Call me a crotchety oldster (get off my lawn!), but I’m not a fan of children’s birthday parties — for my own kids or anybody else’s. Maybe it’s rooted in the fact that I never really had a great birthday party experience as a child. One year I broke my finger; one year I was the new kid at school and literally the only person not invited to the birthday bash of the most popular boy in the fourth grade.
But whatever the reason, I didn’t miraculously develop a newfound love for them once I became an adult. Unfortunately for my offspring (who only get a cake and presents with the family at home, the poor deprived creatures), I still groan inwardly when I pull a festive invitation from their backpacks or my mailbox. And seeing as I have four school-aged children, that happens far more often than I’d prefer.
The shit gets tiring. My children have at least 20 classmates apiece, so no matter what time of year it is, someone is always throwing a birthday party. I swear we get at least one invitation a week, and of course, it’s always one my kid will be simply devastated if he doesn’t attend. That means we’re obligated to RSVP, which brings me to the first point of awkwardness. I don’t know most of the parents, so calling them makes my inner-introvert shrivel up like a salted slug. (Shout-out to the parents who specify to text an RSVP. That’s what’s up.)
The second point of awkwardness? The “Should I stay, or should I go?” question. It’s something the invitation rarely specifies. I never know whether to drop my kid off and dash out (yay), or stay the entire time, making cringe-worthy attempts at small talk and eating up a valuable chunk of my Saturday (blah).
As much as I love to watch my kiddos having a good time, I’d rather do it by taking them to the movies or the park — not watching a child I don’t know rip into a mound of presents, and especially not weekend after weekend, for party after party. I like to keep some time free for my own social activities (let’s pretend parents of young children have some sort of social life, mkay?). My desire to hang out at a strange kid’s birthday celebration ranks right up there with my desire to, say, have my armpit hairs plucked out one by one.
Also, lots of birthday parties means lots of gifts to purchase. But when I’m over here buying my wardrobe from the clearance rack and treating gum like a luxury, the last thing I want to do is fork over the money to buy a brand-new whatzit that I’ll never see in use. And I’m never sure what to buy anyway. Since the majority of the parties are for kids whom my children only hang out with at school, I get a blank stare when I ask them what their friend is really into. What if they already own this Shopkin or that LEGO set? I try to reach a compromise between cheapness and awesomeness. I don’t want my kids to be the notorious givers of crappy gifts, but I also don’t want to allocate an entire workweek’s worth of funds to other kids’ toy hoards when I could be buying awesome things for my family, like electricity and groceries.
Another joyful thing about multiple kids is that when one is at a party and the others aren’t, I get to field the whines of, “Not faaair,” and “This is boooring,” as though they didn’t just attend a friend’s birthday blowout at the Pizza-Palooza. The non-partying children act as though they’re being cruelly forced to toil away in a roadside chain gang while their sibling gets some sort of preferential treatment. And when said sibling comes home, he’s all hopped up on sugar and gushing about the great time he had, which doesn’t make the grumpies any less grumpy.
To top it off, the kid is usually in possession of a goody bag containing pencils or candy or toy cars or googly eye glasses — treasures that my kids will inevitably argue over, leaving me to moderate negotiations and say things like, “Those are your brother’s googly glasses,” and “If you don’t want your brother to play with the googly glasses then don’t tease him with them,” and “Let’s just put the googly glasses away for a while before I stomp them to bits and nobody has any damn googly glasses anymore.”
I’m sure there are viable solutions. I could start making my kids attend only the parties thrown by their closest friends. I could get a stash of $10 gift cards and start giving those. I could stock up on birthday gifts whenever there’s a clearance sale and save myself some money in the long run. I could move to a remote area and start homeschooling everybody and never again make contact with the outside world. You know, just exploring all my options.
Or maybe I’ll just have them start giving their friends gum. I mean, if it’s a luxury to me, it ought to be a great gift — right? And if not, at least maybe that’ll make those birthday party invitations come fewer and farther between.
This article was originally published on