Surviving A 4‑Year‑Old’s Birthday Party
It was seven o’clock in the evening. My wife and I looked up at one another with weary satisfaction.
We did it. We survived a 4-year old’s birthday party hosted at our home.
Kids’ birthday parties have, along with so many other things in our modern world, morphed into a planning nightmare. I recall as a child that a birthday party generally consisted of rounding up your friends from around the neighborhood, eating some cake and generally messing around. If you had a party, maybe you went to a local park and played some games.
But a few years back, the American cable channel MTV, known once for showing music videos of pop stars, moved into original programming. The channel aimed its shows at the teenage demographic. And so we got shows like My Sweet Sixteen, which consisted of spoiled, rich children shouting at the top of their lungs and melting down as they celebrated allegedly becoming adults. The parents would brag about spending tens of thousands of dollars on these extravaganzas, the expense a proxy for parenting. The show usually ended with a big reveal: when the undeserving child would be presented with a new Mercedes or BMW that happened to be the wrong color, earning further enraged protests from the birthday child.
Ever since MTV brought us this dark side of the child’s birthday a few years back, the over-the-top birthday extravaganza has been creeping ever younger. My wife and I, faced with our 4-year-old’s party, approached it with a more reasoned and selfish take: We hoped she would forget about it and not want a party. This was a ridiculous fantasy, as our daughter informed us that she wanted her birthday to transport her to Disney’s Frozen, which, if you’re a parent that has been stranded on a desert island for the past two years, is the marketing juggernaut about two sisters overcoming obstacles to find true love.
Faced with the reality of a party, we began investigating options for venues. This is when we realized that if we wanted to have the party on a weekend – you know, when people would actually show up – we should have booked her fourth birthday when she was two. All venues were booked for months and months in advance. In our hearts, we knew this would be the case, but we had naively hoped that some venue would just happen to be perfectly available, as though no one else would have thought to have a weekend birthday party.
So now we felt a circle closing around us. It was becoming obvious that if we threw a party it was going to be in our home. Our daughter is a very friendly child and has a bunch of nice friends that she has made along the way, but I was petrified at the idea of keeping 10 to 12 children entertained for a few hours. Naturally, we got a bounce house, an inflatable air-powered structure that cheerfully hurtles children at one another until one of them is injured. I also decided to have pumpkin carving, because in the US, October is given over to Halloween and pumpkin carving is a holiday ritual. But then I looked at the carving kits I bought, and suddenly realized that dozens of tiny fingers were going to be cutting into an object with tiny knives.
Maybe that wasn’t the best idea.
We confronted the next looming issue: Even if the kids were entertained, this would also be a party for the adults, for us! We felt obligated to make sure all the parents would get along and have a good time. And this is the challenge of a kid’s birthday: it’s a reflection on everything you’ve done as a parent over the past year. My wife was petrified. She began feverishly cleaning the house and shoving things in any place that she could find. Our bedroom ended up looking like a storage facility; opening the door meant risking the danger that a tower of hastily displaced items would fall on your head.
We also worried about the ultimate party issue: Would anybody come? Would the kids have fun? Would the parents get along? A child’s birthday party is like a tax investigation with cake and ice cream. And there was always the vague possibility that the children would destroy our furniture and house having a good time.
Happily, we survived it. Everyone seemed to have a good time. No children ended up in the hospital. The weather was perfect, the kids played with one another, the adults mingled naturally, our older daughter and her friends had a good time. The party had been on a Sunday afternoon, and, 24 hours later, my wife and I were still catatonic on the couch. Our bodies ached from the experience.
Time to start resting up for next year.