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Kid’s Birthday: Dumb Things Not To Do

October 27, 2009 Family Travel No Comments

File this one under “Dumb Things Not to Do. As a teacher, I planned my pregnancies around the school calendar. I aimed for a June baby each time and ended up with three kids with birthdays only days apart. You probably are thinking I’m a little schizo in the scheduling department and someone should take away my DayTimer. I just wish you had said something ten years ago before I sealed my doom. That’s how I became the unintended Queen of the Girly Birthday Parties. What can I say?

When you do something all the time, you get good at it. I’ve hit every theme: Cinderella, dolphin, archeology, princess complete with handsome prince (daddy), makeover, dance, even several “make your own” parties—root beer, chocolates, pretzels, etc. This year I put my foot down. No parties. Just something small, quiet, with maybe a friend or two. Everything would be simple, uncomplicated, like a return to yesteryear. What I should have said was cheap. Not everyone in the house was on board with the return to simplicity concept. Luckily, those who rejected the minimalist approach were too young to vote in the family forum. But it was hard to hold the line against the constant badgering.

My middle child brought me the Pottery Barn Kids catalog with the backyard birthdays circled in washable Crayola markers. She begged for a carnival just like in the photos. It wouldn’t be a party, she promised solemnly, more like a really great playdate. I added up the costs of the looks-like-homemade-if-your-kids-were-mini-Martha-Stewarts banners and games. I choked at five hundred bucks and I hadn’t even got to the bean-bag toss. I believe I suggested that if she has her heart set on a carnival, she would be better off joining a circus.

My oldest listened, learned, and then took the more stealthy approach. She asked for dinner at a restaurant where you cook over little fondue pots right at your table. Except for visions of third degree burns, I couldn’t see a downside. I encouraged her to invite two friends. I made the reservation. The lady asked if I wanted balloons at the table. Why not? The kid wasn’t getting a real party so let’s make things festive. For a few bucks more, they’d throw in a couple of roses and a commemorative photo. What the heck. She only turns thirteen once.

The dinner was a great success for those who enjoy incinerating bite-size chunks of veggies, bread, and meat in boiling vats of spiced oil. The thirteen year olds used the little digital clocks on their cell phones to monitor the cooking times. At least I wouldn’t be worrying about E. coli. Frankly, it wouldn’t be my first choice in restaurants. The thrill of cooking my own dinner wore off long, long ago. I admit I perked up at the chocolate dipping part. But the birthday girl was happy and I was grateful not to do dishes. All was good. Then the bill arrived. My husband got this stricken look on his face. For a minute I was afraid we would be doing dishes. “How much?” I asked. $350. For that much, she could have had a party and rented Shakira AND Rhianna. Well, I wouldn’t make that mistake again.

Quiet celebration #2 for my youngest daughter was up next. She wanted to go to the American Girl store and buy a doll that looked like her. The doll was $100 so I figured she was set for celebration and gift. Plus, the store had a café. We could have lunch. What could possibly go wrong? My daughter talked endlessly about the doll. Even I got excited. We scoured the American Girl website. They had a doll hair salon! And a photo studio! It would be so much fun! It would be so much money. Don’t ever believe a little girl who says she wants a doll. It’s a lie. She doesn’t want a doll. She wants the doll and every outfit, accessory, and companion in the collection. Let me tell you–at American Girl that is gonna set you back.

The employee who changed the new doll’s hairstyle from one ponytail to two ponytails (for $20 and an hour’s wait) confided the average customer spends $450. Did that include lunch? I relaxed when the kids ordered buttered noodles until I noticed my husband’s stricken face. $250. My middle child looked crafty. “On my birthday, I’ll skip a meal if I can have a carnival.” I did the math. “Deal.”


Mom Crying Out Loud,

Jody Payne

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