So this weekend I caved. I took Helen to a child's birthday party.
I know, I know. I had sort of hoped that my year-long boycott would somehow start a trend and that people would finally give up trying to entertain toddlers with a $200 party place and goody bags and an elaborate cake and a one present minimum.
But for some strange reason, a child's birthday seems to have ballooned into an entire industry. Go figure.
Since we're at the new daycare, my reasoning for accepting just this once seemed sound: jump into the fray with an entirely new clique of parents. Meet people. Be social. You know - a good time to give this gig a second chance.
Instead, I was reminded of just how much THIS IS NOT MY GIG.
The party child sleeps on a mat next to Helen's at daycare, so they're friends. The parents were perfectly nice and took a moment to come over and introduce themselves to me. They said really sweet things about Helen, which I appreciated. But folks, I'm one of the first parents to drop off in the morning, and one of the last to pick up at night. So I don't know any of the kids, and I really don't know the parents. I think everyone else must have assumed I was family, because I had to walk up and talk to people to get more than a passing smile. And I couldn't reciprocate with nice things about their children, except "Oh, Helen talks about him all the time," while I'm thinking of David Spade from SNL, "And you are ...?"
The party took place at one of those indoor inflatable jump places, which sounded like a great way to wear Helen out on a weekend afternoon. But because of the blowers and the blaring party music, it ended up being noisier than the bars I remember from my single days. It was difficult to talk to anyone unless you were standing right next to them. So I spent most of my time holding Alice and watching Helen bounce. I think she had a ball - she ran around a lot, and she seemed to know the kids there. But to me, nothing beats the old-fashioned playdate: meeting a friend at the playground for some slides and swings and juiceboxes. I can chat with the parents and get to know them, instead of anonymously standing around and not talking to each other.
I've managed to give birth to two kids with summer birthdays - probably scarring them for life that they can't have cupcake day at school! Brian & I talked often about what we wanted for our kids, and a giant party they won't remember was definitely not one of them. So Year 1 was cupcakes in her high chair. Year 2: lather, rinse, repeat. Year 3: more cupcakes, plus a $2 box of popsicles for her classmates at daycare. Next year, we may get an inflatable bouncy something in the backyard. But we won't have to invite a dozen kids to make it worthwhile - Helen and Alice could have it all to themselves!
What I could see in future years to celebrate their big day: inviting a couple of their best friends over for some time at the neighborhood pool. Maybe they could have a sleepover if they wanted it. I'm sure they sound like boring old-fashioned parties that nobody has anymore, plus it's so much work and it messes up your house to have a bunch of kids over. But why spend weekends going to the same party places over and over? My greatest wish for their birthdays is a party they'll remember. I don't remember most of mine, although Mom swears up & down I had them. And for some reason, my 29th birthday is a total blank. Hmm.
What's the first birthday party you can remember? Let me know. I wonder if it's just me being ridiculous about this whole thing. I've seen scads of posts on parenting websites and while everyone has ideas for themes and games and cakes and goody bags, not one single parent expresses my level of frustration at having to stand around at these events with nothing better to do than watch your child. So maybe it's just me, and you can feel free to tell me to just get over it. And if it's not just me - speak up!