I hate birthday parties.
It came to me recently when I was with my daughter at one of her friends’ parties. The kids were being entertained by a party specialist at a standard venue while some of the parents were sipping mimosas because it was a Saturday morning and we wanted to be somewhere else, ANYWHERE else but here. But the party girl’s mother was creating 20 Pinterest-worthy party platters featuring a paint palette festooned with sprinkles to set off the cupcakes and act as party favors.
She was stressed to the max, and I felt for her. I wanted to scream, “How much pampering do these kids need?”
Admittedly, I’m old-fashioned. My first and only birthday party was held in the 1960s, and I suspect it happened in response to me not being invited to a classmate’s birthday party. School integration was just getting underway, and I was one of a handful of “Negro” kids selected to integrate the “White” school. I had overheard two white girls talking, one asking the other if she was planning to attend Ted’s birthday party. Ted had tan skin and straight black hair. Looking back, I suspect he was of middle-eastern origins, possibility Jewish, and the girls were deciding if they would attend the party of a potential social outcast.
I had darker brown skin and kinky hair that had been straightened with a hot comb. My ancestors had arrived on a slave ship. If Ted’s middle-eastern origins were giving my classmates pause, my obvious African features weren’t even on the radar when it came to party invitations.
That evening at home, I told my mom about the overheard conversation and I asked if I had been invited to Ted’s birthday party. She saw the situation more clearly than I did and it spurred her into action. To make up for me being left out at school, she and a few of her friends got together and planned a birthday party for me. She made two sheet cakes – one chocolate, one vanilla – our house was decorated with streamers and balloons, and my friends and their parents came over with gifts. It would be the only childhood birthday party I would have that involved more than The Happy Birthday Song and a slice of cake served at the end of family supper.
By comparison, the parties The Little General is exposed to are over the top. We’ve attended elaborate parties at enormous venues for kids as young as age 3. At one such party, the birthday girl had a meltdown during The Happy Birthday Song, and The Little General bit a kid. Hard! Like a dog attacking a stranger standing too close to his food dish. We hurriedly left in shame.
These parties invariably involve special themes and decorations, and guests can expect to leave with elaborately wrapped party favors so that the gift giving goes both ways. A thank you note written by the mother will follow. On top of that, some schools have birthday recognition at lunch once a month, and the parents have the option of delivering birthday treats for an additional classroom celebration. If none of the aforementioned celebrations falls on the actual birthdate, you can expect another little celebration at home on that day. That’s four celebrations for someone who can barely lift a hand to wash her own face!
For me, the aforementioned stress is compounded by TLG’s birthday occurring in the summer when many kids leave town the weekend before Memorial Day and don’t return until August. Then there is the social component: If you want kids to come to your party, you need to be popular and you need to hold the event at a popular venue. If you’re not popular, low turnout. If you pick a crappy venue, even lower turnout. Since TLG is a tomboy and I've crossed off the No. 1 fun party venue, the trampoline park, I had my work cut out for me.
I chose a gymnastics venue and prayed. I sent out custom invites backed up by Evites. I got low RSVP’s and a bunch of declines. I boosted the list with additional names. No results.
Every mom has been through this, right?
The day of the party at a venue reserved for 20, I had 6 RSVPs. Ten minutes into start time no one had arrived and I was in tears, not because of the outlay of cash, but because no one liked my kid.
Then, 20 minutes into the start time, a bunch of people who didn't RSVP miraculously show up. I choke back tears and launch into being a hostess. My kid is obnoxiously happy and notices nothing.
I'd pay a lot to never do this again.
Over the years I've hosted 6 parties. Of these, one was at home, when I accidentally pushed the thermostat button for heat instead of A/C and guests arrived to a sweltering house in the dead of June; one was at a skating rink, where only 6 male classmates showed up and lost interest within minutes (a total flop); one was an impromptu gathering at a locale pizza place; and two were at a gymnastics arena. None of these are happy memories.
So this year I said No to a big venue birthday party. The school luncheon, the classroom snack party and the family after-dinner cake will have to do. As compensation for the venue party, she can have the cash.
Half the cash goes into savings, the other half can be spent with parental discretion. And on her actual birthday she can have lunch with a friend of her choice. Nice trade off, I think. Easier than sending 50 invites and waiting in tears to see if anyone shows up.
Hal Hutchison, M.Ed.
Hal Wofford Hutchison, M.Ed., is a former columnist, writer and editor for the Arkansas Democrat and the Arkansas Gazette newspapers. She has also been a secondary educator, and a university counselor and administrator. She lives in Little Rock, Ark., with her husband of 23 years and their daughter.