Thursday, March 19, 2009

Party politics

Chicky has a birthday coming up - the big 4. Which means three things; 1) My baby isn't a baby anymore, 2) I need to start planning a birthday party, and 3) My baby isn't a baby anymore and my head can't quite grasp that notion so all the cogs and gears are starting to smoke and ohmygod I think my head just exploded.

(Also, I just spent 45 minutes looking through pictures from the past three birthdays and there may or may not be tears in my eyes and that's for me to know and you to just mind your own damn business about.)

When I was growing up, we were never huge on birthdays. We had small parties with close family and a few close friends, a special cake, some presents and some general child-related mayhem but nothing grandiose by any means. But, while I'm not keen on making a huge fuss, mostly because I'm lazy, I do want my kids to feel like their extra special day is just that. Heavy emphasis on "special", with a side of "extra".

Plus, I like the whole theme thing. I don't know why, I never thought I would be one of those people, but God help me I am.

When I asked Chicky what she wanted the theme of her birthday to be, she said, without any provocation, she wanted a Beach Party. Cool. I can run with that theme. And there are no princesses or glitter involved so, bonus.

Well, apparently, while my head was spinning with the details over what the cake should look like and what I was going to do for favors, she was thinking about who she was going to invite.

A few days later while we were driving home from preschool she dropped a bomb on me.

"Mommy, I told my WHOLE class about my beach party and they're all coming, even my teachers. I'm so excited!"

There are 20 kids in Chicky's preschool class and three teachers. Now, the great thing about 3 and 4 year old's is they tend to forget what you've told them a minute after it's out of your mouth, right about the time they see something shiny. The bad thing about 3 and 4 year old's is they tend to remember everything you don't want them to. The only saving grace is I know her teachers, who I'm sure have been "invited" to every student's birthday party, are not expecting invitations. Which is good, because that's three less people I have to invite.

I'm not crazy (okay, I'm not that crazy), I'm not inviting every child in Chicky's class. She and I sat down and had a long conversation about it which culminated in Chicky telling me that she was, in fact, inviting Every. Single. Kid to her party and her stomping away and slamming her bedroom door. Then we had another conversation about who we were inviting and how much fun it would be and I think I may have promised her a pony if she would stop freaking out for five seconds. I'm not sure, but I think I won that battle.

But here's the thing, it only gets more challenging from here on out. My children are still young enough that I can invite a select group and we don't have to worry about excluding certain members of her class, but that will start to change in the coming years. We have not yet gotten caught up in the birthday tidal wave where every week there's another party to attend and another gift to buy, but I know it's inevitable. We have friends who live in the Raleigh area in one of those planned communities where every couple is in their 30s and they all have two kids the same age as every other kid in the neighborhood (and they're all made out of ticky tacky, and they all look just the same). They get invited to 3 to 4 birthday parties almost every weekend. Can't wrap your head around that one? Me neither.

That's the extreme end of the spectrum - and that's what they get for moving to the south where people are actually friendly to each other, not like up here in New England where you're lucky if we nod in your general direction - but I'd be lying if I said I didn't get heart palpitations from thinking about all those parties where I'll have to try to make nice with other parents I don't know while the rugrats bounce off the walls from their sugar high.

But more than my own social anxiety, I'm concerned about keeping my children's birthdays special when there are politics involved. In other words, for instance, if Susie and Bobby invited my child to their birthdays, does that mean I need to invite them to hers? Even if my kid can't keep their names straight and refer to them as Sarah and Brian? I don't want to be responsible for some little kid feeling left out because he or she wasn't invited to my kid's birthday but I don't want these shindigs to get so out of hand that the importance of the day is overshadowed by the effort it will take to keep 20 kids corralled and entertained while trying to keep my house in one piece.

What's that you say? Take it offsite? Don't get me started on parties at places like Chuck E. Cheese. As far as I'm concerned, that place does not exist. La la la la la.

The way I see it, we've got one more year, maybe two, when I get to decide who is on the guest list. After that it will get tricky.

Or... next year's party is a Studio 54 theme and I get to play Steve Rubell. All will have to stand behind the velvet rope unless I deem them fabulous enough, then they can enter the party. I'm sure that wouldn't set up a typical 5 year old for too many long term emotional problems.


Greens and Pinks said...

20 kids- wow - that's a HUGE preschool class! In Charlotte's class, so far, she's been invited whenever a classmate has a party. I think because the class is smaller, the other parents just want every kid to feel included? Some of the girls have had a "girls only" party where all the girls are invited.

That said, she's turning 3 in a week and a half and I decided to do a bigger combo party for both girls' birthdays because they're only 6 weeks apart so no classmates this time. Instead, I'm bringing in cupcakes to school on her birthday so she can celebrate with her class but they don't actually have to come to my house!

Anonymous said...

