They don’t make birthday parties like they used to


In the last two weeks our children have turned 5 and 7, respectively. Five and 7 you may think, is no big deal. You would be wrong. Oh so very wrong.

Parties. Five and 7 means these innocents have been exposed to school. School leads to classmates. Classmates, inevitably, lead to parties featuring bucket loads of sugar, beating a defenseless piñata into submission, and then collapsing in a heap under the trampoline (oh wait, that was the parents).

This leads to the mounting horror of realizing that our children were each going to invite an average of 20 little friends to their respective parties and that we – wholly unprepared – were expected to provide the fun.

Foolish. Granted, it’s our own darned fault for allowing our daughter to invite nearly 20 friends to a fifth birthday party. Clearly, we are insane.

Had we not foolishly broken her of that biting habit when she was 2, she wouldn’t have nearly enough friends to wreak this kind of havoc today.

Lots of friends. Instead, now properly civilized, we have two children who are apparently blessed with the ability to make friends easily and remain fairly likable most of the time. This is splendid in theory, but I’ll tell you, it’s heck on party plans.

In my defense, there is a pure and noble reason why our children would each have more than 20 playmates at a party. Chiefly, that I cannot blackball anyone under the age of 10. Not that I didn’t consider it.

Cake worthy? Sitting our son down with a list of classmates who are all, he insists, his “greatest” friends, I am met with a sure challenge. How to rank these greatest friends in terms of cake-worthiness?

In this world where so often we struggle for equality, insist that all the little boys and girls be treated fairly, and promote a “can’t we all just get along?” sense of peace and comfort, how does one tell a child to effectively cull some friends from the herd?

Can you really cultivate a B-list in kindergarten? Not to mention that while it’s been a good 25 years since I last received a carefully folded birthday invitation from a classmate, I can recall to this day the sting of not receiving one.

Feeling the pain. Even as one of many classmates not fated to receive the Snoopy card stating “please come to my party,” you still remember the feeling of being so forlornly outside the loop.

Left to lament that maybe if you’d just traded your Twinkie for that ham sandwich last week you might’ve made the cut?

Thus, as someone who recently survived having 24 heavily sugared children in my care on two separate occasions and lived to tell the tale, I offer the following things I have learned from the birthday party front.

Lessons. First, is that only 50 percent of what constitutes your child’s school life happens in the actual classroom, while the other half consists of either planning, executing or attending classmates’ birthday parties so lavish as to make Madonna’s wedding reception look like your cousin’s shotgun basement wedding.

With that in mind I took a stand. Simpler is better (and cheaper). Birthday parties should be like play dates – with cake.

Forget organized games (as most children would rather be fed healthy vegetables than wait their turn for anything). Children, if left to their own devices, will have a marvelous time running amok amongst themselves.

Providing you keep some level of watch against sharp sticks and Lord of the Flies type anarchy, everything turns out fine. Not that you shouldn’t stock up on Band-Aids, just in case.

Party favors. On the subject of “loot” (aka “gift”) bags given to guests: I don’t get it. In my day, the birthday boy or girl got all the gifts, loot, and the like. The guests got cake and sickly sweet punch and liked it.

Where has the tried and true rite of passage that is watching a friend get all the gifts while you get none gone?

Speaking of gifts, what should you do if your child receives a truly dreadful gift? Suck up and deal with it.

The PTO – a type of parental mafia comprised of the most organized and active parents among your child’s classmates – is more powerful than the CIA and the FBI combined.

Don’t even try it. If you return the gift, they will find you. If you attempt to “lose” the gift, they will know.

And if you even think about “re-gifting” it at another classmate’s party, you should not be surprised to wake up one night with the head of Toys R Us Mascot, Geoffrey the Giraffe, in your bed.

(Kymberly Foster Seabolt is still recovering from piñata-induced trauma. She welcomes comments c/o or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)


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Warm, witty and just a wee bit warped, Kymberly Foster Seabolt is a native of Kent, Ohio, who survived childhood exposure to disco and grew up to marry and move to the country. Her column weaves her special brand of humor with poignant, entertaining, and honest portrayals of parenting, marriage, and real life. She currently lives in northeastern Ohio with her husband, two children, two dogs, two cats, and numerous dust bunnies who wish to remain nameless.