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.