we don’t have to do this.


i’ve got birthday party hangover.  you know what i’m talking about:  too much sugar, more coffee than necessary (such a gray area), the full feeling of having gathered your tribe to love on your kids for a few short hours over food & drinks & good conversation.

yesterday we celebrated my middle kids’ birthdays:  thalia turned 9 last week, kieran nails down 6 on friday.  i, because i am an american parent with a bit of means, had been fretting over this day for some time.  i do this every year.  am i the only who does this?  maybe.

it goes like this:  what food should i make?  who should come?  what present(s) should we get the kids?  what should we do for a theme?  we’ve always had a theme.  will the kids that come fit in our house, now that most of the basement isn’t play space anymore?  will they be bored with smaller space & far less toys?  am i doing enough?

then i roll these thoughts around in my head for a couple months, tacking up mental sticky notes to address them, crumpling up the bad ideas & scratching out new ones as the event gets closer.

but that’s just the problem.

event?  my kids don’t need an event, they need a birthday party.  (i use the term”need” loosely.  again, the privileged “problem” of our first world.)  in this day of pinterest, putting on just a simple gathering has suddenly become a hard road to navigate.

i was talking to my dear friend beth about this on the phone last week.

“come with low expectations.  we’re just doing a party.  no theme or anything.  just simple,” i said, a little sheepishly, putting it out there to see if that was socially acceptable.

“i love parties,” she said, meaning the kind without extra extraness.  just gather us together to celebrate.  enough. done. it’s okay to drop the guilt.

of course.  i felt myself relax out of the pressure i had let build up.  that kooky pressure we put on ourselves to perform superhuman feats of extravaganza for our children’s parties, or for any reason, really.  first tooth?  have a parade.  easter?  we’ll hire the bunny.  christmas?  let’s not even go there.  i’m joking, of course, but kind of not really.

i read an article a couple weeks ago about a mom who was skipping all the birthday fanfare for her only child this year, an 8-year-old.  instead of renting the venue & buying the gifts, the party supplies, the paper goods, the food (that was acceptable for each & every food allergy or sensitivity to all her little boy’s friends), & then entertaining all 30 (what?) kids for the afternoon (hold on.  i’m tired just thinking about this. . . .), she took her son & a friend to a posh hotel with room service & cushy bathrobes instead.  to her, that was the simpler solution.

which makes me think:  we don’t have to do this.

somewhere along the path of the last decade, childhood in this culture went from ordinary to super-ramped-up, high-input, all-in-all-the-time.  if you think back to your own childhood, it was not like this.  it was simple.  maybe even a little dull & boring (God bless you.  you’ve just proven the reason for your highly innovative spirit.).  as kids, we were not catered to.  our parents didn’t make up events for us.  our birthday parties didn’t have themes.

[caveat:  if you are the mom (or dad) who enjoys big events with fanfare & have the means to do it, don’t let me steal your thunder.  carry on;  as you were.  but if you’re like me & dread feeling like you have to perform to be a good mother or spend more to make an event “memorable,” let’s just drop this issue, shall we?  we can give each other permission.]

so this year, we sloughed off a little more cultural expectation, stepped a little further out of the standard american box, & had a simple, un-themed, no-games, slightly dull (perhaps) birthday party.  we blew up balloons & hung streamers & made food & served ice cream.  we invited family & friends, the kids received gifts, & my MIL brought a pinata (which we filled with fruit juice-sweetened treats & chocolate.  & homemade, personalized buttons.  okay, a little hoopla.)

my kids felt loved & celebrated.  done.

no complaints about our smaller space or fewer toys or theme-less party or that where the kids mostly played was 37 degrees & outside.

as i snuggled my six-year-old last night at 10:30pm do you know what he said?  i asked him, “so, was it a good birthday party, kier?”

one word.  “GREAT.”

i think we’re on to something here.

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6 thoughts on “we don’t have to do this.

  1. Amen! This new industry of “birthday party” kills me. Cake, presents, pin something on a donkey–I survived and felt loved. I’ve never really stepped up to the birthday plate with my kids and my 9-year old is starting to comment. I think cake, a couple presents, and a game or two is acceptable. When her friends have over-the-top birthdays that is where it gets hard explaining why we don’t do the same. Great post:)

  2. My kids could invite as many guests as their age…including their sibling… For a simple party. This was a few games, cake and ice cream. Or they could invite one friend and their siing to do something special…go to a movie, bowling, roller skating etc and maybe fast food then cake and ice cream. They usually picked the one friend option.

  3. Just a grandmother’s perspective here. I am happy to report that I believe the “top this!” birthday cultural phenomenon is waning. IMHO this was inevitable if only because it was unrealistic and therefore unsustainable. Kids don’t expect what they are not taught to expect. Step out of the box to do differently and you will find there are a plethora of simple ways to make your kids feel special without making them feel entitled to feeling special. 🙂 Just sayin’

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