Have you ever been to an un-fun kid party? I mean, one where the adults had so thoroughly ran the Martha Stewart machine that it broke your heart to see the obvious care lavished on every little detail indoors while the kids ran through the house once on the way to the backyard and hid out in the treehouse so they wouldn't break anything? The mother was nearly in tears. Days of acquiring matching stemware for the sparkle punch, an hour in the party store agonizing over the color of confetti, three calls to Coldstone Creamery to update instructions on the design for the cake that Precious now won't even eat because "IT HAS CHERWIES ON THE PLATE....YOU KNOW I HATE CHERWIES....I TOLD YOU STWAWBERWIES..." The beyond lovely house, a soaring window looking out over a mountain lake at moonrise, echoed as the guests slunk away to let the birthday victim have her meltdown in peace. The last thing we passed going out the door was a tray of stemware, untouched.
I had one party as a child. Both parents worked, or worse, only Mom worked and Dad was unemployed. If there was money, there was no time. If there was time, there was no money. To me, therefore, giving my kid the opportunity to invite some kids to the house under any circumstances is a pretty huge deal. I'm glad to be able to do this, as I like her friends and find them interesting people. However, I'm not about to mortgage the house to hire Cirque de Soleil for
a private party. This, I've come to realize, is an unusual attitude among the parents of her peers. One of the things that
has been hard for me as a new arrival in the upper middle class is to figure out the child-rearing norms. Birthday parties
illustrate the great divide better than almost anything. Parents rent out museums, where the entire staff caters to the whims of five-year-olds. Parents purchase "party packages" at amusement parks so that a seven-year-old and 60 of his closest friends can ride a rollercoaster for two hours before eating cardboard pizza. We've been invited to water parks,
science centers, local craft stores, Libby Lu's, Build-a-Bear, Color Me Mine -- every conceivable store or amusement known to elites -- and every kid seems to have a more elaborate party every year. There's a weird "top this!" mentality among parents as they compete to place Junior (and themselves) in the limelight for a couple of hours. Between the site and
the stuff and the clean-up and the clowns and the everything, parents are paying between $300 and $1000 just to
"do" a birthday.
Remember when kids "had" birthdays? You know, like something that one had some ownership in?
Our kid is going to be eight. She likes to turn cartwheels, get paint all over the kitchen table, play board
games, talk quietly to her dolls, dance, write stories. This is not an age where commodified fun is necessary or desirable.
A little cake, a scenario (maybe...I'm now even rethinking whether I should have presumed to impose what adults would
call a "theme" on her), some materials, and the adults can and should step back and let the wild rumpus start. Feed the
kids a couple of hours into it, something simple. My husband will bake the cake (as his father baked all of his...) and
it will be maybe a little lopsided, with gumdrops for landing lights and a Hershey bar as the gangplank.
Our house is not large by McMansion standards but it was big enough to house a family of fifteen when it was built in
1914, so it will hold a dozen children for an afternoon. The cat will hide and the kids will shriek as they pound up
and down the stairs. There might be a lump on the head for someone and perhaps some Elmer's glue "boogers"
to gross out the squeamish girls. Balloons will be popped and drinks will be spilled.
It won't be perfect. It will be better than that. It will be fun.