I used to think jumping up and down on a trampoline with three year olds was fun.
But approaching the 50th time, I started getting a little tired of it.
Am I allowed to say this in print? I don’t need to spend any more Saturday mornings or Sunday afternoons at Tumblekids or Wonderjumpers. And I’m just guessing here, but think I could live out the rest of my days very satisfactorily without attending – or hosting, for that matter – another Coach Terrific party. I love my children and I love celebrating their birthdays and milestones with them. I’m just not sure I have to keep inviting the world along to watch.
Now, just so everyone is clear about this: I am guilty of many celebratory offenses myself. I have been known to go ga-ga over personalized Internet invitations and to race to the best bakery for the Perfect Cake. I once hired a groovy guitarist for Zoe’s birthday and actually sang harmony with him at the party. (Who can resist a Crosby, Stills and Nash tune, I ask you?) In fact, in the context of the larger world, these are hardly “offenses” at all.
But also, just to be clear, sometimes I think we have gone a bit too far. Like, when you look at us collectively. All the parties, all the hoopla. Every year, for every kid in the village. Are we mad?
I really like throwing parties. I am outgoing and social, and so I kind of get a high from having entertained well. But I think there’s a danger in that, too. Andrew’s fourth birthday party was held at a local gym. 30 of his closest preschool friends were invited, along with all the grandparents and many friends of mine from high school and their kids and maybe a few strays I picked up on the over way to the place. For the invitation, I arranged a photo-shoot of Andrew in a green Power Ranger costume jumping up and down and posing mid-air on the gym equipment, looking fierce. It’s not like I hired a photographer or anything; I took the digital images myself and uploaded them into Shutterfly and made an invitation. It was fun for both me and Andrew, but let’s just call it what it was: a little bit nuts.
It was then that I realized the ugly truth. The preschool birthday party is the gateway drug to the bar mitzvah.
Each year from that point on, the need to succeed would get greater and greater, until I couldn’t outdo myself anymore. Nothing would get me high enough. No overnight sleepover in the Museum of Natural History, no all-access passes to the tween concert of the year. I imagined myself, several years in the future, line dancing upside down in a zero-gravity simulator transformed to look like Mos Eisley’s Canteena, dressed as Princess Leia. Welcome to Andrew’s Intergalactic Coming of Age Party: The Bar Mitzvah That’s Out Of This World!!!! What a bad trip that would be.
The truth is, until fairly recently, I felt a lot of pressure about throwing these somewhat elaborate, although now typical, parties for my young children. I’m not proud of it, but I’ll admit it. I started worrying in January about Andrew’s April birthday because venues book months ahead, especially if you want to get “the best” time of day at “the best” party place, whatever that may be.
“There is always a theme on top of a theme on top of a theme at these things,” Brett added when I told him the topic of this week’s article. “I’m at this party last weekend and I’m like, with the bowling alley, weird science, and a hired Sponge Bob character, did ya really need the piñata, too?”
“Plus, this party circuit is an endless cycle,” Brett continued. “We’re either going to parties or planning our own or attending our own. We’re purchasing gifts, opening gifts, returning gifts, re-gifting gifts or donating gifts to the school fair where we win them back in the raffle. At these parties, everyone arrives with toys wrapped in the same paper from the same toy store. We eat the same tiny slices of pizza and huddle in the corner by the veggie plate, waiting to get our goody bags and go. It’s Groundhog Day!”
So I guess I’m not the only one frustrated by this.
“The thing is,” Brett elaborated, “everyone feels the same way about these events, and yet it’s an accepted and routine part of our culture. People talk about breaking the cycle but no one ever does.”
Until now, that is. Enter the Seasonal Birthday Party, or SBP.
I’m going to give credit to my friend Lila for this one, and then I’m going to snatch that credit away from her and say I came up with it first. Why? Because it’s a brilliant idea and who wouldn’t want to be aligned with that?
The SBP is really great for those of you with 3 and 4 year olds with a large network of preschool friends. When Andrew was in preschool, he attended at least 25 birthday parties between the months of November and June. It was then that Brett and I first discussed the idea of the Seasonal Birthday Party. What if the parents got together to plan four parties a year, grouping the children together by birthday season? The fall party could be a Coach Terrific party, the winter one could be at a gym, the spring one could have a children’s entertainer and the summer one could be at the town pool. Everyone would be celebrated, and everyone would be included. How awesome! How revolutionary!
And then, like most great ideas on the verge of implementation, it fell by the wayside and we stepped back into the familiar pattern of individual (but pretty much all the same) parties.
Truth be told, I worried a little bit about the group party thing. I worried that my own child wouldn’t feel special. That maybe, in this world of personal parties, he would feel gypped. (And then he would grow up to always feel slighted by the world and it would somehow all be my fault. If only I had let my child have his own 4th birthday party!)
But now that I’m on to child number two, I know that things in general need not be taken so seriously. So when my friend Lila approached me a few weeks ago, suggesting a group party for the five children in our preschool class with summer birthdays – including Zoe’s – I jumped at the idea. She and another friend had already thought it out, deciding to have the event at an ice cream parlor where the kids could make their own sundaes.
“What fun!” I enthused.
“It will just run an hour, I figure,” Lila added.
“Only an hour! Genius!”
“And no gifts – just the hosts will exchange with each other.”
And so, given the job of creating an evite for the event– an evite! So simple, so green! – I got to work and sent it out. The next day, I received a phone call from the mom of another of Zoe’s classmates. She hoped she wasn’t imposing, but her son Peter’s birthday was in June, and, well, this was like the best idea she had ever heard of in her life, and, so, could Peter join the summer celebration as a host, too? Absolutely! The more the merrier!
It’s not just my party anymore. And that’s really something to celebrate.