By Lisa Sugarman
I can still picture my oldest daughter’s first birthday party like it was this morning. The weather was perfect, seventy-eight degrees and cloudless. And the way I remember it, our lawn was pristine, a lot like the front nine at Augusta, giving us the perfect backdrop for a first birthday party.
As I recall, we invited everybody. Like, everybody. And we had all the accoutrements to go along with a first-rate first birthday party. We had the grossly overpriced Winnie the Pooh and Friends cake. We had a guy dressed in a shockingly realistic Pooh costume walking around the yard playing with/traumatizing all the kids. We had cutesy little Pooh-themed goody bags. And come to think of it, we may have had Tigger there, too. What can I say, we were first-time parents.
Looking back, it was like we were subconsciously auditioning for the old MTV reality show My Super Sweet Sixteen. But in our defense, we just wanted her first birthday to be something special—the same kind of special that every new parent wants for their baby.
The irony is, the kid never remembers any of it. In fact, they probably don’t remember their first four or five birthdays. But we still go out of our way to make them memorable. Kind of funny when you think about it. We go through the motions of pulling together an unforgettable party for a kid who’s only ever going to remember it through pictures and stories, not from their own actual memories.
But I’m wandering from my point.
What really got me thinking about birthday parties is that my youngest is about to turn fifteen in a few weeks and I’m realizing that the days of planning birthday parties for my kids are over. And that makes me sort of sad.
Now don’t get me wrong, I won’t necessarily miss all the moving parts associated with a kid birthday party, like the invitations, the goody bags, the set-up, the decorations, the favors, the thank-you notes. (Ok, fine, I’ll miss them because I’m a detail-oriented person and I love that stuff.) But even more than the planning and the executing, I’ll miss the look on my girls’ faces when it all comes together. And that look is the exact reason we all jump through hoops to make their birthdays special.
In our case, we’ve done the princess tea party, the American Girl party, the pool party, the Snip-Its hair styling party, the petting zoo party, the hibachi dinner party, the fondue party, the sleepover party. If you can think of it, chances are good we’ve done it.
But now, sadly, our girls have aged out of the traditional birthday party. Once they hit thirteen-ish, there was a seismic shift in how they wanted to celebrate. Gone are the Disney princess parties where the only color allowed was pink. (Sorry, with two girls I never learned to speak boy. Pink and lavender are all I know.)
Suffice it to say, nowadays birthdays pretty much involve Dave and I dropping a group of girls off at a sushi bar and coming back to pay the bill. Or, in the case of our oldest who’s turning eighteen this summer, dropping her and her crew off at the train so they can spend the day in downtown Boston shopping, food-stand hopping at Faneuil Hall Marketplace, and then pulling an all-nighter in our basement watching horror movies.
Fortunately for us, though, we’ve managed to retain our annual tradition of secretly decorating the house the night before every birthday so our kids wake up to signs and balloons and streamers and birthday crowns. So we’ve still got that going for us. And those are the things, as your kids grow older, that you find a way to preserve. Because those special traditions are what your kids carry with them into their adult lives and ultimately recreate when they have children of their own.
Here’s a tip, instead of taking it on the chin when the days of helping them blow out their candles are over, think of it as a hiatus—a vacation from all the party planning and stressing over a houseful of seven year olds. And enjoy the break while it lasts. Because it’s really only a brief pause that allows you to catch your breath just in time to help plan their wedding—the mac daddy of all parties.
So consider this as you anticipate or mourn the loss of The Birthday Party… for probably close to thirteen years you put your heart and soul and paycheck into planning the perfect birthday experience for your kid and now all they really want is a wad of cash and you to make yourself scarce. And while it seems cold and sterile to give your kids an envelope full of gift cards, it’s more or less what most of them really want. And that’s because they’re growing up. A fact that, whether we like it or not, we have to accept. It’s the natural order of things.
But remember, at the end of the day you’ll always be the one they turn to when they need a wire transfer or their debit card refilled. So you’ve got that going for you. Just think of it as a different kind of umbilical cord. Only I’m not sure this one ever gets cut.