By Eliska Counce, TSB Columnist
It is that time of year again. Birthday party season is once upon us here at Chez Counce. My daughter, my last baby, turns five next week. Le sigh. On one hand, I find myself wistful that chubby, sturdy toddler things are of the past; however, there is a strong part of me that wants to go ahead and chase her into that elementary school before August ever gets here. Having had her two brothers to be the sibling cattle catchers in my pasture of child-rearing, to so speak, leaves her a bit robbed in the sentiment department regarding her departure for kindergarten.
Oh, but don’t feel too sorry for the girl. There are an awful lot of pros to being third born outside of finding me emotionally broken by her brothers and thusly in a vulnerable posture, it turns out. My daughter will benefit from the lessons I have learned from having had to juggle Borg designations One of Three and Two of Three before the arrival of her, Three of Three.
There was a time, believe it or not, fair reader, where a birthday party for my children has indeed gotten the better of me. There was a time when I believed an invitation simply wasn’t an invitation unless it had been engraved. That there should be elaborate balloon structures. Theme music. THEME MUSIC, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. Oh, what a child I was myself. I have rented every bounce house, pizza joint, swimming pool, and amusement hall of every stripe in my children’s short lives, giving up an inordinate amount of scratch in the process. And the crying over all the planning and coordinating. There may or may not have been weeping and gnashing of teeth over the detailed planning.
Surely not YOU, Eliska! says you, my gentle reader. But yes: there is indeed a reason this blog is called momma drama. Not always was I the well seasoned (that’s something old chicks call themselves) parenting machine that you see before you. If you can imagine it, there was a time when planning my boys’ birthday party could leave lasting scarring. One and Two of Three, for convoluted machinations of the universe I might have to share in another blog post, have birthdays that fall on August 7th and August 8th. Up until now, these birthdays were combined into what can only be described kindly as Birthdaypalooza. They: the rock stars. I: only the roadie.
But over the years, I have lived, and I have learned. I have thrown huge, P Diddy-style celebrations that broke the bank. I have made the mistakes and lived to tell the tale. Like Prince, I’m here to tell you: there’s something else. Once again and luckily for you, I have collected some of the more advisable Do’s and Don’ts of kid parties that will hopefully spare you some of the angst I have experienced over the last decade planning literally dozens of these toddler bashes. Let me lay some wisdom on you for when you’re thinking about your offspring’s next natal fete:
Don’t spend a ton of cash printing up custom-job invites. Unless it’s their first birthday party, and you’re saving it for the baby book, you might as well wipe your heinie with one. It goes straight in my trash after the information goes in my Blackberry.
Do indicate a clear RSVP email. I don’t want to call you. I don’t know you. Let me slink into your inbox to say we’re coming and to ask you about what particular brand of Chinese made plastic crap your kid wants for a gift.
Don’t be surprised when a dozen people show up without RSVPing. Have extra favors on hand, or risk making your son’s best friend’s little sister think you are the Wicked Witch who Withholds Toys From You But No Others. A good rule of thumb is to double the size of the “yes” responses. A sad commentary on today’s society? Perhaps, again, appropriate for another blog. But I digress.
Do consider not going over the top with some elaborate theme and decide our children will be sitting quietly making adorable things within this theme. Usually you are much more impressed with your adorable crafts than they are. The kids want to run amok, and we should let them. Ponder that birthday party “themes” where I grew up included “Ain’t You Damn Glad We Had You,” “Clothes Are A Perfectly Good Present,” and “Cake, Ice Cream, and Getting Sick on the Merry Go Round.” These kids are three. They’ll be in therapy for some other reason than a party lacking an animatronic, singing Mater centerpiece, I assure you.
Don’t make me participate. Let me state in no uncertain terms: the best kid’s party is where my child joins a group of other children for raucous fun. Need I repeat:”raucous fun” does not include my forcing my three year old to sit and create a place mat or picture frame. Crafts are fun for middle aged mothers. Not so much for kids when there’s sugar to inhale by the pound and a pack to run with. Ai yi yi, those crafts. Which I must facilitate. Because he’s three. Please. Just. Don’t. Someone sent me and a crowd of children and parents on a scavenger hunt inside a crowded multi-purpose building, and I think I contracted a panic disorder from that experience I still can’t shake. For the love of God, just give me a chair in a corner to huddle in. Are there chairs at this event for the adults? BECAUSE THERE SHOULD BE CHAIRS.
Do have the etiquette to make yourself known as the host or hostess. It’s not up to me to find you at your kid’s party. I know you’re busy. But notice people as we bring our kids in, speak, smile, introduce us to other parents. None of us want to be there, sorry, and it might be nice to have someone to chat to in this particular kind of hostage situation. Circulate. Don’t be afraid to offer guests an adult beverage. Wait? What? Oh, yes…believe it or not, I had a mom give me just one of those mini-bar bottles of wine for the party and no more. Genius! No DUI and still a much smoother experience. Oh, and there are places who will not allow you to bring in outside food and drink. Boycott them or risk being fleeced.
Do realize any more than one drink for adult guests as a kid’s party is a bad, bad idea. If you need a bar, you need a babysitter and a cab driver. And not to be surrounded by images of Dora the Explorer or Kung Fu Panda. Shudder.
Don’t be a noodge about food on your kid’s birthday. If they’re not allergic to it, for the love of all that’s holy, just let them have it. Let them land face first in cake. I’m not afraid to say it: YOUR CAKE MADE WITH APPLESAUCE SUCKED. We just all pretended. Could they not have sugar just for their birthday? You’re harshing his mellow. Hey, and what’s wrong with a bottle of water or a fruit plate for the adults? We did just get your kid a kick ass toy. And there’s no chairs.
Do relax and have fun. Your kid won’t remember if the cups and plates matched the balloons or if the goody bags were worthy of his friendship. He will, however, remember your morphing into the Shrieking Birthday Harridan. And he will invest money in therapy over it. Remember, it’s not your day as a parent…and it’s supposed to be fun and relaxed.
So I’m hoping you’ll gain, as usual, from my harrowing experiences. Children’s birthday parties are a necessary evil for adults, but they can be less painful when thrown by other, empathic adults who have felt your pain. Godspeed. Think of me as I chug through the milestone party that will take my beloved baby girl out of the “toddler” category and into the “school aged” one. Hey, but if you’re lucky enough to be invited to MY kid’s bash, we might just get to toast it over some finely aged, single serving Gallo.