Off-site is the way to go... how about kiddy rollar skating,,, how about pool party,,, OR you could have it at your house and regret it for the entire rest of your life!

Here is a game I played at my daughters birthday party... as each attendee arrived I gave them a large lawn-leaf black plastic bag... and when the party was in full swing... we played this game...

I had each kid stand inside their special lawn/leaf bag and I tied it up really tight over their heads... the last one standing - WON ! ! !

Fairly Odd Mother said...

My oldest is 8 and I still have say over how many kids she can invite. After all, I'm throwing the party and paying for it. And, I'm going to say, at 4, don't go much more than 7 or 8 close friends. Kids that age can be a nightmare especially if you try to have games with a "winner". My 6 & 8yo just had 10-11 kids at each of their parties and that is about all I can handle (I did 14 for my oldest's 6th and that was a zoo).

If you must go big, do it with a gymnastics place or some place where other people have to deal with the noise. It's worth it.

BTW, don't worry about the 'small talk with other parents' too much: around here, most parents drop off their precious bundles and leave to do errands and enjoy "child free" time.

Binky said...

The way I look at it is that you'd have to work pretty hard to turn her special day into something un-special. There's a lot of wonder already built into these early birthdays. I see no harm--in fact, I see only benefits--in making it as easy as possible on yourself. Chicky will be thrilled no matter what.

BOSSY said...

The thought of kid birthday parties sends Bossy to her freezer for the good vodka. What, fer christsake?

Julie Marsh said...

I have no place advising you, as I just mailed 14 invitations to Tacy's birthday party, which will take place here in my home for exactly 120 minutes.

SciFi Dad said...

Now, this is an unconventional, probably more than slightly inappropriate, option:

1. Prepare the invitations for the kids you want to invite to the party.
2. Prepare a separate parent's note for the kids you don't want to invite, explaining that you really don't know their kid, but Chicky wanted EVERYONE to get something, so this is what they get.
3. Place both the notes and the invites in envelopes, labeled, and let Chicky distribute them.

When the non-invites don't show up, encourage her to ostracize them socially, telling her they aren't really her friends.

Chances are, next year she won't want the whole class.

Heather said...

We do stuff off site after years of doing it here and me losing my mind. I really freak out with birthday parties. I am not really sure why, I am sure some of it has to do with the fact that Dec & Jan are bad months for me with the death of the grandma and the death of my stepdad-throw in a bunch of family birthdays-shorter days & Christmas and you have a hot mess that is me.

Oh wait...I am supposed to be giving you advice-duh!

I would let the girls invite 8 guests. When they were younger I would ask them to tell me their friends names-the first 8 friends got to come. I figure if they are high up in importance to mention first chances are they really want them to come. And for the politics of birthday parties-I don't play that way. Just because Susie invited The Chicken doesn't mean the Chicken should invite Susie. We also only accept one birthday party request per weekend. And she can't change her mind after we RSVP if something better comes around.

Sorry this got to be a novel-that is a common theme for my comments to you lately.

Mags said...

I'm a big fan of off-site parties, but would never host one at Chuck E Cheese no matter how much my children BEG. We our twins' 5th birthday party at Pump It Up (an indoor bounce place) with 25 children (10 cousins plus their preschool class). We'll probably do one more party for them, and then start doing special events where they can each invite one or two friends. For instance, Banana might want a tea party, so she can invite 2 friends to tea at a tea house. Tank's birthday is in October---he might want to go to a football game and he can invite a friend to join us.

Anonymous said...

I totally feel ya my son is 5 and we are at a point where I feel we would be obligated to invite everyone to his party, so I have already prepped him that we may not have one, can’t afford it and don’t want to do it to be honest. Talking to parents I don’t know gives me hives too! LOL

But if you DO want to have something nice for Chicky Jump on In, it’s pretty awesome:

I’m not sure where you are in MA, but if there is one close to you, it’s great for that age range. Think of it as this big fun bouncy things turned into slides and climbing and lots of fun. My son went to a party at the one in NH and he had a blast! It’s about $300 for 25 people, which includes play time but no food, but the party my son went to just brought in a bunch of pizzas, so it wasn’t bad.

Good Luck!!
athenagwis at Hotmail . com

Magpie said...

I am all about the "small parties with close family and a few close friends, a special cake, some presents and some general child-related mayhem but nothing grandiose" - and so far, I've been successful. The child may be catching on though - she keeps saying "for my next birthday..." (she'll be six in the fall). Keep it small and at home as long as you can. Cake and a handful of friends for some mayhem will be plenty special.

Whirlwind said...

If you wait a year or two to do a big party, the good news is, you only have a year or two of big parties. Since around age 8, they tend to want small sleepover type parties.

Hang in there, it isn't so bad. You can say no to invites (I have). Or pawn your kid off on a friend also going to the party (not that I've ever done that *aham*)

Heather said...

