Wednesday, January 31, 2007

birthdays without pressure

Talia turns four next week and I can't believe it. I mean, not only can I not believe that my baby girl is a confident and sassy four year old, but I also can't believe how truly pleasant this birthday is coming along.

For one thing, we're exiting the terrible threes, which are truly terrible in our house--much more terrifying than the fairly benign twos, and were even more horrifying with Talia, who is both very adventurous and also quite outspoken. Thankfully, she's also quite sweet.

But also, after 6 and a half years of parenting, I have mastered the birthday party!

Tali has been talking about her birthday for about six months now. At first she wanted a party at the bouncy place that you rent out and bring in your own cake and treats to the tune of at least $300. We have friends who have done this for two of their kids at once because their birthdays are close together, and that sounds fairly reasonable and worth it. But for a kid who's not even sure what she wants, it seems like a bit much. And when you also add to the argument that we've never really made it through a huge birthday party without a meltdown, spending that much money starts not making sense for us.

After the bouncy place, Tali got stuck on having her party at Club Libby Lu, where little girls go get their hair and make-up done (little girls wear make-up???), dress up in swanky, tiny clothes and learn to walk the catwalk. Granted, most of the girls doing this were at least eight, but the baby sluttiness of this appealed to my girl. It didn't appeal to us.

Of course it's a lot to ask a four year old, or a not-quite-four year old to plan or want a reasonably priced and age appropriate party, but the thing is, she has been to these parties that she's talking about. The rule at her preschool is that you need to invite all the kids in her class or none at all. So the result is a social calendar of Sundays filled with elaborate and expensive parties because not many people want to host 20-25 preschoolers at their homes, especially in the winter. And this isn't even counting their parents (because really, do you want the parents to drop off their 25 preschoolers at your house?).

So in frustration and because neither of Tali's options were reasonable, I googled "out of control birthday" and found my way to Basically, it's a whole site dedicated to fighting back against birthday party pressure and hyper consumerism. They advocate against huge, planned birthday parties and give some hysterical examples of birthdays gone bad. Their plan seems to revolve around avoiding themes, presents, goody bags, and extravagance in favor of community service and simple activities like group walks and art projects. And while maybe I think some of their party ideas sound a tiny bit boring, and I know that my kids would never see a birthday walk as a great way to celebrate their birthday (unless you make it into an exciting themed scavenger extravaganza, which I'm afraid would miss the point), I do really like the idea of setting lower expectations (I mean, where could you possibly go after Club Libby Lu???). There had to be a way to make it fun and simple. So I decided to try a variation on Tali, whose newest idea involved inviting ten three and four year old girls for a slumber party (the horror, the horror!).

"How about you invite one friend over for a birthday playdate," I said, expecting an immediate rejection, but not getting one, so I continued. "You guys can get in your jammies, have a pizza dinner and birthday cake, and maybe we can make bracelets and play with your dolls. And then when it's time for bed, your friend's parents can come pick her up." No mention of goody bags, themes, or presents, and I held my breath...

Tali looked at me thoughtfully for a second and then said, "That's a great idea, Mommy. I can't wait," and then went back to playing.

When I recovered from the shock of how easy it was to get out of having a huge party, I was thrilled. This year, there wouldn't be any racing around to get invitations out, or putting together goody bags that were exciting, yet inexpensive, or finding just the right theme or decorations. And it's not that I don't love a good party, or don't secretly want to give my kid anything her sassy little heart desires, or even that I don't really enjoy going to those parties sometimes. But at this point in my life, and my four year old's life, I'm overjoyed that I actually get to spend her birthday with her, not running around crazy trying to make a party work, trying to make sure we don't lose any of her friends or breaking up a fight over who has the better goody bag.

Instead, I get to hang out with my lovely girl and enjoy her special day with her. And I'll especially enjoy the fact that we were able to stave off Club Libby Lu for another year...

No comments: