I’m going to tell you a little story about how kids’ birthday parties turned me into a big, fat liar.
It all started before I had any children of my own. Several of our friends took the plunge into parenthood before my husband and I did. These friends would invite us to their babies’ First Birthday parties. At first, I thought it was so odd. Why were they throwing such a big party for a baby? It’s a baby. Babies don’t have any idea of what’s going on. They aren’t even capable of making memories. It seemed like our friends were missing a perfect opportunity to stay in, eat an entire cake, and just generally phone the whole thing in.
“We’d love for you to be there,” they would say. Then, in a somewhat conspiratorial tone, “We’re going to have beer.” Wink, wink, raised eyebrows. Beer? At a party for babies? Why do you need beer at a party for babies? And why do you think beer is the thing that’s going to get us there? Do we seem that shallow, or that much of a pair of lushes? What the hell?
“I mean, they’re going to have beer,” my husband said one day while sorting the mail and looking at a pretty printed baby birthday party invitation. “Maybe we should just go.” I agreed this was sound logic. So we went. And there was, in fact, beer there. There were also lots of people and babies (not that babies aren’t people, but you know what I mean), tons of food, coolers of beer (wait, did I already say that?), and more presents than you could shake a stick at. We were pretty much the only ones drinking the beers. All the women were either pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding, which is how I learned the term “pump and dump.” Weird. All the men were either getting the evil eye from their pregnant wife, or holding a baby in one arm and trying to keep their beer away from the baby with the other arm. All the grandparents were like, Why do we have beer at a party for babies? We milled around the food tables, grabbing chicken nuggets and waiting until we could eat the cake that matched the invitations, that matched the decorations, that coordinated with the baby’s outfit. Cake time would almost always coincide with the baby’s naptime, so we all laughed while the baby stuck it’s face in the cake and wailed, because, I mean, it’s all a bit much, right? Especially for someone who has only been a human for a year. I feel for ya, baby. I wish I could give you a beer. Because there are plenty, and I really hope your parents dive into that cooler right after we leave. They’ve earned it.
After a handful of these parties, I told myself that when I had kids, I wouldn’t fall into this trap of taking birthday parties to the next level. It was unnecessary and showy. It wasn’t really for the child’s enjoyment; it was more for impressing and entertaining the adults. I would not be dragged down into this mire of one-upmanship.
That, friends, was a lie. An unintentional lie, but a lie nonetheless. When my first child turned one, I threw her a party exactly like the one I just described. Little did I know that this was only the beginning.
I have two daughters, and between the two of them, I’ve hosted approximately 20 birthday parties. I’ve had toddlers and their mothers over to my house to decorate cookies. I’ve set up al fresco dining in the backyard for a dozen tweens. We had about 15 first graders show up for a pottery-painting party (say that three times fast), and almost as many who needed me to bring their completed pottery pieces to them 2 weeks later. Ain’t no party like a pottery painting party, ‘cuz a pottery painting party don’t stop…’til you deliver all the damn pottery. We’ve had bounce houses and face painters, and we’ve taken everyone to the trampoline park. The trampoline park was the easiest to plan, but the hardest to sit through. Trampoline parks are like nightclubs, except you’re stone-cold sober, all the lights are on, and everyone’s asking you for drinks.
We took a couple of years off when I told my husband that maybe we should just go on a short trip for the girls’ birthdays instead of wasting the money on providing free childcare to parents we don’t know and buying goody bags for kids who already have more goodies than they could ever use. “I bet It will end up costing about the same,” I told him earnestly. “We might even come out ahead!” I was lying. On purpose. I wanted to get out of town and I wanted to eat a ton of pizza and cake and not have to plan a party around it. Just between us chickens, I don’t even feel bad about that lie. I would 100% do it again. Actually, now I’m kind of wondering if enough time has passed that I could try that one more time.
For my older daughter’s 10th birthday, she wanted to have her party at a trendy cooking demonstration shop. The price per head for this party was more than my wedding. I am not even lying to you right now. Unfortunately (I mean, thankfully), it was a small venue with limited staff so there was a cap on how many kids could attend. Our school has a policy that party invitations can’t be sent to school unless you invite the entire class, so I had to do some detective work to get parents’ email addresses. It all went fine, except for one invite. I couldn’t get contact information for one of my daughter’s closest friends. She really wanted her there. After doing some digging, I found out that the girl was in a bad situation at home and was now living with her grandmother, who didn’t have an email. When we asked the child for her grandmother’s phone number, she gave us a piece of paper…with 6 numbers on it. I didn’t want to give up on getting this child to the party. So I broke the rules. I told my daughter to very carefully slip the invitation in her friend’s backpack. Everything went fine, I thought. Until two days later when the friend left the invitation on her desk, and the teacher saw it. The next time I came in to volunteer in the classroom, that teacher let me have it. She put on her scariest teacher face and told me, “If it happens again, I’ll have to tell the principal.”
I was mortified. I made a futile attempt to somewhat explain myself, but it really wasn’t that type of conversation. She meant to humble me and that’s exactly what she did. She didn’t have to worry about it happening again because, as I told my friends, “I am done with birthday parties. This is IT. Last one.”
The needle on the polygraph just went wild. This couldn’t be the last birthday party! I have another kid! How do I tell that kid that she can’t have any more parties just because her mother almost got sent to the principal’s office while planning her sister’s party? Nope, nope, that would not do. There would have to be one more party. The Last Birthday Party. For real.
I started planning The Last Birthday Party several weeks ahead of time. I made a Pinterest board. I handcrafted the decorations and personalized the goody bags. I transformed my formal living room into a Birthday Party Wonderland. And you know what? Everyone had fun. The kids, the parents, the pinners on Pinterest… Even I had fun. I guess the knowledge that I would never have to do this again gave me a certain lightness that I didn’t have at all the other parties. It was the party to literally end all parties. I even enjoyed cleaning up.
That’s a lie. Actually, it’s two lies. I did not enjoy cleaning up. Cleaning up is the worst. And it was not the last birthday party. Despite my whining and protests, I seem to still get roped into throwing something together to celebrate the birth of those little soul suckers. And if I find a way to pick a theme, adopt a color scheme, and get someone to make a custom cake to match it all, tell me what’s wrong with that? If I said I hated it all, well…I guess I’d be lying. Now, tell me this. What do you think is better? Roller skating or bowling? Last one, best one…