At a recent family birthday gathering, someone asked me if I had already planned my daughter’s 4th birthday party.
“#^&$*&! What month is it?!” I asked myself. Whew, it was only March, and her birthday wasn’t till June. I had plenty of time to think about my options, or so I thought, until that same person walked up to my daughter and asked if she would be excited about having a big birthday party just like the one we were attending right that second. And of course, my daughter squealed and said, “Yes!”
Doh. This year I was thinking about surprising her with a trip to Disneyland instead of throwing a party.
And now this evening I am staring at a spreadsheet that compares the cost of an outdoor-park-bouncy-house-party vs. an overpriced-indoor-event-pizza party, and I just realized that the only other time I’ve done a cost exercise like this was for my own wedding. Planning a birthday party is like planning a wedding in more ways than one, though. Here are four more:
1. SOMEONE GETS SNUBBED
For every birthday party (and wedding) there is an A list and a B list. It a tough task to limit the number of guests, but the line needs to be drawn somewhere to keep costs down. Even if you think you are being stealthy with your invites, thanks to inventions like Evite and Facebook, people will usually find out when they aren’t invited to something through word of mouth or seeing a feed of party photos. People will talk about you behind your back. It happens. I’ve seen other moms do it. I’ve done it. It’s petty, sad, and true.
For my wedding, I didn’t know where to draw the line on guests, so I had a destination wedding so my guests could self-select themselves. Hey! Maybe I should have a destination birthday for my daughter in June. Somewhere like Cabo San Lucas. Then I won’t have to explain to anyone “we are keeping it small this year” and avoid awkward conversations with the mothers of the preschool bullies. Everyone’s invited!
2. $HITTY GIFTS
In almost all cases, the cost per headcount of the event will exceed the market value of an attendee’s gift. This goes for both weddings and birthdays, so there should be no expectation that the gifts make the event worth the trouble. I really wish there were registries for birthday parties. That would prevent me from getting more than one Disney princess nail polish and manicure set (yes, that happened last year). A registry would let my guests know that my daughter likes blue and green, and prefers robots and dinos over Prince Charming collectibles.
3. LEFTOVER FOOD
People want to make sure they don’t run out of refreshments, but it seems that at every birthday I’ve attended, there is a crazy excess of food, and no real means of sending it home with people. Same goes for a wedding: it feels tacky enough to go home with a floral arrangement, let alone a gallon-sized Ziploc of shrimp croquettes and a giant tray of crudités. Maybe this year a grocery bag full of cold pizza and baby carrots could be the new trend in goodie bags.
When did birthdays get to be so expensive? I don’t even remember having a party until I was old enough to have people spend the night. All we got every birthday was a cake. It was usually a customized, character-themed cake from the local chain grocery store, and it was delicious. And I got to eat most of it in a span of three or so days, which was the best treat of all.
My friend told me that she attended a 5-year-old’s birthday party at someone’s house in Pasadena, and it was really extravagant. How fancy, you ask? There was a roller coaster in the front yard. A ROLLER COASTER.
Parents, can we all make a pact to tone everything down a bit? Birthdays have gotten out of hand, and I am too poor and not creative enough to keep up with the Joneses, especially if the Joneses have roller coasters.
A LAST WORD:
Birthday parties (and weddings) are stressful and chaotic, but they also bring smiles to people’s faces and provide happy memories. So…here we go again. With the birthday party. Not the wedding.
Maybe next year my kid will be ok with Disneyland.