At some point — maybe a decade ago — I stopped attending live music. I’m not sure I sat down to make a firm decision that I’d spent my last concert dollar, but some combination of paying $100 to stand, hear badly amplified noise, wait in line for the bathroom, smell the pot smoke drifting, and sit in the parking lot in an hour-long traffic jam when the show was over decided it for me. No thanks.
I’m having similar feelings about why I don’t demand that someone throw me a birthday party in adulthood. Right now we’re in the middle of picking the venue for my son’s 5th birthday party and it’s pretty much like poking your eyeballs out with toothpicks.
For several hundred dollars, these party venues allow you to host — maybe — about 20 kids for two hours. That ranges from $200 for 10 kids at our local gymnastics center to $600 to get your child’s friends into the zoo for the day complete with a buffet lunch. Most of the time at these birthday party locations is spent in some sort of planned activity before they throw you in a room with cake at the end for 30 minutes. In the old days, our parents just invited our kindergarten classmates over to the house for cake, some bad party games, or maybe the yellow plastic slide you got wet with the garden hose. Though I totally get why we’ve gotten away from that as a society. Who wants to clean up after other people’s children?
So far this year we’ve been to six of these birthday parties so you see what all the other families have done and feel this overwhelming pressure to be at least different, even if not “better.” You see what goodies they handed out and then you feel like because someone else did it that you should, too.
Up to this point, we’ve avoided birthday parties for our kids as a rule. They each have gotten a “mostly family” gathering and have experienced the cake and presents. But school sets them up for this new world of real, honest-to-goodness parties. They immediately leave the venue saying, “I want to have my party at…” and you want them to be able to invite their friends to have fun. Just not in your house. So here we are.
We’ve thought of everything. A movie together. A place that has real fire trucks to climb on and dresses you in firefighting gear to fight a pretend fire. A Lego building academy. A rock ‘n’ roll class with real electric guitars. Ice skating. Pool party. Anything outside is suspect because of the possibility of the weather ruining your plans. In our case, we’re trying to not have his friends have to drive outside our town to get there.
Narrowing down the possibilities, I think we’re finally ready to book the event. Of course, that’s far from the end of it because we need decorations, RSVPs, a cake, and party favors. We’re certainly not the family that feels they have to “keep up” and we fairly easily ditch convention when we want. But a birthday party is one thing we can’t escape in the end. It’s here and we need to get invitations out. I’m sure he’ll have a blast.
But his mom and I would just as readily skip it.
A version of this first appeared on Newfangled Dad.