Tuesday, December 13, 2005

The History of Keeping Up With The Joneses in the Suburbs: Chapter Two

A couple of months ago, I wrote a blistering expose on the competition in my neighborhood to have the best and biggest playset. Since then, I have continued my deep cover in order to expose the secrets of life in suburbia. I have recently uncovered a trend that is so insidious, so frightening, that I cannot in good conscience keep it to myself. While it is a topic that is hardly new, it is something that is spiraling out of control because of parents' needs to outdo one another. This horrible trend is causing dissention, resentment and outright hostility among people who claim to be friends. I present The Birthday Party.

I am all about a party. There is nothing more fun than good food, good drinks, good friends and a lot of wonderful conversation and laughter. The same holds true for a kid's birthday party. We have kept Baby Girl's parties quite low key. We had a blizzard for her first birthday so it was the two of us watching her look at a cupcake with fear/curiosity/hunger. On her second birthday we went all out for an Elmo cake that my friend made and she had her two little friends over. The adults ate steak and drank wine and beer. The girls ate hotdogs and fought over toys. Baby Girl's party on Sunday was much the same. She had one friend and her cousin over. The adults ate appetizers and drank beer and wine. The kids ate chicken nuggets and a Dora Cupcake Birthday Cake.

I was introduced to the birthday party circuit while we were still in New Jersey. It is customary in New Jersey for the first birthday to be a huge blow-out in a rented hall, complete with 100+ people and caterers. Maybe there is a petting zoo or a bounce house. Maybe there's a band. There is DEFINITELY a mountain of presents and a very overwhelmed and cranky birthday child. We attended a couple parties like that and were amazed at the size of the celebration. Perhaps we were amazed that our friends actually HAD 100+ people to invite. Perhaps we couldn't believe the expense. Who knows?

Once Baby Girl got older, we started getting invited to parties at a place near our house called Boro Kid Zone. It was fantastic! The children got to jump around and play in these designated zones for set periods of time. And then they were served pizza and/or birthday cake. After eating, they were given a goodie bag and we were on our merry way. All this in 90 minutes. SWEET! It was great. I found out that parties ran about $150 or so. I thought that was pretty steep, but I thought it would be good if a parent didn't buy any other presents.

And now we are here in Ohio. Sure, there are the parties at the nearby Pump it Up or Build-A-Bear. But here, it is all about exceeding kids' expectations and having a bigger/better party than the year before. And a bigger/better party than the neighbor kids. And, you obviously love your child more because you just had the coolest party ever. There are princess parties, Dora parties and Nascar parties. For the "tweens" we have the "Makeover Parties" where there are places here in the area that will organize makeup parties for girls. Recently, there was a Jungle party in the neighborhood where the children participated in a jungle scavenger hunt. I think the prize was a real live monkey. Not sure who won.

My husband came home tonight and told me about the plans one of his co-workers had for his daughter's birthday party next week. They are planning to build a life-sized Candyland game board in their basement, and the parents of the children are going to play the characters in the game.

Are you kidding me?

I am trying to imagine how the parents are going to react when they get to the party. Will the Birthday Girl's father get to be King Kandy? Will the mothers start a cat fight to get the coveted roles of Lolly and Princess Frostine? The losers of that fight will have to be Mama Gingertree and Gramma Nutt. The parents who show up late will live to regret it as they will be stuck playing Jolly and Gloppy. I'm not sure I could imagine a less enjoyable afternoon for the parents.

Am I the only parent who is perfectly happy having a few kids over and letting them run wild through the house and eat cake? I mean, if I start with the unique parties now, it will never end. My girls will just expect more and more every year. And I don't want that. I'm still trying to get over the fact that I don't get any presents for my kids' birthdays. I mean, I squeezed them out for God sakes! Isn't that worth a nice bracelet?

I know that eventually I will have to expand on our birthday parties as I am assuming (and hoping) that my daughters will have more than one friend each. That said, I think the craziest I am willing to go is a Boro Kidzone-type of party. I think it is worth the $150 to NOT have to clean my house, fix food, and have parents looking at my house and questioning my decorating choices. What about you? How far are you willing to go to make your birthday kid happy? How much are you willing to do/spend?


wordgirl said...

