Monday, April 22, 2013

Of jump castles, Barbie cakes and registry redux

The brilliant Scary Mommy stole my thunder today.

By which I mean Karen Alpert scooped my would-be theme, the out of hand toddler/preschooler birthday party phenomenon. And she did it really well, so you should pop over there and read her piece about ten reasons birthday parties suck.

They don't all suck, of course. We've attended a few good ones recently. It's amazing what you can learn at kids' parties.

At a Barbie party, I learned we'd get to lick the frosting from between Barbie's legs! (For the uninitiated, one can procure a pink cake in the form of a ball gown with a Barbie doll submerged to her waist in the pastry and frosting dress).

It got better.

"How?" (You might ask.)

Answer: a pinata! With Barbie's picture on it.

So after molesting the doll, the kids could take turns whacking a picture of a woman with a big stick until she put out (candy).

Note to self: Barbie parties have strong anti-feminist undertones.

But the kids loved it. And it was over by noon. And they served coffee. So it was, in birthday party terms, a huge win.

At another recent good one, the hosts had the brilliant idea to feed the kids outdoors, which spared all the parents present from hyperventilating about spilling tomato sauce, punch, and frosting all over their beautiful new home.

The Grape gets invited to his fair share of birthday parties, and thankfully, the vast majority we've attended haven't sucked. I credit myself  for choosing his friends from the offspring of people who possess common sense. I do worry about what will happen when he starts picking his own pals, because I refuse to participate in the competitive party insanity.

My friends, thusly armed with common sense, understand the one simple rule for making a child's birthday party not suck: Provide adult beverages. The aforementioned coffee is great during the am hours, but wine is essential anytime after noon. This, unlike most statements that appear in this space, is not my opinion. It is a fact.

Danger: Walked uphill through the snow, fighting off bears with lunchbox moment ahead.

My siblings and I got by without our parents hiring Broadway caliber entertainers, ordering desserts that cost more than the average wedding cake, getting hysterical about booking venues half a year out, or losing sleep over the perfect theme.

I figure that the Grape (slated to turn four this summer), will be good with a few friends and an ice cream cake, just like he had last year. Because if his guests want fancy custom favors, a trained sea lion or a made to order sushi bar, they've got another think coming.

Ms. Alpert nailed it with her candor on the evils of treat bags, the parents who can't get it together to respond to invitations, and those moms who spend days or weeks on Pinterest trying to perfect their Elmo cupcakes.

And I almost cried tears of joy when she whipped out the ever-tacky birthday party registry. I find shameless shakedowns for presents unappetizing under almost all circumstances. Call me old fashioned, but I think specific gifts, like tips, should be accepted instead of expected.

When it comes to having the three to seven year old set register their product demands on the Internet for the whole world to see, my stomach turns and I fear for the future of our society. That sentiment goes doubly for parents of tots whose stated demands start in the fifty dollar per item range.

Mercifully, the Grape and I have yet to be invited to a child's birthday event with a gift registry. We'd need to decline, and I suppose then I'd be forced to explain my philosophical reasons in toddler terms. "You can't go because Junior's parents suck don't share our values are materialistic monsters . Aaarrggh. You just can't go."

The one area where I break with Ms. Alpert concerns her first point. I understand her reservations about jump castles, and I can see that having a band of three-year-olds leaping for joy while coated in vomit might cause a parent to re-evaluate her opinion about this wildly popular form of small child entertainment.

But I love those jump castles. The Grape L-O-V-E-S loves them too. And nothing burns a sugar high like jumping up and down like a maniac. So if you have room for one, by all means, get one for your little darling's party.

And don't write me and tell me they're dangerous, or that so and so broke his arm/ankle/nose in one. Lots of really fun things in life carry some measure of risk, and to me the payoff of the jump castle, measured in terms of both calories burned and in pure joy, outweighs the risk of a possible ER visit.

Just please, if your kid is a known puker, steer him towards another activity.


  1. I liked that post, too. And yours! I have such mixed feelings about parties. Nice to celebrate? Yes! But it's all so over the tops. My 4-year-old came home from a party last week with a goodie bag that was nicer than the present we gave in the first place.

    1. That happened to us recently too. But I don't want to step up gift giving because then where does it end?