Reining in the Birthday Parties
One of the most dreaded emails you can receive is “Our dear [son/daughter] is turning [another year older] and would like to invite [your child] to [his/her] birthday celebration. A formal invite will follow, but please save the date.”
The invite could just as easily be saying “In order to keep up with the Kapoors, Patels and Guptas of the grade, we are compelled to throw a lavish, no expense-spared birthday party for our little girl. Please bring your child to the overly decorated party venue where loud (and often inappropriate) music will be blaring, a myriad of entertainers will be performing over each other, and waiters will be serving a never-ending supply of sugar-laden feasts and drinks to the young ones. At the end of the birthday carnival we will be handing out overly expensive return presents to ensure that the kids squeal with delight and later pressure on their own parents to do even better. You will soon receive an over-the-top designer label invite with gold letter embossing. We hope you can make it!”
The preparations for the big fat Indian wedding begin with the big fat birthday parties!
Whatever happened to the good old birthday parties where homemade cakes, orange squash, and a game of hide and seek was all it took for kids to have a good time and declare the party a grand success?
That was also the time when a good book or a fun board game made a great birthday present. Not any more. Now, it’s all about gifting a fancy toy or limited edition doll that was purchased on the last overseas trip. And size does matter. Ever seen how broadly the child that walks into a birthday party with a gift larger than himself is smiling? He knows he’s nailed it thanks to Daddy’s trip to Dubai last week.
When I was growing up, birthday parties were occasions for kids to get together and have a good time, by themselves. There was no need for an entertainer, a party host, and elaborate game stalls. We did all the entertaining and game coordination ourselves. A small piece of chalk led to a great game of hopscotch. But in this unending circle of outdoing the last birthday party, it seems that with each year, the level of planning and hired entertainment gets ever higher. And in this process, I fear, we are rendering our children incapable of being able to have fun just by being with friends. They’re always looking at the next game stall, wondering if the other kids are having a better time than they are.
And then there is the constant one-upmanship with the return gifts. I find the concept that kids need to be given gifts for showing up to a birthday party a little ludicrous. The bigger issue that is that many parents have taken the goody bag of candy and stickers to a whole different level. If you’ve ever worried that your child has brought home a return present that is way more expensive than the present you sent for the birthday child, you know what I mean.
There should be a rule against giving any living beings as return presents.
My oldest child once came home from a birthday party with a goldfish. In what could only be described as a moment of brilliance, we decided to name the goldfish Goldie. With much fanfare, Goldie was given her place of honor on the side table in the living room, where she could keep an eye on everyone in the home while swimming in her glass bowl.
Two days later, as the kids were eating their breakfast, my son said, “Mom, what’s the matter with Goldie?” I looked over and saw her floating, belly up in the water. She had died, leaving me with the task of getting grieving and howling kids to school on time.
At another birthday party the return presents were puppies. Several parents were shocked and livid when their children came home with their new four-legged best friends. Fortunately, my kids were not invited to that party. A number of these families had to take those puppies into animal shelters, which was horrible for the innocent animals as well as the parents who had to deal with their children’s tears.
Of course, there was also the party where the return presents were iPads. Unfortunately (this time), my kids were not invited to that party either. Several parents felt that the pressure this created on their own child’s upcoming birthday party was completely unnecessary. They expected to go into debt when their kids went to college or got married, not when they turned seven.
Interestingly, birthday parties seem to be almost entirely recession proof. The harder hit the economy, the more Mommy and Daddy want to prove to Junior that all is indeed well. Such is our need for protecting our children and keeping them safely ensconced in the bubbles that we wrap around them.
And so it goes on, year after year, with the bar on birthday party extravaganzas constantly rising. Perhaps, one day, this bubble will finally burst and kids will go back to playing hopscotch and eating homemade cake? A parent can dream…