Why I Stopped Caring About My Kid’s Birthday Party
“Holy shit!!!” I thought, as I walked into the venue for the fourth birthday party of my friend’s kid. It was glorious and deeply personal. No expense had been spared, and more importantly, no effort either: from homemade food, to handmade decorations, to games for kids, to party favours, all keeping with the theme of the alphabet. It was a testament to her love for her son – and a mirror to my own imperfections as a mother.
Not only had I not planned anything close to this for my son’s upcoming 3rd birthday, I had planned nothing at all.
I walked out of the party riddled with guilt, mortification, and self-deprecation. I determinedly skipped all subsequent birthday parties that I was invited to.
But for every birthday party I skipped, I catered for three. Birthday parties dog me persistently in my professional life as a caterer.
“Our theme is music, can the idly or the vada be made in the shape of a musical instrument or musical notes?”
“Can you do pasta as well? My friend says, what will the kids eat?”
“Do you do balloons and the magician as well??? My sister in law’s caterer organized everything!”
“Here, please speak to my wife!”
For some reason, it is only a mother’s burden to bear, and the stress of the women I speak to is palpable. There is a deadline to meet, and much to be done.
None of them enjoys it, not even my friend who threw the A-for-Amazing party, because even though the ideas (no matter the birthday themes — alphabets, superheroes, Frozen, whatever) are tantalizing, the process is a drag. What should be a celebration, a happy occasion, for kids and parents becomes an effort that eats away brain space: who to invite, how many items to have, what do the kids eat, how do we decorate the place, and – most importantly — how do we make it different from the other kids’ birthday parties we have attended? Opinions abound, even if assistance does not, from family members, mommies in the WhatsApp groups, and the peer-pressuring Ghost of Parties Past. Slowly, we begin to miss the wood for the trees.
So I kept the woods firmly in sight as my deadline inched closer. The big picture for me was to make my son feel special, to spend time with him, to ensure that he have a good time on his birthday.
“What do you want for your birthday, baby?” I asked him.
He wanted a family picnic at my father’s house on the outskirts of the city. It was spacious and green, and he wanted to run and play.
I rejoiced; Why do more for the kid’s birthday, when he wanted so little? Close family members and a friend and her child (my son’s closest friend so far) were invited. I planned for a normal, home-cooked meal and a homemade cake. I briefly flirted with birthday decorations in the form of professional balloon work, but eventually dropped the idea when the vendor asked for the colour scheme; the thought of picking a colour scheme for a kid who barely knew his colours was just too much.
Read more stories of surviving a kid’s birthday party
And yet through all the planning (or lack thereof) a niggle remained in my head. I felt I was copping out of a very important maternal duty. I had made very little effort for this birthday party. I felt like a lazy mom, a mom who was depriving her son of an important social interaction, a mom who may have jeopardized his social career by not ensuring future, reciprocal party invites. (Let me be honest, I was kind of relieved about this. Which compounded the guilt.)
On the day of the birthday, my son woke up in the house to the excited licks and urgings of the dogs, who too were overjoyed to be there. He hung out with them for a bit, played football with my husband for a while, and loitered around the garden, plucking brinjal and mandarin oranges before the guests arrived. He received the gifts with pleasure and opened them with gusto. He splashed about in the water in a collapsible pool with his lone friend. Together, they burst the abysmally few home-blown balloons and clapped in glee at the sound.
He had a fabulous time. We all did.
The things we worry about — the arrangements, the catering, the guest list, the decorations, the clown, the ball pool, the colour-coordinated balloons – they’re the business of birthdays. And kids really, really don’t care about any of it. We, the parents, created this monster, fed it, and now we are consumed by it. I may have taken the “convenient” option for my son’s celebration — but shouldn’t it be easy and convenient to make my son feel special? If it’s difficult or complex to do this at 3, it will be impossible by 7. Then what do we do?
I guess I’ll find out. As my son grows, he will attend many more birthday parties. He will likely form a template of expectations and wants based on what he sees his peers get. His birthday wishes will not be as simple. But of this I am sure: What he truly wants or needs can never be as complicated as what we parents are capable of making it.