On kids’ birthday parties

Organizing a kid’s birthday party is hard.

Having had to organize two such parties for my kids only in the past couple of months was quite a

challenge. There are so many expectations to meet and so many conflicts to mitigate and that was only

in the planning phase.

“No, mommy, I don’t want a train theme. I want a fireman party” or

“Can we have a pole and a trampoline in the room? Pleaaaaase. You know, mommy, firemen

need to train coming down on the pole and jumping on the trampoline” (just to make things

clear, he meant a 12 ft. trampoline) or

“Can I please have a real fire in the room? We could put it out with water” (hmmmm… yeah,

right <insert sarcasm here>)

To top it up, even my 2 year old wanted a bouncy castle floating on the pool. Sure, like that is going to

happen anytime soon… But as they say in customer service, you can never tell a client a straight “No”.

And that goes for kids too. They are the toughest of all customers. They can throw a tantrum simply

because you inflated the balloons a bit too much for their taste. As a matter of fact, starting now I am

determined to include “conflict resolution” and “project management” skills on my CV. Because if

planning a birthday party for a 5-year old and a 2-year old does not show patience, organization and

nerves of steel, then I don’t know what else does.

So, in the process of preparing for these parties, I started thinking a lot about how my birthday parties

used to be like, growing up in the 1980s Romania. I had a very happy childhood and my birthday

celebrations were nothing short of pure joy and tons of fun. But somehow I don’t recall my parents

fretting over the party as much as I do now. So why and, more importantly, how did we get here?

Thinking back of the times when I was a kid, it became clear that lack of diversity helped make choices a

bit easier. Or, to a certain extent, it eliminated choices altogether. Back then there were no birthday

party themes and the associated paraphernalia, there were no party venues (just one’s house or

garden), and no myriad of catering options (just mom’s sandwiches and homemade cake). Hence,

planning the party was so much easier, it was almost algorithmic:

1. pick date

2. (hand)write invitations and send them

3. cook

The kids were entirely responsible for having fun at the party, as parents had adult matters to discuss

during the party. Running wild, singing and pretend play were strongly encouraged and most toys were

usually hidden away because it meant more cleaning up to do after the party was over.

Obviously this paints a totally different picture from what kids’ parties have become lately. Choosing (in

a democratic manner, of course) the party theme, sourcing the location, searching the wide internet for

party items, toys and decorations to fit the theme, crafting items which are either impossible to find or

incredibly expensive to buy generally takes weeks of preparation. That is even before we got to the basic

things like deciding on a menu and ordering the food and drinks. So for the past few months it almost

felt like I have been having a second job (or should I say unpaid internship).

To top things up, in my case, when the day of the party finally arrived I felt already exhausted and

strongly overwhelmed by anxiety: “Will the kids like it?”, “Is the party going to be up to their

expectations?”

In hindsight, I can’t stop thinking that we are increasingly setting higher and higher expectations about

what our kids can expect for their birthday. It’s not necessarily my nostalgia for times long-forgotten,

but I wish things were simple again, just like when I grew up. I strongly feel that kids can have fun even

without all the toys, decorations and fancy locations. I want to believe that they would have invented

games even if there were no toys in the room. And, last but not least, I think I am crazy enough to try

this one day.