Hausfrau, this birthday party thing has gotten wwaaaayyyy out of hand. Thank God, they pass out of it by the time they're 10 or so. Then it's just all about inviting your four best friends over for a movie or something. Until then, the horizon is bleak, my friend. Girl parties where everyone gets manicures and pedicures and then they get taken to school the next morning in a limo. Truly, truly nauseating. That's one part of the young kid world I'm glad to be rid of. The rest of it I miss...a lot.

TB said...

Oh my. Is this what I have to look forward to when I have kids? I'm not much of a party planner.

I found you through Word Girl. I'm in Ohio also - Columbus. Nice to meet you.

Candace said...

Don't do it. Don't give in to the pressure. Your kids won't care, and that's the important thing. My kids have been to the MOST extravagent parties and not ONCE have they complained about the parties we throw for them. Yes, we've done the Chuck-E-Cheese thing and we once had The Boy's birthday at the Tae Kwon Do center but only because their birthdays are in Feb and April which preclude anything outside. But the best parties we've had have been at our house. Basically, we pick a theme (tea party or superheroes) and sort of stick to it. I do not give goody bags. I think goody bags are an abomination and if my kids bring home one more little plastic piece of crap I WILL kill someone. Anyway, the tea party year we did crowns: paper crowns decorated with crayons and little stick-on jewels that cost $1.50 per bag. The superhero year we made capes from cut-up flat sheets ($2.00) and fabric markers.

We don't do games. The kids come, they play, do the craft, eat cake, and help the kid open presents.

Keep it simple and your kids will be happy.

Shrinking Violet said...

Just wait until things like Sweet 16 and 18 roll around...where I live there are twin girls in high school that have matching Hummers. I pity the lives these children will be faced with as adults. There will be nothing left for them. Nothing new under the sun.

Christina said...

Hi, I found you through BloggingBaby (and I'm an Ohioan as well). We've only had to do the first birthday party so far, and it was an event for family and close friends at our house. It was pretty low-key, with some snacks and cake.

For future parties, I may give in to going someplace else for my daughter's birthday, for the simple reason of avoiding the clean-up (both before and after the part!).

But there's no way I'm spending a ton of money on it. Cake, a theme with matching party supplies, and maybe one small craft or toy to take home.

Goody bags? No way. I used to work in daycare, and every single party involved those stupid goody bags with cheap plastic toys that would break 5 min. later. Or worse: musical toys, when you want to make sure the other parents hate you.

We had a great first birthday experience, and will probably stick to smallish parties of family and a few friends.

Oh, and the lifesized Candyland? Craaaaazy. I hope you don't have to go to the party.

OTRgirl said...

For a cheap but super cool party: a family I knew scrounged 4 refrigerator boxes and built a castle in the back yard. The kids decorated paper crowns and got to have cake in the castle. My birthday was in the summer, so my parents invited the whole church to the neighborhood swimming pool/ball park. It wasn't as much about me as it was an excuse for a community event, but it was fun.

Cheap and creative beats expensive and impersonal every time.

Mary P. said...

You throw a huge extravaganza for your kid before they can talk, you are setting a precident. Did the kid ask for that? They can't even talk!

So who is this for, really? Who are you trying to impress? Other parents. If that's what impresses them, do you really want to be friends with them? (Gee, this sounds an awful lot like what my mother said to me when I was in grade seven and having friend trouble. Guess things haven't changed that much, after all.)

I've never, ever thrown a party like that, and my kids (20,16,12) are still speaking to me! Our parties involved cake and hot dogs or pizza, a few games and/or a craft, opening the gifts, and then lots of space for play, while I had my much needed beverage. Easy. Loud, but easy!

p.s. I have some great party games, if you're interested, involving nothing fancier than balloons and wrapping paper.

Suburban Turmoil said...

Oh gosh. Just thinking about this is giving me a headache.

I think when I was a kid, my favorite parties were simply the ones with the best prizes and favors. I was enamored by one party in which the prizes for games were Barbie dolls. And these people didn't have much money- They just spent it wisely- invited a few girls and invested in great prizes. I'll have to remember that....

Jenette said...

