My recession baby

Everyone knows that parents of kids with summer and early fall birthdays face a dilemma the year their kids turn five.  Hold or send?  Send or hold?  Some kids are physically mature enough but socially immature.  Others have the social thing down but can’t handle the academics.  And still other five-year-olds are reading on a tenth grade level and teaching an SAT prep class but won’t be able to keep up at recess.  Such are the drawbacks of the late summer/early fall birthday.  However, there is another deeper, more heart-wrenching challenge these kids face.

The birthday party.

Will anyone come to the party if it’s in the middle of the summer?  Who do you invite to a birthday party when the new school year has just begun – the old class, the new class, or all 45 of them?  And can the child enjoy himself at a party with a group that hasn’t been playing together for two months, or will he get completely overwhelmed by a group dynamic that has grown unfamiliar?

You people whose kids were conveniently born in March and April have no idea how easy you have it.  By spring, even if you are in the “Invite the Whole Class” camp, you can keep the numbers reasonable by just inviting the current class plus kids from past classes with whom your child has remained friends.  Those of us facing JulythroughSeptember birthdays still have to include the last year’s class, and, since the new preschool class has just begun, we also need to include the whole new class.

This is how we ended up having Benjamin’s third birthday party at one of those kiddie gym places where there is plenty of room, plus a staff that flies the kids around on zip wires and leads them in a rousing game of throw-balls-at-the-adults.  We simply could not fit twenty kids plus their adults at our house unless everyone took turns sitting on the roof.

But, HOLY SHIT are those places expensive here in Los Angeles. Perhaps you have been to one in your hometown of Boise or Baltimore or Brighton.  Lemme tell you something: those places cost twice as much in L.A.

Like every fucking thing else.

We spent three times on Benjamin’s birthday party what I think the outer limit of a kid’s birthday party ought to be.  And we felt suckered into it, because we did not want to exclude children.  We find the practice of inviting some three-year-olds but not others can really bruise feelings, so we invited both last year’s class and the brand-new-one.  We just couldn’t see a way out of inviting thirty-three kids, which meant we ended up spending (cough, cough) on that damned party.

Imagine our relief when Zachary told us that for his fifth birthday, he wanted a party in the backyard with six friends.  And that he wanted to do recycled art.  And he wanted Daddy to make the cupcakes.

“You can have one fancy thing,” I told him.

His eyes got wide, almost afraid to ask.  “Can I have Pin the Tail on the Donkey?”  Yes, child, you can indeed have Pin the Tail on the Donkey.

We decided to do the party in the middle of August, even though his birthday is not for a few weeks.  It was a little hard deciding how many to invite, because we had no idea how many would come, but on Sunday, we had six guests plus our three kids.  Some parents dropped off, but most stayed.  We hired the thirteen-year-old from up the street to run the art table.  We had been saving toilet paper rolls, boxes, and egg cartons for months, and Zach had helped cut out hundreds of magazine pictures for collages, to be done on the backs of those cardboard rectangles that the cleaner uses to fold my husband’s shirts.

Grandma and Grandpa flew in for the event, as the birthday boy had called in March just to invite them.  That’s my kid – always planning ahead.

It was probably the cheapest birthday party in West L.A. this entire summer, even though we splurged and bought a piñata that we filled with Hot Wheels and Hershey Kisses.  It was also just the party that Zach wanted.  Small, calm, and topped off with a suspenseful game of Pass the Parcel.

It was one of those rare days I get to feel like I am doing it right.DSC05403

21 responses to “My recession baby

  1. Way to go Zach sounds like the parties we throw (well so far minus the art project) but I am a believer in small family and close friend b-day parties. My kids just dont need tons of stuff!

  2. We always did the home-made parties and our kids’s jaded little friends who had been Chuckie Cheesed and Gymboreed since birth were THRILLED to go on treasure hunts and do silly fishing games and things. That said, we made an early rule that kids were allowed to invite whatever number of kids equaled the age they were turning – with a small amount of wriggle room. It’s the only thing that kept me sane and us solvent!

    Sounds like this party was fantastic!

  3. I only allowed my kids to invite 5 kids to their birthday parties. It’s just how much I can handle. I don’t think that it’s the number of kids that makes a birthday party fun, it’s what you do for you kid.

  4. I feel your pain. My twins had their birthday last week. And just so you know, winter birthdays aren’t all they’re cracked up to be either. My oldest’s birthday always falls during February vacation, which means that she rarely if ever had her friend-party on her birthday (and that we always have two parties).

    Fortunately, the middle one’s birthday falls in October, when everyone still likes each other, and her friends are generally the older siblings of the boys friends. Last year we had a big party for all of them, which isn’t as painful if it’s for three kids.

  5. Kids like parties, they like art, they like sugar. Sounds like you hit a home run all around!

  6. I have thus far managed to escape the kid party. My 4-year-old didn’t understand them until recently, preferring parties with her grandparents. Next year I will not get off so easily. And sadly, as her birthday is in February and we live in the Pacific Northwest we need to keep it indoors, and that will probably mean going someplace else.

