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  • Writer's pictureGretchen Seefried

Birthday Hoopla

“Hey Mom, I know what kind of party I want to have.” “Why are you having a party?” I asked six-year-old Nicki. “For my birthday, silly!” “Oh, but your birthday’s not until August. It’s only April. “Well, still, I know what kind of party I want to have in August.”

Poor Nicole, and poor me. We both had to live through three consecutive older sibling birthdays. While it was torture for her to watch one after another of those “bossy”, “mean”, older kids get cakes, and parties, and presents and attention, it was even tougher on me to provide all those cakes, and parties, and presents, and attention! Especially because the birthdays fall one after another starting a month after Christmas and not ending until the day after April Fools. Of course, each succeeding party had to top the prior one. Each child must have his or her due! What was I thinking conceiving my children in consecutive months? No one ever mentioned “birthdays as a reason for methodical family planning."

Of course, there were always those people who’d suggest joint parties. That would have been a great idea if my kids were speaking to each other; I can just imagine the third-degree burns that would have resulted back then from competition over blowing out the candles.

The even harder part of birthdays these days, is the unendingness of them. In our house, they usually began being discussed about six weeks before the actual event. Then the week before there would be several references to the big day just to make sure that nobody forgot. The night before, or birthday eve if you will, we made it a tradition to take the birthday child out for a special dinner with just us (i.e., no sibs to compete for attention). Then in a moment of birthday-induced sleep deprivation delirium, I also started a ritual of decorating the kitchen (after getting home from aforementioned special dinner) to surprise each child on the morning of his or her big day. Crepe paper, balloons, banners, etc. This presented quite a challenge the year Nicki’s birthday fell on moving day. It was a sorry-looking kitchen that greeted her that morning with boxes willy-nilly, dust bunnies reproducing before her eyes, and all of this topped off with some sagging crepe paper hung with packing tape since the scotch was in a box somewhere. No wonder she wanted to plan her next year’s party early.

After the morning routine, there was the school routine. A special snack had to be provided. Something unique…different from every other classmate, different from every other sibling, and different from any year before. When Will turned 11, the year we moved to Colorado, he insisted on “black & whites”, those delicious butter cookies glazed with half chocolate and half vanilla. They were practically sold in vending machines they were so common in New York, but in Denver, no one had ever heard of them. After calling four supermarkets, three bakeries, and a certain high-end coffee shop, I finally gave up and bought sugar cookies and hand frosted them with green icing, rainbow sprinkles, and a Hershey kiss in the hopes that a sugar overdose would absolve me.

After school festivities, all that was left was the family dinner punctuated by gift opening, not to mention the weekend friend party and crucial sleepover that went along with it. After all of that, there is the letdown, which took almost as much parental energy to manage as all those events that prompted it in the first place!

As I considered all the man hours figured into each of my kids’ birthdays, including mulling of possible party themes, wheedling over number of guests, supervision of actual invitation creation, preparations from decorations to food to goody bags (whose idea was that anyway?), and finally the clean-up and nagging about thank-you letters, plus the family dinner, school snack, kitchen decorating, and shopping for the perfect gift (these were the days before Amazon), I came up with an estimation of 25 hours per child per birthday. At a rate of five kids times 18 years, and 90 birthdays later, a grand total of 2250 hours of my time was devoted to birthday hoopla, and that’s not counting labor!

Moral of the story: Avoid birthday burnout by 1) Strict family planning, or, if it’s too late for that, 2) Banning the creation of any birthday traditions, or 3) Consider my friend Sally’s solution, pay your child an attractive sum to skip the hoopla altogether.

If you do find yourself hosting parties, set a budget, limit it to a small number of special people, keep it under two hours, and save the gift unwrapping for after everyone goes home. Or better yet, encourage your child to use their birthday party as an opportunity to collect in-kind or monetary donations for a cause of their choice!

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