My daughter’s birthday is this week. But for the past, oh I don’t know, 3 months, she’s been talking about what she’ll want to do for her 9th birthday. Should it be a mermaid theme? Oh wait, no Unicorn! Yes, Unicorns are the best. On the other hand, Winnie the Pooh…yes, a Tigger pinata. A bouncy house! A pizza party!
All this talk about birthdays has made me crazy. I just can’t wrap my head around all the expectations when planning a birthday party now. Since when did parties involve “themes” and goodie bags and candy bars – not bars, as in 1 candy bar…but like an entire room dedicated to multitudes of candy in cute little color-coded containers; pinatas and bouncy houses and all things over-the-top? I’ll admit, I’ve done pretty much all of those things for my kids, so I’m not throwing stones. But somehow this year, this birthday got me thinking of my birthdays past. All 50 of them.
Growing up I don’t even think I realized it was my birthday until the kids showed up in the afternoon with presents – all filing down the stairs to the small table set up with paper cups, party hats with those elastics that absolutely destroyed your chin skin when they inevitably snapped, and those paper mouth blowers. (I don’t think that’s what they’re called, by the way)
We all sat around the table, anxiously waiting for the candles to be placed on that Betty Crocker chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. One cake. Not cake and cupcakes and ice cream cake. One cake. And not from a store or fancy bakery. My mom would begin singing the Happy Birthday song, and everyone joined in. I blew out the candles, and then we all got a slice of that delicious homemade cake, along with a Hoodsie. Remember those? Half chocolate/half vanilla little nuggets of frozen goodness?
Then it was party games. We played pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, we sang. The crazy game, Twister, may have been involved. And after a while, the kids all filed back up the stairs and out the door. Done. And mom and I went through the presents, writing down which friend gave which gift, and I wrote out thank you cards. That day. Handwritten. Thank you cards. Remember those?
As I grew up, we did a pizza-making party at Papa Ginos. Letting a bunch of kids behind the counter, touching all the dough, sauce and cheese – yah, not so sanitary. But man, that was the best pizza I’d ever tasted. There were no goodie bags. You came to the party. You made a pizza, ate it, left. Over & done. It wasn’t a $400 event. It wasn’t a rented hall or venue. It wasn’t theme oriented, unless you’re talking about Hollie Hobbie paper plates and cups.
When did I jump on that birthday bash bandwagon? When did I go from a simple cake & ice cream to inviting entire classes to my home for a pool party/bouncy house/bbq/candy bar event?
You know who I blame for all of this? Me. My kids never knew about themes. They never knew there were so many options for parties — nope. It was all me. Asking what they wanted to do for their birthday. And then planning it like it was my job.
And now, I find myself trying to top my own self every year – I set these personal expectations that I want to do something more creative, more spectacular than I did the year before. I made a Kit-Kat cake for my son one year, and then next, a Half-Moon cake…I’ve done themed cupcakes, candy bars and Castle bouncy houses. I’ve had Spider-man to my home, face painters, balloon artists and Queen Elsa. We’ve done Cape Cod weekends, arcade adventures and trampoline parks.
And as I write this, I realize it’s not just birthday parties that have gotten out of control. It’s Easter, Christmas, and all things holiday. It’s going above and beyond. All the time. Everything has become over-the-top. Making dinners and posting pics to Facebook. Taking the perfect selfie, that only took about 6 tries to get it just right. Living in a world of social media where you’re compared and contrasted on a daily basis.
Back in the day…you know, the 70s, life was just awesome. Simple. Fun. Easy. We didn’t expect grandiose parties. We just wanted our friends. We just wanted our family. We didn’t need anything else. And you know what? We all turned out okay.
So this week, my girlie’s birthday will be filled with family & friends. With cake & ice cream. And love. Lots of love.
And perhaps a pinata.
Baby steps, people. Baby steps.