My older 2 kids have one big party together since their birthdays are both 7 days apart. It's in July, we invite all the relatives and each kid invites 4-5 friends. Last year I invited the friends a little later than the relatives so the relatives came first and ate lunch. Then the kids came and they splashed in the kids' pools and looked for bugs, ate cake and ice cream, opened presents, then their parents came to pick them up. It worked really well. It's nice when the kids get to an age that the parents don't need to stay anymore.

All Things BD said...

My girls' elementary school classes solved my problem for me. They are allowed to pass out invitations to EVERYONE, or only those of the same sex, so as to not cause hurt feelings. They could MAIL invites I guess, but who does that? I'm able to blithely invite only half the class and not worry about drama. Whoo hoo!

Anonymous said...

I hope Chicky enjoys the party! =) It sounds like you've got your work cut out for you on every birthday from here on out!

Tania said...

I made summer babies. I rule!

Pgoodness said...

Wanna know what's cool about your kid having an August birthday? No inviting kids from school for a few more years!!

Wanna know what's not cool? No inviting friends from school for a few more years.

Avalon said...

Have the actual party at the beach. That should deter at least 18 or 19 of them. And Chicky still gets her theme.

Brilliant I say!

Patois42 said...

Avalon is too brilliant!


The future is not as bleak as it appears, promise! You will still have input on who, and more importantly how many, your child invites. My oldest two are 10 and 7 - 8 on Tuesday, actually, her party is tomorrow! - and I still have input. At about K or 1st grade I started having them invite just the boys in the class or just the girls, this seems to be a good way to avoid hurt feelings.

For preschool, keep it small. She won't have fun if she's overwhelmed. If she still loves the beach theme, I have some ideas from a similar party for my daughter here. Actually, I think it was her 4th birthday! (


P.S. Your blog is always my best read of the day. Laugh out loud funny! Love it!

Liz Aguerre said...

I'm pretty new to this blogging thing and I gotta tell you...I'm relieved to know that I'm not the only one stressing out about Party Politics! My husband thinks I'm completely in need of psychiatric help because I'm already worrying about my 3 year old's SEPTEMBER birthday. Every time we get an invitation from one of his preschool classmates, I'm like "DAMN IT! DO I HAVE TO INVITE THIS ONE TOO????"

Sarahviz said...

And so it begins! Politics be damned, I say. Do what works for you.
(Meaning: My boyz get invited to a ton of entire class parties. I? Do not reciprocate.)

Anonymous said...

I just booked our first off-site birthday party - she'll be four too. I've always liked little, home parties but the reality of having other parents that I hardly know in my house makes me kind of nauseous. We decided on a party at the local agriculture museum - they do a craft, look at the animals and make ice cream to have with the cake. Hooray - no clean up.

Gini said...

I so enjoying reading your blog. You hit it right on about "the New England" attitude. I know from 36 years of that. Much different now that we live in an area that everyone is a transplant. So much more laid back. So much so, that planning the older kids parties and including just who we want is really easy. There is so much other "stuff" where these socialize, that it seems OK to not include everyone in everything! Good luck with all your planning!

a li'l bit squishy said...

My eldest daughter invited every single one of her classmates in the interest of not excluding anyone for her fourth birthday. I was proud of her concern for the feelings of her classmates and suffered an anxiety attack that almost landed me in hospital at the same time. My solution was to wait until the last possible moment to invite everyone (invites on Thursday for a Sunday party). My plan was a complete and utter failure. Every single freaking kid showed up, parents in tow. I haven't thrown another birthday party in my house since. I pay to rent a community hall, preferably with a playground attached because I choke at the thought of some place like Chuck E. Cheese. Good Luck. We still haven't figured out a good solution that makes us all happy.

Suburb Sierra said...

When my second was born on my first's birthday exactly 2 years later, I thought I was going to die. But as it turns out, it's brilliant.

Two kids. Same day. One playroom in the basement. 3 - 4 kids each means 8 to 10, max. Since the school rule is you can't invite one without inviting them all, we decided we don't invite anyone. The kids prefer their neighborhood friends anyway. They are the ones they "play" with the most.

My brother lives in Vegas and they have at least two birthdays a weekend, too. Shiny, happy, sunny people. Ick. :)

Oh, and one of the best parties we ever went to was at Chuck E. Cheese. Kids didn't get bored in 15 mins and whine to go home. Tons of food to fill them up - and they say pizza is a "healthy" food. And I could sit quietly and not speak to anyone, and no one noticed thanks to the dancing rat. Kind of like a loud spa.

Anonymous said...

My kids are turning 5 and we had the exact opposite conversation.

I told them if they are having a party they are inviting every.single.person. and excluding no one.

The 5 year old know if they aren't invited. They get it.