Summer birthdays--- throw on their swimsuits, blow up the kiddie pool, eat the cake and ice cream outside, and let them run around like heathens. They're KIDS!!!!

minimal_free_reign said...

We always had a nice celebration for my nephew because he shared a birthday with my mom, but his biggest party, when he was two, merely consisted of both sides of the family at the house with food and cake. Nothing inflatable or motorized. This year, with mom gone, his parents had 12 of his preschool friends and us at a Creative Play Center. It was genius.Minimal prep and clean up, and the kids ran around and loved it, as did the adults. Everyone kept an eye on everyone else's kids, as the adults took turns painting and playing and dressing up too. It was like we were a village raising the kids for 2 hours. A play village. With tunnels and big wheels.

kimmyk said...

my kids never had parties like that. they just always ran through the house and slept on the floor in the basement. they sorta all had to stay since they had eaten so much cake and thrown themselves into a sugar induced coma.
i so would NEVER have a party where a bunch of stuffy parents stood around and criticized me...are ya kiddin me? ugh. never!

MIM said...

Misfit, this is one of my really big pet peeves. Like Mary said, this is ALL about the parents, and NOT about the kids.

FDS (fuck dat shit) -- that's what I say.

Mary P. said...

Bet you didn't have to take any time to recover when mim "dropped the F-bomb", now did you?? I laughed out loud when I saw your response to my comment at her place.

I can't say that stuff on my blog - I'm Mary P, goodness gracious me!! But at mim's place, mim the potty-mouth parenting paragon, I can say whatever I like, bwah-ha!

That word, and others equally ripe do cross my not-so-virginal lips every so often - and that "I'm a better person because I have more money" nonsense really sets me off.

(Sorry to commandeer your comments section for private chat, but I couldn't find your email address anywhere.)

Misfit Hausfrau said...

If nothing else Mary, I knew that you were quite, er, PASSIONATE about the topic on MIM's blog!

MetroDad said...

Someone made a comment on my site the other day that I thought was a nice idea. For each kid's birthday, they're allowed to invite a number of friends over equal to the age that they're turning. So, if they're turning 6, they can have 6 friends over. Apparently, this not only makes things more intimate and more manageable but also allows you to escape from the vicious cycle of ever-better and ever- more expensive birthday parties. Not a bad idea. At least it's something to think about.

Misfit Hausfrau said...

Erin- I love the idea of a Creative Play Center! I'll have to see if they have something similar here for the next birthday. Otherwise it's going to be Arts & Craps with Hausfrau or the Kidzone!!!

Kristen said...

The birthday party pressure has been one of my biggest "issues", too. My four-year-old's friends all invite everyone from the class to various fun-filled locations (amusement parks, aquariums, Chuck E. Cheese types, etc.)...he's already starting to say that when he turns 5, he wants to invite ALL OF THE CLASS to his birthday party. I hate that the insecure parents who want to prove something have to make it difficult for the rest of us. So far, all we've done have been simple get-togethers with cake and a few small games at our house. His 4th birthday was the first one we even invited anyone other than family (two other friends, that was it). I hate the go all out and prove you're better than everyone else birthday parties. It does set the kids up to have unrealistic expectations about socializing, parties, and life in general.

theyellowwallpaper said...

Wow! I'm still thinking about that giant candy land in the basement project. Gulp.

Admittedly, I have yet to have a party for either of my kids (one is almost three and the other is one). Sure, we had some grandparents and cake, but we kept it low key since they aren't really able to understand what it going on.

Having said that, I am amazed at the lengths people go to for the perfect kiddy party. It used to be a big deal if you had just had a character, like Dora or Elmo, but now there also has to be face painting, inflatable bouncing rooms, etc. I don't see any end to this in sight unfortunately.

Oh, and a big time WOW on the earlier comment about twins with matching hummers. It's really hard to fathom.

Susan said...

I like to tell people that I planned for my children to be born in the summer specifically so I would not have to invite every kid in the whole damn metro area to a birthday party.

Last year, Henry was invited to a party; when I opened the invitation, I couldn't place the child. 'Which one is Kate?' I asked him. He stared at me. 'I have no idea.' I thought it was just Henry, but no! Her parents had invited EVERY child in the pre-k program, all 63 of them, most of whom had never met the birthday girl! Jesus.

