In Defense Of Over-The-Top Kids' Birthday Parties

by Melissa L. Fenton
Originally Published: 
Maya Kruchankova / Shutterstock

I was totally over birthdays. Four kids and countless annual celebrations later, I felt like I was done throwing birthday parties for my kids. I’d had my fill of cakes baked and shaped like baseball gloves, of stuffing trinkets into goodie bags and of all manner of parties where we bounced, bowled, laser-tagged, ski-balled, roller skated, built bears, raced go-karts and pool partied until our hair turned green. It was all the materialism, consumerism, and countless other isms I was more than ready to be done with.

So one year, I just said enough is enough and stopped throwing birthday parties altogether. We all went low-key for a few years: a store-bought sheet cake and takeout pizza at home with just our family became the birthday celebration norm. I may have even given up on digging through kitchen drawers for candles to light. It was all just too much work. As it so often happens to been-there-done-that moms, I became a tad grumpy and a wee bit jaded and, quite honestly, happily complacent in my non-birthday party efforts.

Then I remembered something ridiculously significant that in my indulgent selfishness, I had been sweeping into a corner. Something that stares at me daily, something that knocks me over with both laughter and tears, something so magically enchanting it can never be duplicated in any way, shape or form. And that something was my kids. Having been slapped in the face with the beauty, gift and awesomeness that is their lives, my kids’ lives, I was ready to celebrate—and I mean truly celebrate—them again. I became humbly reminded of what their birthdays really meant. They meant I had been blessed to again experience another year being their mom; to witness my child not just grow, but blossom into this person who made me want to shout to the world, “Look at this amazing human being I am giving to you!” Those feelings of gratefulness and humility did one very important thing: They led me to feel like it was time again to throw my kid an over-the-top kids’ birthday party. They deserved nothing less to celebrate their lives.

So when my son turned 8 recently, I threw him a big birthday party. The youngest kid gets screwed out of enough firsts (because to moms, they are really lasts), and it was high time for me to feel the same excitement over him turning 8 as I did when my oldest turned 8.

First, I did what most mothers and party planners do: I went on Pinterest for party ideas. After the initial shock of pages and pages of what looked like parties thrown by the folks at Martha Stewart, Inc., I decided on a good, old-fashioned birthday party at home, but with the house decked out to the nines with all the free printables I could download. We invited all the kids in his class, and as much as my instinct wanted to keep it to around 10 guests, how could I let some kids miss out on a party?

I spent the weeks leading up to our big bash printing, cutting, gluing and crafting all manner of party accessories. I stuffed goodie bags, hung banners, had a custom cake made and created party games. Every time my son caught me doing something party-related, he would come sit right next to me, smiling ear to ear. “Is this all for me?” he would ask. “Is it OK if we also have relay races? Is it too much to ask that we have some balloons too?” I melted.

The party was two hours of 20 kids squealing and running spastically through my house, and at many points, I wondered, “Should I have hired a nightclub bouncer?” But I had mindfully adjusted my thinking from, “What a mess, what a pain, all this work!” to “Twenty healthy kids laughing their butts off and having a ball, with my son enjoying every second of it? Nothing else matters. Nothing.” I will soon forget about all the preparation, all the expense, and all the work, and I will only be left with the lasting memory of my son blowing out candles surrounded by friends and the fabulous day I was blessed enough to be able to give him.

Do I regret the years of simple, do nothing birthday parties? Absolutely not. At the time, I was doing what I was capable of doing. Necessity and my personal sanity required a level of simplicity that forced our whole family to scale back. Will I continue to throw big birthday bashes for all the kids from now on? Maybe yes, maybe no. If they ask for one, then yes, I will do my best to make that kid feel like a star for a day, no matter the amount of work and inconvenience. On the other hand, if they are happy with going back to our small family celebrations, then that is fine with me too.

But I will tell you one big party I’ll be planning. My oldest is turning 18 next spring, and I see a complete do-over of his 5th birthday party. I hope his friends like ball pits, thin cheese pizza, flat Coke and a big scary mouse named Chuck, because we totally have a picture to reenact.

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