DS got an invite to a birthday party last week. We'll go, of course, since it's one of his good buddies from pre-school, but I'm not terribly thrilled by the prospect. Not because of this birthday party in particular, but because I know it's going to be another one of the dreaded rites of one-upmanship that is invading whatever class it is we're now living in: The. Perfect. Child's. Birthday. Party.
It will be held at either A) some massive child-oriented kid's venue, complete with pizza, a store-bought cake, punch and high-decible activity (tab: $350.00 for a party of 25) or B) an absolutely perfect McMansion, free of any dirt, and with upscale hors d'oeuvres and wine for all the parents who get to stand around uncomfortably, trying to make small talk, or nodding and smiling as the four mothers who do know each other talk loudly about every other fabulous person they know that the rest of us don't.
Either way there will be goodie bags filled with little trinkets for each child, each worth, oh, maybe $5, which isn't much until you figure out that there are 25 of them, all thematically coordinated with the cake, decorations and birthday-boy's outfit.
The message could not be more clear: We have spent an ungodly amount of money on our 5-year-old's birthday.
And whoo boy, you better pony up come gift-givin' time.
Last year, I dug through the box of books and videos we'd bought at the school book-sale, and found copy of a lovely, if little-known children's movie, and, I think, a hardback children's book. If I'd paid retail, it was probably a $15 gift. I put it in a gift bag from our pile of gift bags in the basement, had DS make a "card" and off we went. It was a nice gift, and one that I would have been happy to see my son receive.
I did not fail to notice for a second that nearly every other child had produced a gift that had to be worth at least $30, and all were elegantly wrapped, often in a bag or paper that matched the theme of the invitation. Our gift couldn't have stood out more if we'd brought in a turd from the lawn, wrapped in used kleenex.
DS didn't care, and neither did the birthday kid, I suspect. He was too busy tearing the paper of the next gift. I suppose I could have imagined that momma's thanks seemed just a tad insincere and had the definite subtext of "cheap family" with it. Our gift, it was obvious, did not cover our tab. And I didn't even drink any wine.
I should explain that up to this point, all birthdays in our household have featured relatives only, should they have happened to be in town. Once or twice we've invited the neighbors over for cake, which I made, with homemade frosting. (Duncan Heinz cake, though. Good stuff. Alton Brown says it's okay to use a box for cake, so I'm good with that, too.) Gifts, I kid you not, are often produced from "shopping" in the basement where we have a ginormous stash of toys and games given to us by other families, or bought by J at Thrift Stores. (We have enough K-Nex in our basement to create a life-size amusement park by now.)
So I am unsurprisingly appalled by this latest trend in trendy birthday parties. I want nothing to do with it. We've been saying that for his 5th birthday, Dash can have his first "real" party. I was envisioning 4 friends, over for play and some cake. I would figure out some way to get a quiet word to the parents that any gifts should be under $5, please. But earlier this week DS had an absolute meltdown in which he proclaimed, wailing, that the only way he could ever be happy again was if he could go to the bouncy-mansion place he's been to once before. I have no idea what brought on the hysterical sobbing, but in an effort to calm him, I suggested that maybe he could have his birthday party there. (I sometimes go insane when confronted with non-stop hysteria. When it's bad enough, I'll do nearly anything to make it cease.) Sigh.
I can see now how some parents get roped into this, but I'm still hoping to quietly back-pedal this into a 5-kid show at the house. But maybe not. Still, no matter what, I'm making the cake myself. 'Cause I stand firm, and that's where I draw the line. For now.