Growing up in the midwest, most birthday parties were held either at home, out in the backyard or maybe the YMCA. There were no hired musicians, no designer cakes--unless you count the cakes from Meijers--and I'm pretty sure there were no goodie bags. However on the east coast, kids--including one-year-olds, who won't remember a thing--have birthday parties at kiddie gyms, indoor play centers or in entertainment rooms in high-rise buildings with hired musicians, clowns or artists.
For all my dislike of these head-spinning birthday parties, the reality is that apartments on the east coast don't have the space to accommodate more than a few kids at a time. There are no basements and backyards are a rarity, so parents have few alternatives to renting a place for their kid's birthdays. I think my view on them is slightly tainted because Monkey has a shy streak that kept him from really enjoying big parties until this year. While Monkey was hiding out by my husband or me, other kids were having fun, even if their parents were a little peaked after chasing their kid around jungle gyms.
Believe it or not, there is another aspect of birthday parties that brings out the Grinch in me: the abundance of gifts and goodies bags. I like presents and I like buying them for kids I know well, but I always feel weird standing in the toy aisle picking out gifts for kids when I don't even know what their interests are. I appreciate being invited to such parties, but when I see a pile of 40 boxed gifts sitting on a table, I wonder if the kid will even have a chance to use all of them before he gets too old to enjoy them. A lot of invites recommend making a donation to a charitable cause instead of buying a present. I used to buy a gift but now, after four years of gift-shopping, I have started making donations in the birthday-child's name instead. Every $25 I donate can make an impact on an organization, instead of an impact on a bulging toy-chest.
Speaking of overflowing toy-chests, I'd also like to say goodbye to goodie bags. It's a sweet gesture that kids love, but 20 minutes after we get home, those stickers and crayons are strewn on the floor and promptly forgotten. (Forgotten by everyone but Munchkin, who is trying to shove stickers and every last tiny goodie bag item into her mouth.) There is nothing wrong with giving stickers, crayons, play-doh, it's just that we get too many to use which is sad considering how many kids out there could actually use them. I know there is a cycle to giving goodie bags since "everyone" gives goodie bags, "everyone else" feels pressured to give one too, but for the love of trees and all the fuel it takes to import most of those trinkets, I wish people would stop giving in.
Of course, motherhood is all about teaching lessons, and not just to the kids. This year Monkey has developed an interest in his birthday. A HUGE interest. A when-is-it-going-to-be-MY-birthday interest. Which, of course, means it's time to have a party for him. (He's only had family celebrations and one playdate-type party with cake.) I could end up renting one of those venues, but most likely I'll do something at home or outside. I've also decided that instead of buying presents, friends can choose to donate to a cause our family supports or a cause they support. I'll also ask Monkey to choose his favorite book to give to his friends in lieu of goodie bags. The fun part will be for Monkey to be with his friends, get a little attention (not too much or he'll hide!), a few gifts from his parents and one big wet kiss from little Munchkin. What more could he want?