I threw what will probably be my last official “kid” birthday party this past weekend. After 17 years of throwing these parties, I kind of looked at this as my farewell tour. And I will admit, the temptation to “go big” was intense. But instead of fighting this urge, I made a rookie mistake. I did something I try to never, ever do. I went on Pinterest.
Birthday parties are supposed to be joyous occasions – a celebration of the day when, after nine long months and the most painful hours of your life, you finally gave birth to that sweet, snuggly little baby who went on to grow up into someone who routinely broke your favorite things and colored on the walls. (Yes, it is one of life’s greatest ironies.)
But every year we do it…for each kid. And with the emergence of sites like Pinterest and Etsy (i.e., places where perfect people showcase their perfection) the pressure just seems to grow. It used to be that a really good birthday party would be at Chuck E. Cheese. Or maybe at your friend’s pool. These days, birthday parties make my head spin. There are party ideas for one-year olds on Pinterest that are more involved than my wedding was. I’m not saying don’t throw your one-year old a party. I’m just saying that if you’re going to throw an elaborate party for kids who are going to trash your house and possibly throw up on your living room rug, at least wait until their 21st birthday when they can help you clean up the next day. Same result. More opportunity to make them feel bad about it.
In my case, Girl 3 was turning 11. This is a weird, sweet, awkward age when they don’t know whether to talk about boy bands or play dress-up and usually do a little bit of each. This year, she wanted a unicorn theme, but when asked what she wanted for her birthday by no fewer than three friends’ parents, she responded with “cash.” Like I said, 11 is a weird purgatory between childhood and the teen years, resulting in things like “capitalist unicorn enthusiasts.”
But if she wanted unicorns, I was going to give her unicorns. However, as it turns out, I know very little about unicorns and don’t have a natural inclination towards unicorn-related arts – culinary or otherwise. That’s where Pinterest came in. “Just a quick glance,” I thought, “I’ll get some ideas and run with them.” Within five minutes, my head was on fire. According to Pinterest, I was going to need a lot of fondant, at least $40,000 in actual gold leaf, a real unicorn (or, at the very least, the horn if that’s all I could get my hands on) and glitter…lots and lots of glitter.
The problem with Pinterest is that the farther you go down the rabbit hole (or the unicorn rainbow sparkle magic tunnel, as it were), the worse you feel. For Exhibit A, I give you the Unicorn Theme. As it turns out, balloon arches aren’t just for prom anymore. Likewise, you’re going to need to brush up on your calligraphy, because you’ll need to make cute, framed signs and/or chalkboards to label everything. Why label things, you ask? Shouldn’t it all be self-explanatory? No. It is not, because, apparently, unicorn bi-products are popular for both consumption and crafting. And these things need to be explained.
Example: Unicorn poop (rainbow colored slime) and unicorn snot (pink glitter slime) are both popular craft / take home items. For snacks, you can choose from unicorn horns (frosted, sprinkled ice cream cones), unicorn droppings (rainbow colored jelly beans) and my personal favorite, unicorn fur (pink and blue cotton candy).
I’m guessing this is why no one ever throws a badger themed party.
After what turned into a few hours on Pinterest and even longer wallowing in self-loathing, followed by frantic Amazon prime searches because I had not allowed myself the requisite 18-months of crafting, felting and rainbow unicorn feces production time, I threw in the towel. Because here’s the thing…
After 17 years of birthday parties, I’ve learned a thing or two. Mostly: Kids. Don’t. Care. It doesn’t matter how many Pinterest boards you scour or how many times you watch the fondant tutorial on YouTube, at the end of the day, kids just want cake, ice cream, presents that they can all play with once unwrapped, and plenty of space to throw things at one another. This is true whether they’re turning one or 21 (please see references to “21st birthday” above.)
As parents, we have to start being honest with ourselves. Who are we doing this for? Are we doing it for the kids? For ourselves? For our Pinterest followers? Or for the other parents? There is no wrong answer here. It really comes down to what makes you happy in terms of the lengths you’re willing or able to go to. If making felt banners with hand-cut letters and decorating your house to look like a senior prom makes you happy and you don’t have to mortgage your house to do it, then go for it. And, please, invite me, because I think you’re amazing and I would like an excuse to get away from the piles of dirty laundry currently decorating my house. But, if the pressure to live up to all of this is stressing you out, then give yourself a break.
I refuse to keep believing that my kids’ parties have to be a drain on my time, energy or budget. One of my favorite birthday parties as a kid was the year my parent’s let me have a sleepover. I can’t even remember who was there. We had a small house and I had three siblings, so I’m guessing it wasn’t more than four or five other girls. But my mom ordered a stack of pizzas, we rented “The Three Amigos” on VHS (still one of my all-time favorite movies) and we slept on sleeping bags in the living room. There were no hand crafted decorations or balloons. There were no goodie bags or elaborate take-home crafts. It was just good, old-fashioned sleepover fun. And it was awesome.
Remember, effort does not always equal love to a kid. How many times have we gone overboard to make something “special” only to have them be too tired, bored, hungry, preoccupied, etc. to even notice our efforts. Focus on your kids, let them and their guests play, let them eat some junk food, and I promise you, they’ll have their best birthday yet.
I say all of this to say, I LOVE a good party. And, I adore Pinterest pictures. But I also know that I’m not that mom. After 17 years of parties, I know this. I accept it. I even embrace it. My girls have actually started an informal competition in which, every year, they discuss who had the biggest disaster of a birthday cake. Was it the year that I dropped the cake and then tried to put the icing back on it? Was it the year I attempted an ice cream cake and it melted into a leaning Tower of Pisa? Or was it the year I attempted to make chocolate cake from scratch and it, and I quote, “tasted like soap”? It’s hard to say, really.
All I know is that while some parties have been more elaborate than others, and some have just been a bunch of girls giggling into the wee hours in my basement, my kids have had fun. They remember each party for what it was intended for – to celebrate them.
This year, our unicorn party was saved by unicorn themed party products from Target, a free custom printable unicorn invitation thanks to the internet, a couple of Costco pizzas and, yes, I admit, a Pinterest recipe for Unicorn Rainbow Poop Slime. The latter of which leads one to believe that rainbows eat a diet primarily consisting of glue, glitter and Borax. Don’t ask.
The next day, as I walked into the kitchen, I was blinded by the hot pink glint of sunlight striking the pounds of glitter that are now permanently wedged into my floorboards. A dozen unicorns smiled at me from the plastic tablecloth covering the dining room table. And I tripped on at least five balloons that had come down from their carefully taped positions on the walls. A few minutes later, eight bleary-eyed, bed headed girls made their way to the table, still giggling, still gossiping, still playing with their glittery slime. And while none of my party pictures are likely to ever make it to Pinterest, I know that this party will be remembered – because my girl, although almost grown, knows that she is loved.