My kids keep getting pissed at their friends and uninviting them (keep in mind, their birthday isn't until mid May and they have been uninviting children since November).

Party politics suck.

Everydaytreats said...

There were 24 kids at my house for Sebastian's birthday. It worked out great, even if I did lose sleep the week before.

My trick: Hire a magician. He kept the kids (AND MOMS) enthralled for 1.5 hours, and then everyone had cake (sheet cake from Roche) and juice for 30 minutes. Then I came out with favors and everyone's coats, and the party was done!

I highly recommend that type of party.

Creative-Type Dad said...

That's a lot of kids!

I would have a lottery. The winning kid would get to go and win a Hyundai.

Jane Devin said...

By way of introduction, I just stole your child as my computer wallpaper. Yeah, I'm *that* kind of person - the one who kidnaps innocent avatars for her own amusement.

That said, invite the whole class! Otherwise you'll hurt the feel-bads of little ones. Expect that half or less will actually show up, even if they RSVP, because that's *usually what happens. It's better for parents to break their kids hearts than other kids.

*I offer no guarantees.

Anonymous said...

I love your blog. Seriously. As a rather geriatric mother (as compared to bloggers who left comments):
My rule of thumb (4 boys): a friend for every year of age, with the exception of first grade, when they could invite all the boys in their class.

the MOST IMPORTANT THING: indicate that rides home will be provided. I live in the midwest, and got a couple friends with mini vans to assist. Of course, the carseat rules have changed, but non the less, I wasn't stuck with some kid whose parents decided to go to the mall for an extended afternoon. Also, CLEARLY define the start and end time. 90 minutes is PLENTY for 4 year olds. If you can have it outside, I highly recommend bubbles, a simple scavenger hunt with stuff "hidden" in plain sight.

Good luck.

PS decorating the goody bags takes at least 15 minutes....make them do that themselves. Also, chalk painting the driveway takes another 10-15 minutes.

Agree with the magician or clown. Hire a HS kid.

Good luck again.

PS a good one I did was a dress up chest full of hats, sunglasses, dresses, shoes, etc....they had a boatload of fun--boys and girls alike.


kittenpie said...

A beach party is a great idea - I'm taking that next year!

My numbers are kept to her close friends - so it was3 when she turned 2, 5 or 6 when she turned 4 last year, and I think this year, I may allow up to ten.

Elle Dubya said...

when my daughter turned 4, i had the crazy notion that she needed a BIG party cause she was such a.big.girl now. cue the ginormous inflatable water slide. it got out of hand - quick. once everyone found out what we would be having, every single invite was a YES on the rsvp list. 60 people later (because yes, every frikkin neighbor and family member showed up too), i vowed NEVER to have such a big shindig at my house again. i shudder at the thought.

Gray Matter Matters said...

It's so funny how the party culture is different place to place. We're the exact opposite here. I invited everyone UNTIL he was around 8 and then I let him decide which friends he wanted to invite. If I had never heard their name, off the list they came. And, because as they get older the parents drop them off I was happy that the group was much, much smaller.

I love the idea of "good ol' fashioned" at home parties, but HATE the idea of kids all over the place. To me, it's worth the extra money to keep the mess elsewhere. And the reality is, they won't even remember their 4th, 5th and possibly even 6th birthday. Don't know if that helps or is a depressing thought. :-)

Not Afraid to Use It said...

I got hosed when, three weeks before LittleBird turned four this year, she decided she no longer wanted a pirate party but a princess party. I was sweating it big time. I did NOT want to fall into the stereotype of Disney princess parties. We got it sorted out, but you are totally right. We've only got a year or two left before the politics start. And I am SO not good at politics.

Boston Mamas said...

Well, I have the benefit of being parent to a super shy 4yo who is like a deer in the headlights even if the crowd is my immediate family (though admittedly with 6 siblings, spouses, endless emotional baggage, etc., that's kind of a scene in itself).

Anyhow, I digress. L's first three birthday parties were huge - all of my family and all of our friends with kids her age. It was fun to see everyone but sort of stupid because she wouldn't have known the difference if it was just the three of us at home. Truly, it was more of an excuse for me to make giant cakes (which I really like to do).

For her 4th birthday I smartened up. We went small -- just 4 of her friends -- and it was great.

L. has gone to day care since she was 9 months old, but for some reason I've never worried about the invite everyone thing. There are some families who invite everyone (evident to me by play gym locale and the fact that I have no idea who the kid and parents are) and we don't attend those parties. We basically only attend parties of kids/families we actually have a relationship with, and similarly only extend invites in that way.

Our preschool actually has a rule that kids aren't allowed to talk about birthday parties just for this reason - so no one's feelings are hurt if they aren't invited. I think this is a fantastic rule and may very well suggest it to L's elementary school come fall.