand ever since.

I’ve started noticing that most of the birthday party invites we receive these days are for parties held out of the home, at play centers, pools, bowling alleys, etc. We’ve even held S’s last two birthday parties at play places instead of our house. I can certainly see the attraction–it removes the stress of organizing games or activities, cleaning before (and after), and often even the food is included. It also offers space sometimes not available in a home, to include friends from ever widening community circles like school, sports, church or neighbours.

But I can’t help but wonder… is this the new expectation kids have, or will have? Or even that parents have? Do we now feel like parties need to be held outside the home to really be a “party”? That parties need to be these grand events that are fun, but, let’s be honest here: are also really expensive? We did a joint party for the kids two years ago that got a bit out of control. I think I needed something to plan and focus on in the throws of my challenges with baby P, and before I knew it we had rented a play place, invited 20 kids and spent several hundred dollars. We toned it down big time last year, but by the time we rented the bowling alley, bought crafts, activities, drinks, food and cake, it still wasn’t cheap.

After it was done I decided to implement the rule that we had in our household as kids: we each got to have two big birthday parties. We could decide which years we wanted to have them, but there were only two. The “off” years we still had 2 or 3 of our best friends over for a birthday meal with presents and cake, but the BIG years we could have several friends over and Mom organized games, prizes, loot bags and fun.

Comparatively, birthday parties when I was a kid were a lot smaller than they seem to be now. Birthday cakes were homemade, and I always asked for a turtle cake, or my other fav: a money cake. It sounds so crazy now, but it was literally a cake with nickles and dimes wrapped in wax paper baked into the cake. Mom would do up this amazing double layer chocolate cake, ice it, decorate the top with smarties, then we got to treasure hunt through our slices for change to take to the corner store for candy. It was SO exciting.

With the number of allergies there are now, I don’t even know if a homemade cake would be acceptable at a party.

And I think someone might call CAS on me if I tried to bake a money cake.

I have a summer birthday, so instead of renting a play place, we had water fights. Dad would bring up these old white pails for us to fill, and we hurled wet sponges across the lawn at one another. Mom often had a pack of balloons for us, so we’d fill them up until they were ready to burst then sneak up behind unsuspecting opponents and drench them in a single blow. If we were feeling really crazy, we’d roll out the Slip ‘n’ Slide and fly face first toward the small pool at the end.

Inside, I remember my mom organizing musical chairs or pin the tail on the donkey. They were such simple games, but they were honestly the best birthdays. I would fall asleep as the happiest kid in the world that night, full of caffeine free pop, hot dogs and money cake.

Part of me wants my children to experience that. I love that we now have the opportunities to provide these grand birthdays at play centers and the like, but I also hope my kids will see the joy in a simpler home birthday party… one with a few friends, some classic games and more time just to be with one another with fewer distractions. We had so many kids at that one birthday party I planned that I’m not even sure S was able to see them all, let alone really play with them all.

I guess what I’m trying to get at is that my memories of my birthdays are of the people that were there, the food my Mom made and the way I felt at each one. With the last two big birthdays we planned for the kids, I know they will remember the place it was held, but I’m not sure how much else. I hope they will remember the people and the love, and not just the attractions or the big activities.

Am I alone here? Is the small(er) home birthday party a thing of the past? Renting a place is just so dang convienent… but I can’t help wondering if in losing the stress, we’re losing other things too.

 

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