Where do you think kids get the idea that the celebrations of their birth are worthy of a Broadway-style production?
Thanks to my sister’s wedding receptionlast fall, our daughter thinks she can have her sixth birthday party at an extravagant location, too.
She’s always thinking ahead, that one.
“A dance party, Mom,” she said. “Where Aunt Nat had hers for the wedding.”
I must have looked confused because she clarified her request for me. “You know, with the big floor, the music and everyone dancing.”
I nodded slowly, wondering how I was going to maneuver out of this one.
“Honey, that kind of party is for when you get married, not for a birthday,” I explained to her subsequent frown. “You’ll have to wait a few years for that one.”
Birthday party obsession is apparently not limited to my own household, as I learned when I had lunch with her at school last week.
Surrounded by 5- and 6-year-olds, I listened to their animated discussion of favorite places for birthday parties.
The litany included Chuck E. Cheese, Build-A-Bear, Midstate Gymnastics, Skateland South and others. It didn’t matter if they had just celebrated their birthday or if it beckoned on the far horizon — the event loomed large in their minds.
I was reminded last month, when we attended my nephew’s first birthday party, that we parents set ourselves up for this birthday addiction right from the start.
It was so sweet: the toothy grins; the miniature cake that fit onto the highchair tray; the inevitable tears a few hours later, after the guest of honor was overwhelmed by presents; rowdy cousins and the lack of his normally scheduled nap.
We grownups care far more about the birthday ritual than the baby does; parents hovered, snapped pictures and took video, preserving the milestone for posterity. And why not? These are the golden years ... when they can’t talk! Live it up, I say.
Because when they grow older, they talk incessantly – about their birthdays.
“I don’t want books for my birthday, Mom,” my daughter has told me repeatedly since Christmas. “Maybe an American Girl boy doll to keep Alaina company, or a (Nintendo) DS.”
I’ve learned to respond with a “hmmmn” most times to keep the conversation neutral since we have a reasonable budget for birthdays (although I have promised that I will not, under any circumstance, buy her a book).
Meanwhile, our son celebrates his ninth birthday this week, and he was just as preoccupied with birthday party details back in January. We’ve done YMCA swimming and game room parties to accommodate his classmates, but this year he decided (with our prompt that he’s aging out of larger parties) to invite a few friends over to the house for Nerf gun wars, pizza and LEGO building contests.
This return to the “simplicity” of a home party reminded me that we made him eat a nutritious muffin for his first birthday while the rest of us dined on cake and ice cream. Sometimes I miss that earnest, new-parent exuberance I had then to do everything perfectly, by the book.
Remarkably, he doesn’t hold a grudge. Probably because we haven’t showed him the video yet.
I wonder as they grow older if our kids will lose some of this birthday party enthusiasm.
Last weekend, we went to a dual birthday celebration for my uncle and cousin.
The cousin had just turned 20 and could be found lounging on the couch in the family room watching the Illinois-Wisconsin basketball game. We didn’t even sing before the cake was cut.
Poor deprived kid.
Julie Kaiser is a freelance writer and columnist.