Jewish World Review June 26, 2002 / 16 Tamuz, 5762
Sadly, my mom died of cancer in 1995, when the first of my four children was only 18 months old and baby number two was barely on the way.
But if she were here one of the things I would want to thank her for most, that I only now realize involved untold stress, sacrifice, and anxiety, are all those birthday parties she threw for me as a child.
When I multiply that times three brothers and one sister - I can only think "ouch."
There were no theme extravaganzas at exotic locations, or hiring magicians, which I've done for my little ones I'm embarrassed to say.
Instead it was my mom who did everything. (Dad was great but he wasn't about to take on something the size of the birthday party project.) She planned the games, bought the prizes and goodies for the party-bags, blew up the balloons and decorated like crazy, baked the cake, handled and oversaw all the chaos, and wiped away my tears when I became indignant that I couldn't win the prize after having won the game. (It was apparently against party etiquette for the hostess to do so. Why, I'm not sure.)
Well my 6-year-old had her birthday party today. I had vowed it would be simple. Small. Inexpensive. But as the planning of her event took shape, I started thinking: "Do I want to kill myself in the organization, execution, and management of all those little games and activities where somebody ALWAYS CRIES while my house becomes a disaster area - i.e., the way my mom always did it? Or would I prefer to throw away a lot of money on one of those ready-made theme parties, party favors and all included, held "off-campus" so to speak?
I started dialing.
We ended up at a place at the mall called "Build-a-Bear" where the kids can make their own stuffed animals. I tried hard to steer the pint-sized guests toward the smaller (i.e. cheaper) little bunnies and dogs and such - which they then stuff, and name, and dress and so on. To no avail. Pretty soon I was spending the equivalent of a small mortgage payment on a bunch of stuffed animals which I could have picked up at the toy store for next-to-nothing.
But then I did a REALLY dumb thing. I entered the worst of both worlds. The expensive off-site party - followed by the kids back at MY HOUSE for cake and ice cream (and to turn the place into a disaster area). My 6-year-old is something of a homebody and she really wanted at least part of her party back at the ranch.
She also wanted a homemade cake. I thought that alone was asking a lot, and I did everything I could to talk her out of it, but no luck. Needless to say, the cake came from a box. Sorry Mom.
But even all that is not the worst part of children's birthday parties for me. Instead, it's that I'm always terrified that any big - or little - problem could upset the party and, I guess by extension, my child's formative years. So for instance, I literally lay awake the night before the bash anxious that one of my daughter's little guests would not be able to attend at the last minute. (A 6-year-old does not accept life threatening illness as an excuse for missing her birthday party.)
I found myself calling all the moms the day before, on a variety of flimsy excuses, to confirm the attendance of their little lines. Something I would never have done for one of my own dinner parties. Thankfully, every peanut-sized guest showed up.
Most important, my 6-year-old was thrilled with it all.
I don't know if I can keep this up. Actually, I don't want to keep this up. I keep vowing things will be different, especially as my two younger ones, now three and one, reach the "party stage."
But for now all I can say for sure is "thanks, Mom."
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