Monday, October 13, 2008

What Happened to Pin The Tail On the Donkey?

It was just about a year ago that our family first stepped in to the world of over-the-top birthday parties for children. S. was invited to an ice skating party to celebrate the 4th birthday of one of her playmates. We showed up at the outdoor rink and there was Starbucks hot chocolate for all of the children and coffee for the adults. Skate rentals, rink time, and a skating lesson were all included. As if that wasn't enough, following an hour of so of skating, the entire troupe walked over to Noodles & Company for dinner and cake. All of this was generously provided by the birthday girl's parents. Which was really a bit awkward as we had never met them before. I felt like I should send a thank you note and flowers. At the very least, I should have spent more than $15 on the present.

All of this came back to me yesterday following a birthday party double-header for our family. First up was our neighbors' annual birthday party for their daughter who was turning three. As in previous years, there was a fantastic spread of homemade cuban food. And a moonbounce. This year, in addition, there was a surprise appearance by Minnie Mouse (the details of which I will save for another day). The guest list was modest, which was a nice contrast to the next party.

The next party was for a "nanny posse" playmate of S and A's, a nice girl with, um, interesting parents. In addition to having their daughter's entire preschool class and family friends (total: 25 adults, 400 children under age 4), they had as the headliner for their party this guy. To his credit, he kept the kids absolutely in stitches for 30 minutes. But $300 (or more) for some guy just acting goofy? Wow. Nice work if you can get it.

I don't mean to sound like an ungracious guest. I really do appreciate the wide circle of friends S. and A. have and the associated parents with whom we've become friends over the past 3+ years through preschool and the playground (in addition to the network our nanny has built with other neighborhood nannies). But when did it become necessary to shell out many hundreds of dollars for a preschooler's birthday party? Am I considered a bad host for having birthday parties that consist of a craft (this year it was making "crowns" out of posterboard decorated with crayons/markers/stickers we have in our everyday craft kit), snacks, cake and a pinata?

(Please don't get me started on "goodie bags." This year for A's party I just bought Baskin Robins gift certificates and boxes of crayons.)

D.'s observation on all of this is that the one requirement he has for all future parties for our children is beer for the grownups.

What are your best/worst birthday party experiences and how do you manage the expectations(both socially and those of your children) for your own parties? (Bonus points for any good ideas for keeping preschoolers entertained without tapping their college funds.) I recently came across this article that made me wonder if retro birthday parties might be a new trend. It would be one that I would welcome with open arms.


Anna See said...

For my daughter's 4th bday-- a princess theme-- I squeezed into my prom dress and wore a long blonde wig. I looked like a drag queen, but it was an easy, simple party. This year week took 3 kids to the movies. I think parties are way out of control. My kids tell me I should spend more on presents for thier friends, though. I usually spend $10-15.

Quart said...

We've only thrown 2 birthday parties, and they both had beer for the parents! I still say kids' parties are really for the parents - we did all the hard work, right?

Maura said...

I've got nothing for you in the suggestions or experiences department, sorry.

I do know as an observer that these things are out of control for a lot of people, and I hope you find the right solution for you!