Friday, May 29, 2009


Do you remember when birthday parties were small family events with a homemade cake? And maybe, every few years you might have a party for kids in your class and they would come over and you’d play “drop the clothespin in the milk bottle” (because all milk came in bottles then, not just the expensive organic kind) and you might play “musical chairs,” and then you’d open presents and have cake and ice cream and then your friends walked home and they wouldn’t have dreamed of expecting anything more at the end of the party. Do you remember that? You do? You must be really old.

Because now-a-days birthday parties are big big big events! First of all you must have one each and every year. No, it does not matter if you have three or six or ten kids you must plan and execute a full-on blow-out for each and every one of your offspring from the time they turn one (perhaps the silliest birthday party of all) until the last one is out of the house (which hopefully is before the current average age of 30 because you will feel pretty silly when your kid is 28 and you still have to send out dinosaur invitations.)

And the party must, never, never, never be held at your home! No, goodness no. Unless you hire a clown or a magician or a pony to ride on, then the “house- party” (yes the genre has a name) is acceptable.
You must also spend a lot of money on theme invitations and decorations and the required matching “goody-bag.” What the hell is a goody-bag, you might ask? It is the bag of goodies you give each of the guests when they come to your party because of course it is not enough for a child to go bowling or play putt-putt with his or her friends and eat pizza and later ice-cream and cake. No. Who would show up for that lame-o experience if there wasn’t a goody-bag to close the deal?
The goody-bag is a bag stuffed with crap you paid too much for such as erasers and pencils and little cheap yo-yos that last for just one yo, and plastic rings that no one would ever wear. When your children come home with the goody-bag they will paw through it for the candy, insist you keep the rest of the junk because it is “cool” and then never, ever, ever play with the stuff again. If you are like most moms I know, you will keep it around and then secretly throw it away along with 90% of their precious art projects that the teachers send home at the end of the year bound up in a fancy portfolio that a volunteer art mom got stuck making. Oops, getting off track again.
So that’s what birthday parties look like now. Over the years my kids have been to parties at bowling alleys, skating rinks, and pools. They have made hideous pottery items and gone on guided nature walks and gone to the movies. Now that they are older I expected this nonsense to trail off but it hasn’t. At 14 and 15 a lot of their friends are still hosting bowling or skating parties.
I confess that to some extent I have been a part of this ridiculous nonsense. We have indeed hosted parties that were held at bowling alleys and inflatable bouncy places. We have also bought goody-bags and stuffed them with junk. It’s not that I didn’t want to stop the madness, I did. One year I tried to give them all a book instead of a goody-bag but most of them looked at me and blinked like I was clinically insane. One child kept trying to hand the book back as if I’d made a mistake. The brat (there’s always one at a birthday party) actually asked where his goody-bag was. Another time, in a real rebellious moment, I decided there would be no goody-bags but kept that decision to myself. When my family asked where the goody-bags were at about 20 minutes before the first guest was scheduled to arrive, they all were so mortified (my husband included) that we ended up running around the house, filling brown paper-lunch bags with old pencils and erasers and any other trinket we could put our hands on. I’m sure the kid who got my tape-measure was delighted to have something so useful.
We have, I’m happy to report, had better luck with my equally crazy idea to host “house-parties”. The girls come up with their own theme and then run with it making the invitations and the decorations by hand. Then they invent theme-related activities. That’s how they ended up dressed like mice and playing “cat and mouse and cheese” one year. It was lovely and I even heard one of the little girls as she was picked up by her mother say, “Next year, I want a house-party!”
Her mother nodded and agreed, no doubt remembering the “house-parties” of her youth and wondering who the heck you hire to help you cater such an unusual event.


  1. "..and cheap little yo-yo's that only last for one yo" hahahaha!

  2. Laurent is SO funny!

    I remember well the shock of late-eighties style birthday parties. Yes, I am so old that when I was a kid we were only allowed every-other-year parties. Guests got ice cream and cake, and the birthday kid got presents. End of story.

  3. I think many birthday parties here are still like that, by the way, but not all, I suspect.

    At my mother's house when she was a kid they didn't even celebrate birthday parties.

  4. JZ-L, I must have told you of my grandaughter. She is the Brat from St Simon Island, GA - missing treat bag!!! TCSweetness

  5. I did a traditional "house party" years ago because I refused to get caught up in the parental party mania. No milk bottles (they didn't have organic milk yet), but we did do musical chairs, pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey (it was the same looking donkey game from way back when)and hot potato. The kids had a great time (Atticus might even have been there). How thoroughly has everyone lost the point of this type of simple party? One of the young moms commented that she thought the "retro" birthday party was a clever theme.

  6. @Anonymous #2: A very sensible observation. Somehow, many people seem to forget that to children many, many things are new. You don't need that much spectacular things to get them excited.