The first birthday party I can remember is when I turned 5 years old. My mother hired Raggedy Ann to come to my party ($25, at the time, a real expense) and I was so frightened by this real-life doll that I spent the entire party crying, sitting next to my grandmother on the piano bench. I seem to recall my sister, six years my senior, making fun of me and getting to play the coveted role of Raggedy Ann’s assistant (since I was totally freaked out), but all of my friends had a wonderful time. My mom made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on bread that she ordered in different colors (since no one was allergic to wheat, eggs, dairy, nuts, soy, food coloring, or oxygen in those days), and there were always one or two kids who were afraid of the bread, so they had to have their lunch on plain white bread. I don’t remember the cake, don’t remember the goody bags, I just remember I never played with my Raggedy Ann doll again…ever. My other parties ranged from bowling to sleepovers and my famous “We are 22 and still single” Shabbos birthday at my parent’s house. Ten single Stern College graduates (oy, the horror!) at my home for the weekend, and it was really fun. And then my kids came along…
Making a birthday party for your child is never an easy thing to do. If his birthday falls out during winter vacation you have to work around the exotic travel schedules of his classmates. Yes, we know you just came home from the Atlantis, but humor my son and pretend that little Billy really wants to see the magician we hired. In regard to that particular party, the original magician we hired decided to go on a ski trip with his friends so he found us a replacement. I am pretty sure this guy is on a watch list somewhere, but hey, the price was right and the kids had fun! (Though, when I look back at those photos I think “thank goodness no one had anything to report to mom and dad.”)
Then we have the kid whose birthday falls out right before school starts. One parent wants to do the right thing and invite the entire class; the other parent wants to do the smart thing and only invite the kids who hang out with my child on a regular basis. And the correct answer is…44 boys at Votee Park, rain or shine, for a good old-fashioned game of kickball and follow around the kids who are more interested in eating the dirt then playing in it. Fun for everyone!!
And then there were those classic movie parties. First you have to make sure the movie is less than 90 minutes. After 90 minutes you have no one watching the movie. The perfect birthday party for little kids needs to be a perfectly scheduled and coordinated symphony in order to avoid temper tantrums, food fights, or unplanned naps. One hour and fifteen minutes. Get them in, sit them down, put on Spongebob Takes Manhattan, feed them while watching the movie so they can’t complain about the size of the pizza, give them less than six ounces of water so no one makes in his pants, start singing “Happy Birthday” before the movie is over, give everyone a cupcake and hope to God that the parents show up on time. Now that, my friends, is the perfect party.
There are always going to be the parents who make the party at “a place”–a place that bounces, a place that has karaoke, a place that has baking or arts and crafts or pony rides…as long as the kids get some good candy in the goody bag, everyone goes home a winner, except for the parent that overpaid for an 8-year-old’s party. Save your money for the bar and bat mitzvahs because that is when the real conspicuous consumption comes into play. My son came home from a weekend bar mitzvah with a yarmulke for every season, a set of luggage and a gift card for a free weekend at any Hilton in the United States and Puerto Rico! (I am kidding, sort of…) But it is a simcha and simchas are important and necessary and should be celebrated.
The whole theme of this column started when I got an e-vite to Tamar’s birthday party. I don’t know who Tamar is, but I thought it was so nice of her parents to invite me, even though she is only going to be 6 and I am 44. I was all ready to respond yes, but I thought that might be creepy (though I am pretty sure they are serving ice cream cake, how can I say no to that?), so I called the parents and told them they had made a mistake. The father, very apologetic replied, “Oh no, if we invited you, what other mistakes did we make?” Kind of makes me want to see what kind of party that one turns out to be!
Banji Ganchrow is a writer whose most memorable party was for her 40th birthday when husband #1 surprised her with a limo ride full of friends to see a Rick Springfield concert. It became even more memorable when Rick gave her a Happy Birthday hug...
By Banji Latkin Ganchrow