Children are everywhere. Rides are moving up and down, flashing at a level of brightness you didn’t realize existed. Video games are singing loudly. There’s screaming to the left, crying to the right and noses are leaking with green, snotty goo from every corner of the room. You know where I am and what I’m speaking of: Childhood birthday parties.
Every parent lives through the long haul of birthday parties; those early childhood years where every weekend becomes consumed with celebrations of little ones turning another year older. We become regulars at Chuck E. Cheese and Sky Zone, frequenting these establishments enough to know what time the creepy mouse makes his appearance.
We find ourselves surrounded by kiddos picking their noses, greasy pizza hands and icing covered mouths. Our once adventurous Saturdays and relaxing Sundays turn into birthday party palooza—and it doesn’t stop for quite some time. My children are now eleven and seven, and between their ability to now be dropped off and the conclusion of parties including the entire class, my long haul of birthday party palooza has ended. And I don’t miss it for a moment.
Where were the days of choosing our own weekend agenda? Those days, occupied by too many birthday parties, didn’t exist anymore.
During the early years, the whole class is invited to every party. On the one hand, no one is left out and the children have a blast celebrating with their class outside of school. On the other hand, they just saw each other yesterday and the weekends are now booked, leaving no time for family adventures, afternoons with relatives or peaceful days at home. You wanted to check out the new museum across town? You’re booked. Thought about taking the kids for an autumn tour in the mountains? You’ve got two parties this weekend.
Weekly gifts become part of the household budget. They live on the shopping list between tissues and milk—and they stay there, in bold, for years. Between organizing the calendar with RSVPs, purchasing gifts and showing up on time for events, these parties become an extra-curricular activity; a commitment we make to ensure our own children have attendees when their birthday arrives.
It wasn’t that I was opposed to meeting the other parents. Because I wanted to meet them all. But by November, I’d met them, had enough small talk to last a lifetime and determined who I might befriend without the forced social environment of a birthday party. By Valentine’s Day, I’d hung with these parents in bounce houses, delivered copious amounts of pizza to their kiddos and even helped to clean up an episode of another child’s vomit. Sure, it was enjoyable in the beginning (maybe not the vomit), but where were the days of choosing our own weekend agenda? Those days, occupied by too many birthday parties, didn’t exist anymore. But I’m here to tell you they will return.
There’s no way around it. These birthday parties are a part of early childhood culture and that’s not going to change. And it shouldn’t. Children deserve to celebrate when they turn another year older and they want their friends there with them, understandably so. At my children’s parties, I always appreciated that families went out of the way to attend our celebration.
I realized all they were giving up to be with my child on his special day. The smiles on my boys’ faces as we sang happy birthday, as they looked out at the crowd, displayed how excited they were to have their friends there beside them. That made the long haul of birthday parties completely worth it.
So, yes, I don’t regret making the commitment to attend birthday parties for every classmate for both of my children for many years. I even enjoyed myself from time to time. The memories made by the children and the feeling of being part of a community made it all worth it.
But do I miss the insanity of childhood birthday party culture—like frequenting Chuck E. Cheese, The Children’s Museum and Bounce Express every weekend? No. I paid my dues, and I’m glad my time is over. I’m a mom who doesn’t miss the constant birthday parties—and I know I’m not alone in feeling that way.
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