    My son’s birthday is in August, but he just turned 1. My sister’s birthday is just a week after his, and when we were growing up we had the opposite problem. Nobody came, since they were all off on vacation, soaking up the last of summer. We’ll have to see how it plays out for my own late summer baby, though.

  7. Sounds perfect to me. Having a birthday right before Christmas is not ideal either. Give me summer any day!

    I did one big party and invited the class when he was in kindergarten. We asked the kids to bring donations to the local animal shelter instead of gifts, because my kid certainly didn’t need 20 gifts right before Christmas. He’s an only child and does quite well around here.

    My son was so excited about the donations, but then only two out of the 20 did what he wanted. Why? Because their mommies were afraid that their boys would be so disappointed if they didn’t give a real gift. It was all about their kids, after all.

    Since then, it’s six or eight kids that are his true friends, and we have it here or take them to the movies and pizza.

    So glad your boy had a great party!!!

  8. Aaaah. West L.A. Now I get it. Several of your posts just came together. It can be a hard place to raise kids, have friends… all of it. I understand.


  9. “You can have one fancy thing,” I told him.

    His eyes got wide, almost afraid to ask. “Can I have Pin the Tail on the Donkey?”

    I think I might die from the cuteness of that. I love your kids – they’re all so nice. A testament to your and J’s parenting. 🙂

    As for the expense . . . God I don’t even want to think about it. I’m trying to remember what my mom did for us. I think we did the school class thing with cupcakes at a park, and then a bigger party with a few kids (4 or 5) at home. And we were forbidden from talking about the bigger party at school because of the hurt feelings issue. (LOL, I remember that part vividly: the no-talking-about-it rule. Man, that was HARD. Jenna talked about it one year to some kids who weren’t invited and Mom cancelled her party. None of us ever whispered anything about it after that!)

    I don’t think we ever had “big” parties per se, though. Mom was big on sleepovers, which I guess would be relatively inexpensive (although the toll on her sanity must have been huge).

  10. Oh, but I love the summer birthday…

    I just told my 5-year old to pick her three best buddies and we had it here at the house.

  11. I’m a September birthday, and I always remember that feeling of having a birthday in the beginning of a school year when you don’t know anyone yet! But the good news is – when your kids are older, they will just remember the fun parties (and hello! summer=beach/pool parties! 🙂 not the stress of planning. That stress is reserved for momma. hehe

  12. Oh, Ben is an August baby and I was born in July. I feel your pain.

  13. i’m a big fan of parties at the house, but nearly everybody else here does the big party places.

  14. The best bday party I’ve been to was a backyard one.

  15. I have a September birthday and I always felt bad that new friends I made that year who invited me to their parties later in the year hadn’t been invited to mine earlier.

    I was just thinking today about my daughter’s future birthday parties. She was born in February and since we live in Wisconsin we won’t be able to use our big backyard for the parties. I was wondering how many kids could fit in our basement or would we have to have her parties in a public place.

    It sounds like you had a great birthday for your son. Kids appreciate small pleasures. Cake and friends and pin the tail on the donkey make a perfect birthday. Throw in a pinata and it is THE party of the year!

  16. I think I adore your kid. We managed to get away with a small thing for the fifth birthday party this year. My oldest is where the problem is. Besides having ridiculously expensive tastes, she also has a December birthday, so we try and go big, so she doesn’t feel like Christmas took over her birthday.

  17. What a great birthday. I’ll have to keep that one in mind! With kids so young, we’ve always invited our own friends and their kids. Now that Yago is in school and turning three, I think he may have more of an opinion soon…
    With October and November birthdays, I will probably combine them for the boys until they’re old enough to object!

  18. Planning kids parties is worse than dealing with tantrums and potty training (in my opinion) — and you handled this party situation BEAUTIFULLY. GO YOU!

  19. That’s the kind of party I like! Way to go Zachary! When my kids were small we had a birthday party in the park at the end of summer. Lots of people use our local park that way and it’s so easy and simple because there is enough space for any number of kids and their parents. It’s free except for food. And we could invite all and sundry. When my kids got to be school-age and no longer wanted that kind of thing, we went for a small Zachary style party at home. It’s worked so far.

  20. I actually love the summer birthday b/c I feel like I can get away with so much more (limiting invites, especially). We have always walked the line between keeping things small & simple but making sure our kids feel celebrated. The twins turned 7 in late July & we’ve managed (I think) to celebrate well each year but without all the hoopla/materialism/ expense I just don’t believe in. This year’s party setting– a local public park with a splash pad. We kept the guest list small & had pizzas delivered & ice cream cake. Asked for no presents. Gave no goodie bags– just a homemade crown for each kid.

  21. p.s. There is a thought among some child development experts that a kid’s party guest list should only include the number of guests a child is turning: four for a four-year-old, five for a five-year-old, etc. etc. Take it or leave it, but it is an interesting thought. I totally understand why a family wants to be inclusive but it may not always be best.

    I DO know that one of the trigger places for my highly sensitive fella is birthday parties as they tend to be frenetic & can get far too overwhelming for him. I can see why small numbers would work far better for him. Also, we could never, ever drop him off at a party currently. One of us must always go with him. We also make the choice not to attend every party to which my three boys get invited.