The Birthday Beast

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The Birthday Beast

By Andrea Goto

My daughter just celebrated her 6th birthday. We rented a little art studio where she and 15 of her friends painted and sculpted. Even though the set up and clean up was taken care of, I still spent the first half of the day frantically running errands. By the time we got there, we were all a little out of sorts. I poured a much-needed glass of wine. But before I found the bottom of my glass, our time was up and I could’ve taken a Disney vacation for what those two hours just cost me.

Ava had fun, but she’s 6—she has fun every day. Which got me wondering if all this birthday party stuff hasn’t gotten a little out of hand.

I think I was 10 years old before I ever had a birthday party with my friends—shortly after I was permitted to wear Jelly Shoes but well before I was allowed to get my ears pierced. Of course we always celebrated my birthday, but we did so as a family. We’d get dressed up and I would choose where we would eat for dinner. Dad would get me a Shirley Temple and order extra cherries since it was my special day. Mom always made my favorite cake: devil’s food chocolate with gooey coconut and pecan frosting, topped with that year’s doll-of-the-moment. I have a summer birthday so we were usually traveling somewhere remote, like the Grand Canyon, Mt. Rushmore, or various state parks. Once we celebrated in Hawaii. Mom and Dad rented a Suzuki Samurai convertible and drove around the island—my smile was so big that the breeze wound my long hair into my braces.

I loved my summer birthdays because they were all about me. Birthday parties, on the other hand, seemed to be about everyone else.

I can remember one of my friends snickering when my Mom proudly presented my cake that she had topped with a Jem Doll. Clearly no one had informed me that dolls, like stuffed animals, were things we all had, but could no longer admit to liking. My guests turned their noses up at my beloved coconut frosting. The games Mom devised were fun, like egg relays and three-legged races, but inevitably someone got their feelings hurt because they didn’t win—often that someone was me. And yes, the presents were great except when everyone hurried me because they were bored and wanted their party favors.

A few days later, on Ava’s actual birthday, my husband and I fussed over her much like my parents used to fuss over me. We sang “Happy Birthday” when she woke, teased her about growing so big overnight, and put a special note in her lunchbox. Later, I brought cupcakes to her school and joined her for lunch. Her teacher placed an itchy crown on her head and she wore it all day without complaint. That night we ate at her favorite Mexican restaurant with a couple of her friends and the staff put a sombrero on her head and serenaded her. She glowed. She felt important. It wasn’t anything extravagant, but it was all about her.

As a parent, I find myself constantly tripping on that fine line between giving my child what she thinks she wants and giving her what I think is best. Maybe that’s the nature of the birthday beast, but I have a feeling a compromise must exist somewhere. If you’ve found it, I’m listening.

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My son is now 7 years old. He is a January baby, and it seems he is always snowed in on his birthday. We celebrate at home with a cake and ice cream, some presents etc. Nothing big, just him, his brothers and sisters and us, his parents. However, we do Birthday in July. He can invite 5 of his best buddies for a day out(No gifts allowed). Some times we do a BBQ with swimming at the lake. Some times we go to Chuck E. Cheese, I give them $10 each and let them play video games for 4 or 5 hours. I did this with my older kids as well. (They are 24 and 22 now) and it worked well. They don't expect huge parties, their friends don't expect party bags for Birthday in July. Nothing over the top, and they get to have fun on their day.

By Tamara on May 22, 2012


Thank you, Martha Lee! I won't even admit to the 1-year-old birthday party I threw smile. Like all things, it just takes time to get this birthday thing in perspective. Sometimes love gets in the eyes...

By Andrea Goto on March 13, 2012


Sara, it sounds like perfection to me!

By andrea Goto on March 13, 2012


Mama Taney, Your "are you friggin' kidding me?" response feels a bit misdirected, as I think we're all actually on the same page with this birthday thing. It's not that I was trying to "out do" anyone (my friendships are not founded on competition or judgement), but I was trying to think of something "new" as if the old school party was outdated--which, clearly it's not. But I also firmly believe that there are very few hard and fast rules in parenting that apply to everyone across the board. There is no magic number of invitees, no perfect location, no ideal size of cake. We all have to determine what's right for our children. I would never not take cupcakes to my daughter's school for her birthday simply because I know how much it means to her, which is a pretty darn good reason. In retrospect, I'm glad we had the party we did because it taught me something. And I wrote about it here just to get people talking, not to suggest a "right" or "wrong" way for anyone else. But I do find it unfortunate when sharing our personal parenting misadventures makes us a target for misplaced anger.

By Andrea Goto on March 13, 2012


Are you friggin' kidding me?!?!? 1) Apparently you think birthdays still are all about YOU since all you talked about regarding her studio art party was YOU. -- Props though on realizing it just might be over the top as a general idea. 2) The tours your parents took you on are the dream of many kids. Most of us haven't seen the country and all the National Parks. So, if you think that is "simple," think again. 3) You do realize you threw your daughter a SECOND party by taking her & some more of her friends out to dinner on her actual birthday, right? Oh, wait, no I'm wrong, that would be her THIRD party since she got cupcakes & a crown at school. I don't remember any of those growing up and I have children the same age as your daughter. The birthday insanity is out of control. Moms (I've never seen it apply to Dads) trying to top each other with bigger better cakes. As a baker I once made a sculpted pony cake for a 3 year old! Simple parties: at HOME or a nearby park, 10 kids or less (you actually don't have to invite everyone they've ever met), homemade cake (and it is ok if it is still in the pan!) - these are the basics. After that, let the kids play on their own. They have imaginations, let them use them!!!

