Childrearing

No More Party Hats: I Hate Birthday Parties

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I hate birthday parties. With a passion. The last birthday party I liked was The Birthday Party, the Australian post-punk goth rock group that disbanded in the 1980s. Birthday parties for adults creep me out in that “oh no, I hear the ice cream truck coming with that spooky horror flick music track” kind of way. And birthday parties for kids are close behind.

One of my best friends once threw a double birthday party for her daughters at Chuck E. Cheese. I embraced the post-ironic kitsch of the whole thing. Until I got both food poisoning and some bizarre flu virus shortly after we left. I can still remember the weird guy sitting alone in the arcade, with no children. It sends shivers through my soul.

So it won’t surprise you that I’ve thrown no birthday parties for my children. Instead, we just take our kids to baseball games. Sometimes it’s near their birthday, sometimes it’s not. Yes, I’ll make a cake or something. Or not. When my youngest turned 2 a few weeks ago, my husband and I ended up going out on a date that night and celebrating her birthday the night before. We’re super lax about it.

My kids think that the most wonderful thing that can happen on a birthday is a) that people sing Happy Birthday — sometimes multiple times! — and b) cake. I find that if I do these two things, my children feel as if they have hit the motherfreaking lottery. Sometimes I go to the basement and wrap up small gifts I’ve collected since the last gift-giving occasion. Sometimes I don’t. And if you add the baseball game (which we’d go to anyway but claim it’s for their birthday)? Well, we’re rockstar parents.

Sometimes we’ll attend kid birthday parties and I’ll look at all the care that went into the day’s event. I have a friend who is a super-mom. For her daughter’s 3rd birthday, she just “threw something together.” Which meant that kids got to wear fancy clothes and there was a buffet of kid-friendly treats, individual cupcakes, personalized bubbles, tons of toys, access to a playground, a kite-flying area, and I’m leaving a bunch of stuff out. Sure, my girls had fun. But there’s no way I could fit planning a party like that into my overworked schedule. So for a moment I feel just the slightest twinge of guilt and envy and then you know what? I’m over it!

On the other hand, I know other parents who are similarly low-key when it comes to their children’s birthday parties. One of my friends doesn’t get her children any gifts other than a personally made cake in any shape — and I do mean any — that the child desires. She’s done cartoon characters and globes and all sorts of wacky stuff. It takes a lot of time but very little money and the children look forward to it with unbelievable glee.

Anyway, my big worry is not about our lack of parties, but how every single other family throws a birthday party for each of their children … every single year. My sister has three children and I kid you not that she and her husband are taking at least one of them to a birthday party every single weekend. I don’t want this life. I’ve already decided. For one thing, the birthday gifts for these kids can get ridiculously expensive. I wouldn’t care about it so much if I didn’t realize that things have gotten so out of control that children can’t even appreciate what they have. For another, though, I just don’t want my life to be one long chauffeur trip. So I’ve come up with a plan.

Basically, I’m thinking that once my children are in school and the invites start flying at us like flies to the windshield, I’m going to institute a limit. They can each attend no more than 5 birthday parties a year. That seems like a lot, right? What do you think? Will this plan work?

Will my kids be in therapy in 30 years? Or am I being the responsible one?