Kids Birthday Parties: Then & Now
When did the bar get raised so high with children's birthday parties? It’s like planning mini-weddings with cakes, pinatas and personalised invitations… so far removed from my own childhood experiences.
If I was lucky enough to plead my case successfully for a party, it was in the house and for a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon. We would entertain ourselves playing my Wham albums (yes, I’m ancient), gasping in awe at my vast Mandy/ Bunty collection (in hindsight the other kids were probably rolling their eyes in boredom behind my back) or swapping fancy paper.
There would be lots of giggling (and NO boys) followed by a feast of rice crispie cakes, generic crisps and Coke. My Mam is not one for baking and she would produce a Viennetta as the cake which was a roaring success. People still comment on it 30 years later…
”Oh, you’re the girl that had Vienneta at her birthday!
Kids gone, the parents would crack open the booze and all the relations would have a proper ‘80s party complete with John Denver, a haze of cigarette smoke and a heated debate on who actually shot JR. There would always be a gory recount of the horrific labour my mother endured on me and the tightly permed, blue- eyeshadowed aunties would all try to outdo each other until us cousins retreated for a few hours of Commodore 64 loading.
I did hear on the kid grapevine that someone’s cousin’s friend once had a party in McDonalds which seemed an extravagant display of wealth. I once went to a classmate's birthday and her parents supplied actual Coca Cola, Mars Bars and Hula Hoops… such was my awe that I was allowed take a goody bag home… I may have inadvertently invented this present day craze, apologies.
In January, I allowed my 8 year old to invite some of his friends over for a party and I hooked up Minecraft to the main television: I also prepared stuff for some retro party games, like pass the parcel. I ordered pizza and they gorged on sugar and ran wild through the house. They got their hands on some styrofoam that a Darth Vader head had been packaged in and I was alerted by my 3 year old that it was snowing in the sitting room (ever tried hoovering styrofoam?).
I was mobbed for goody bags and when everyone left I wished it was the '80s so I could drink instead of filling 10 black bags with rubbish and calm my 3 sugar-rabid kids down from their high and into bed.
When my 5 year old son’s birthday came in April, I thought screw this, I’m booking somewhere and I booked an indoor play area: it was during the (extortionately long) midterm, the place was jammers and most parents dropped their kid and said “I’ll be back at 5”... I always do this, it’s amazing but not when you’re the “host”. He’s a popular kid and all 20 invitees showed up (€15 a head… do the maths!). I think everyone cried at some point (including me) due to an injury and then they sat in silence eating their nuggets/pizza, followed by glassy eyed dancing and my favourite part... collection.
They seemed to enjoy it, it’s hard to tell. I got home and dealt with the over-inflated ego of my 5 year old as he critiqued his presents while refused to let the other two play with them. A neighbour called to ask how I got on and seeing the state of me… wild hair and possible mascara leakage… she brought wine, so a little of the ‘80s was created.
I have spoken of the upset caused by one of my kids not receiving a prized party invite, but on the flip-side, if I see one of them coming out the school gate waving a bit of paper, my heart sinks as I think. another invite...
I have to buy a present, card, gift bag… possibly take time off work if it’s a weekend or rope someone else in to do it. And then I see that it’s just a note warning of another nit outbreak. Woohoo! There are so many options out there for birthdays… rent an astro turf, cinema, trampolines, bouncy castles, make-overs, roller skating… it all sounds fantastic but the truth is, the kids don’t really enjoy it… maybe that’s just mine: they like handing out invites and the idea of it but on the day they get overwhelmed, weepy and irritable.
Would it be incredibly bad parenting to not acknowledge the kid’s birthdays...possibly become Jehovahs? Sure they wouldn’t notice.
I’ve decided that for their next birthdays we can have a family meal out with all technology put away and TRY to enjoy each other’s company before they morph into unbearable teenagers who want nothing to do with us. I will regale each of them with their horrific birth stories and they can eat cake while Mammy and Daddy have wine and all are happy.