By Mama Taney on March 07, 2012


When I grew up I had no eleaberit birthday party just me and a few friends playing games and eating cake. Granted my party was always a month after my birthday becuase I'm a July babas and we were on vacation. Vacation birthday was never special. It always seemed like it was a last minute thought to my family while on vacation. My son just turned 7 we had a party at our house with cake and ice cream and let the kids play together. Why do we need to have big expensive party's for our kids anyways? My son had a blast and got to spend time with friends and family all at one time.

By Sara on March 07, 2012


As much as I love all the blogs and mommy tips I feel there is a lack mom talk on raising teens and beyond.I would love to get some real tips from moms who have been through or are living proof that we can survive the rollercoaster of hormones.MAYBE I SHOULD START IT.....I have 4 teens and young adult college bond HOPEFULLY kids and would love to share.. Think about it..Kelley Rose

By kelley Rose on March 06, 2012


I agree 100%. My girls had a couple of birthday parties with no more than 5 or 6 friends. We normally focus on family parties. My sister got caught up in the party-thing for a few years, but always did it on a smaller scale. I think reality TV has contributed to many of the ideas that children's parties have to be big galas.

By beckie on March 06, 2012


Love this post, Andrea! With Naomi only about to turn two, I have already witnessed the extravagance that can be a birthday party - and these children aren't even old enough to remember! Thanks for sharing your stories. Your summer birthdays sound like the best kind!!

By Martha Lee on March 06, 2012


I am the grandmother of six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren and I agree that birthday parties have become too elaborate and too expensive with extended family and friends and their children invited. The birthday child can easily become overwhelmed by having so many people around and getting gifts from so many people. When the birthday child is very young keep it simple with cake and ice cream with family. When a child is old enough to attend a party without their parents, have a simple social gathering with a few friends. Plan a few games or a simple craft activity for the children. My youngest grandson had his best party when he was about six years old. His birthday was in the summer so he had an outdoor water party. The guests wore bathing suits and they played water games, drew pictures on the driveway with chalk and played under the sprinkler. The food was kept simple, there were no elaborate decorations, everyone had a great time and cleanup was easy. PARENTS, take a stand and do what you feel is right for you and your child. Stop letting the world dictate how you celebrate your child's birthday.

By Jean Garner on March 06, 2012


I have taken my sons to pizza parties, bowling parties, ceramics parties, video arcade parties, ice skating parties, pool parties, cooking parties, gymnastics parties, skateboarding parties and the list goes on and on. Please, bring back the "home" party with cake and ice cream and good old pin the tail on the donkey.

By Barbara Kelly on March 06, 2012


AHHH! Birthday parties and who can outdo whom?? My children managed to have exciting birthdays. We had small parties, at home. One party for the family and one for friends. For each birthday they could invite as many friends as they were old, including themselves, but not including the sibling. We had themed parties with cake and icecream. No pizza or such! The birthday girl opened her presents prior to treats and after treats the guests played (not organized games). Each child had their last birthday party at the age of 10. They could then invite one freind and choose a special restaraunt. Their next party came on the big 16. It is interesting, both girls have chosen to follow the same theme with their children. Naturally, they are invited to huge parties at expensive locations. And we can all understand that our style leaves out returning the favor to those who have the BIG celebrations. I find it hard to believe in this era of money issues that people continue to try to outdo their friends for who can throw the biggest and best gala event. I vote for keeping it simple and personel.

By Rena Girard on March 06, 2012


The first time I noticed this Birthday Party foolishness was when my daughter was small. Her brother's had always had normal parties with family, but the trend switched to renting a hall or restaurant, and if they had to hold the party at home it had to be a theme party with everyone dressed up like halloween!! My husband and I refused to participate, and our daughter had parties at home with family and we'd invite all her relatives, and like her brother's the day was all about her. Now that she's grown she says those birthdays were the highlight of her childhood surrounded by so much love and laughter, especially since a lot of those Elders are now gone. I wonder how many of those given these lavish parties could say that!! L.M.

By INDINGIRL on March 06, 2012


Happy Birthday Ihope you meen more to come. Love you. your cooking. it help me a lot, .

By April Blankenship on March 05, 2012


I agree that children's parties have gotten way out of hand. What ever happened to the at home get together with cake and ice cream. Granted it's nice not to have the huge clean up after a child's party but it seems that younger and younger children are having more and more elaborate parties. Especially 1st birthday parties--who are these parties for anyway? Certainly not the baby! I think we need to have a big reality check and scale back the "keeping up with the Jones'" mentality with these "events". No wonder we have young girls who think nothing of spending thousands of dollars to buy a wedding dress and even more thousands of dollars for a wedding!

By Candy Ferrall on March 03, 2012

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