Thursday, March 15, 2012

Birthday Party Rules

My father always claimed that if he ever found out that he had only a month to live, he would spend that time on an exercise bike at a child's birthday party, because it would make that final month feel like twenty years.

My parents are generally positive people, but even they speak of the birthday parties of our youth with a burning negativity usually reserved for conversations about dental surgery.

My sister's 5th birthday is still regarded as an all-time low moment in our collective family history. I was only 10, but the spectacle of a dozen young maniacs tearing around our house as my Mom desperately tried to corral them together for a third round of 'Pin the Tail on the Donkey' remains forever scarred into my memory. The day culminated in one of the more out-of-control revelers announcing loudly while standing on the dining room table 'I WAS BORN WILD!' before projectile vomiting in multiple directions.

And's my turn. 

As the parent of three children under four, I accept that I am only at the beginning of my journey of birthday party hosting and attendance. It is likely that I will find myself at dozens if not hundreds of such celebrations in the next several years. 

I'm not going to lie: I'm starting to panic.

So it is that I come before you at this time with a simple list of proposed "Birthday Party Rules". I feel that with some simple tweaks, we can all make the Saturdays we are destined to spend in those bowling alleys, backyards, and the occasional Chuck E. Cheese more enjoyable for all involved.
  • How About a Two Hour Time Limit?
Listen, if you want to hang with your friends and family for hours on end squeezing every possible moment out of the bouncy house you rented at great personal expense, I won't begrudge you. BUT, if you would be so kind as to cut the cake at the 1.5 hour mark so that those folks who want to can bust a move, it would be most appreciated. My kids are all about the cake, and we can't leave until we've had some. If you serve the cake four hours in, you are basically holding us hostage. Let us go home to our families! We beg you!

  • Do We Really Need 45 Children at a Three-Year-Old's Party?
I have definitely given in to the desire to gather large numbers of friends and family to celebrate the birth of my offspring. But after some trial and error, I've come to feel that the overcrowded toddler bash is kind of like those dorm parties from college: it's packed; you can't find the people you came with, and it is impossible to get at the food and drinks.

  • We Need to Dial It Down a Bit, Right?
Much like those engaging in nuclear escalation, we are only assuring our mutual destruction if we keeping ratcheting up the expectations for the nature of parties for children under the age of five. I have actually heard the following phrase in regards to a four-year-old's birthday celebration:

"You know, everything was fine until the elephant got loose."

In Los Angeles, the base-level expectation is that a kid's party shall involve several different pieces of rental equipment, a handful of professional entertainers, and an elaborate spread of catered food. We're going off the rails on a crazy train, people, and someone needs to pull the emergency brake.

  • We Could Do Away With the Presents
OK, I get that this may be highly controversial, but nonetheless I would like to propose a full ban on gift-giving at parties for children under four. Should this movement prove successful, I might attempt to expand the ban to older kids' parties. Just think of how freeing it could be! No more desperate pre-party dashes to Target to procure plastic toys, overpriced gift bags, and cards the child can't even read to offer up in the great end-of-party crap exchange! (Crapxchange?) Would our kids really miss this stuff? I argue strongly that they would not. Added bonus? Skipping the extended gift-opening ceremonies would let us all get home sooner.

I want to go on the record saying that I actually like children's birthday parties. I love having somewhere to take my kids on the weekend, and I enjoy getting the chance to visit with my friends and to meet the other parents from my kids' schools. Plus, it is often the highlight of my month to witness the joy that my boys get from sneaking an extra cupcake (or four) from the dessert table when no one's looking

With these "Birthday Party Rules" I am merely proposing a few simple fixes, because I truly believe that we can collectively free ourselves from birthday party torment. 

At least until some kid starts vomiting...


  1. We're "down to" 15 kids at this year's party. Still crazy for my tiny house, but at least there won't be any elephants.

    1. Yeah, with 15 you are pretty much guaranteed that someone's gonna hurl. Ah, well - memories!

  2. i'm a big fan of inviting as many kids as they are years old. after going all out for nick's first birthday, we had two kids for his second, and it was perfect. having said that, we just might throw a big bash for julia's baby naming. but i have to say, that little girl has earned it. or, to be honest, we have!

    1. I think you get to invite 1 million people over for every infant surgery you have to endure - you are officially exempt.

  3. I completely agree. For my son's birthday we filled up several plastic pools with water, set up the sprinklers and water slides and put a few snacks on the table. No presents. Instead we had them bring money so my son could donate it to a disaster relief agency. No clean up later and no mass of toys that now had to be cleaned up in his room. Win-win!

  4. I'd like to add a rule related to the Crapxchange: No goodie bags for the guests! Maybe one small non-junky item or a tiny bag with 2 pieces of candy, but in my experience this is another area of alarming escalation and one-upsmanship.

  5. One party I went to had a big bucket of "plastic crap" -- and a sign that you could take 3 things on the way out. *That* was brilliant.