The 9 Circles of Children's Birthday Party Hell

by Tracy Charlton
Originally Published: 
A retro illustrated children's party with a group of kids playing and an upset mom

Kids’ birthday parties always sound so fun in the abstract. Maybe it’s that they’re a guilt-free way to avoid weekend errands for a few hours and at the same time load up on sugary cake. While most of them are fine, over the years there have been some real doozies. In escalating order of awfulness, here they are:

#9 Princess Party

When my son was in preschool he was invited to a little girl’s birthday party where the main draw was a young woman dressed as Cinderella who sang songs to the children and handed out press-on tattoos. My son took one look at her, burst into tears and said, “What’s fun about THAT?!” before making a run for the door. Everyone was (relatively) understanding—he was only 4, so funny how gender differences can show up so early, ha, ha, ha! The parents never spoke to us again.

#8 Nothing To Do Party

So many children’s birthday parties are over-stuffed with activities that can turn them into a relentless sensory overload. There was one party, however, at which there was nothing to do. It was held in a park without a playground.

Once everyone arrived, the children sat on the ground and watched the birthday girl open her presents, which she wouldn’t allow anyone to play with. Then they sang her “Happy Birthday,” were given a small cupcake and sent on their way. “Are we going to the party now?” asked my son, confused, when we got to the car. At least by then he had learned to wait until after the (non) party to speak up.

#7 Wrong Party

While still new at my son’s preschool, we went to a party in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Basically, on a spring weekend in Golden Gate Park there are about 20 birthday parties lined up next to each other. While passing a group where the kids seemed to be the same age, my son ran up to another boy and started playing.

At the same time, one of the moms introduced herself and handed me a Heineken and a yummy chicken skewer. Clearly, we were in the right place. I was in the middle of a very pleasant chat with another mom about the dive bars we used to go to back when we both lived in New York City, when someone I knew came and dragged me over to the correct party. Where there was no beer, the hot dogs were cold, and my son suddenly lost interest in playing with any of the kids.

#6 Pool Party

These can be fun and relaxing and before you know it you’re sitting and chatting with another parent, sipping a lemonade in the sun, when suddenly you realize you have no idea where your kid is and jump up, fully expecting to find him lying on the bottom of the pool. And then, after several heart-pounding minutes of frantically searching for your missing child, someone tells you that your son went inside the house an hour ago to play video games.

#5 Scary Movie Party

All the boys were super excited to see The Hobbit, which if not exactly for grown-ups was a hit with the “big kids” at the middle school. Twenty minutes and approximately 100 Orc decapitations later, half the kids were in the lobby, terrified. At the pizza parlor afterwards one of the boys re-enacted the movie by pretending to stab the other kids to death, leading to more tears. Thankfully the party was finally over and I was able to get home and tuck my exhausted child into bed. Only to have him wake me up in the middle of the night because he had a nightmare about the movie.

#4 Bowling Party

What idiot invites ten boys under the age of nine to a bowling alley? Where they all immediately grab bowling balls, hide them under their shirts and start banging each other with their “pregnant” stomachs?

As soon as that was stopped, they started having a contest to see who could throw the ball the highest in the air and still catch it. Then they just started hitting each other with the bowling balls.

Oh, yeah. That idiot would be me. Somehow everyone survived, although the next day my husband called our insurance company and raised our umbrella policy.

#3 Too Much Sugar

Step One: Invite 50—count ’em—kids.

Step Two: Place bowls of cookies and candy around the room.

Step Three: Have only one activity for the kids to do: roll around inside a gigantic ball. After eating nothing but sugar, they will fight over this like rats swarming a New York City garbage can.

Step Four: Offer pizza only after the party has been going for several hours and there are now kids alternately collapsed in heaps on the ground crying or racing around the room yelling at the top of their lungs.

Step Five: Give each and every one of them a large piece of cake to go with the rest of the sugar they’ve been eating all afternoon.

Step Six: Send them home to their parents.

#2 Injuries

One lovely couple we knew invited 50 kids—there’s that number again—and rented the world’s smallest jumpy house. For the next few hours, every two minutes some kid was emerging from the jumpy house crying and holding his or her head. By the end of the party, seemingly every child—and there were lot of them—was injured. Both of the parents were doctors. I still wonder, was it just not a party for them if it didn’t feel a little bit like the ER?

#1 Everything Went Wrong Party

Naturally the worst children’s birthday party I ever attended was one that I hosted. No, we didn’t invite 50 kids, but we did invite 25 boys. Learning from our friends’ mistake, we then rented the largest jumpy house anyone had ever seen. It was so large, it blocked out all the light in the back of our house, giving the gathering a strange, doomsday feeling.

One of the mothers, who was a bartender when she was in college, started making margaritas. Pretty soon all the moms were sitting inside getting blotto while their kids ran wild. Fights broke out. Kids jumped the fence into our neighbors’ yard, unbolted the gate and tried to get out into the road. One of the guests brought an Irish Wolfhound—the largest dog in the world, about the size of a small pony—which freaked everyone out.

Completely overwhelmed, my husband and I ran around averting small crisis after small crisis for the entire party. When the last guest left 5 hours later—that’s right, 5 HOURS—the three of us collapsed onto our couch too tired to move. “Next year can I just take a couple of my friends to the mini-golf course?” asked my son. Done.

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