We do what MetroDad suggested--one child for each year. And we either make a special treat (one year Henry chose some elaborate chocolate cupcakes with mayonaise--SO DELICIOUS--and we made them together) or they can pick a simple cake from the bakery. And we have a nice playdate with cake. And the boys love it.

I refuse to start with the elaborate birthday parties. If anyone around here is getting a $200.00 birthday party, it's me. Not the boys.

That is all.

McSwain said...

This stuff is crazy, and prevalent where I live, too. One of my son's friends was telling me that they spent over $2,000 on their kid's party last year! We had a big party at a Karate place last year, which cost me about $150 total with the cake and goodie bags, and I didn't have to clean. But the number of (expensive) presents was excessive and really made me ill.

I think having an extravaganza for kids who aren't old enough to even care is just silly.

Next time, I'm going to let him have 2-3 friends overnight. They can eat cake and watch movies and have sleeping bags on the floor. And I'll bet they'll have more fun than if I spent $2,000.

JD's Rose said...

This is a tough one for me, because I don't have kids. I don't know. I have one friend who has just spend $2,500 on her two kids (ages 5 & 3) for Christmas, and another who has bought her son (he's 2) a packet of coloured pegs for Christmas, because she can't afford it, and he loves the colours. I don't know what I will be like though.

I think it should come down to what you can afford and what makes your kids happy, whether that be $2,500 or a packet of pegs....

figuration said...

The bigger problem is that these little girls grow up with huge burthday expectations and then WHAM! Marry a man.

Having just celebrated my birthday, I can tell you that there is nothing more special than the Kroger birthday. Dear Hubby runs to the grocery store, buys some cheap flowers and a card. He walks right past the bakery to do so, but alas... there is no cake.

You are doing your children a great favor by lowering their expectations about birthdays - Call it real-world training or REALLY early pre-marital counselling ;)

Velma said...

I couldn't agree more - I'm ALL about the low-key birthday parties. We successfully managed to avoid a structured party until my girl turned 5 last winter.

We realized early on how hard it would be to "top" the previous year if we set it up to be a big event. We always have a small cake at home with 2 or 3 small presents from Mommy, Daddy, and the non-birthday sibling. I usually bring in cupcakes to his/her school, and then when we go up to visit my in-laws, they also have a cake and presents for the birthday kid. So, in essence, the kids end up celebrating three separate times, even without a blow-out party.

Now that we have arrived at school age, we threw my girl's first real party last winter at one of the indoor play zone places. We invited all 14 kids in her class, half of which showed up. We got a chance to know the other parents who did show up, the kids killed a snowy February afternoon, and at the end of the day, we left all the mess and went home.

Definitely the way to go!

The June Cleaver Diaries said...

For the 3 year old, we had some bevies, some pizza, and a few bags of chip thrown on the table. And a cake, of course. Oh-- and I had some carrots/celery/dip to appease the turbo-healthy mom that came. Then we turned on the sprinkler, opened the sandbox, and brought out the toys from the garage. Everyone had a blast. We'll do the same next year.

The twins will be 1 on the 27th. They'll each get a cupcake to demolish, and a silly hat to put on for the camera. We're ordering pizza, and we ALWAYS have beer around, so we're telling our friends across the street that they can wander over to sing Happy Birthday and grab some grub.

How elaborate.

I sometimes worry about what I'll have to compete against when my kids are older and the parents start going nutty with the parties. We'll be able to afford it, but we WON'T have major bashes. I refuse to have my kids to turn out like the bitchy princesses on "Sweet Sixteen."

But I do so love that show...oh so very much...

p-man said...

A while ago I had a cousin asking me where to rent the good inflatable castles. All the neighbours were using them to good effect come birthday time. She described a neighbourhood birthday arms race. Blow-up castles = mutually assured destruction.

dustylibrarian said...

I know people who have had moonbounces, clowns jedi knights and one of these mom's was actually fretting during her son's tricked out birthday party that perhaps she would get a pony the next year. A PONY. How about ponying up to reality? All this is doing is creating a generation of even more self absorbed bored by everything assholes who scream at the people behind the counter at starbucks.