Warped values: only $12.50 per child, cake included!
By Kelley Cunningham
Birthday parties have nothing to do with kids anymore. It’s all about the parents showing off and pretending they’re doing it in the name of Fun™.
I’ve been to countless catered, well-planned preschool birthday parties and nobody has any Fun™. Unless there’s an open bar in the kitchen, that is. Whatever happened to Pin-The-Tail and warm Kool-Aid?
Pick up any of those magazines that are free for the taking at the pediatrician’s office or the preschool, like Mommy Guilt or Parenting Pressure. Check out the classifieds. The dizzying array of birthday party choices available can make your head spin. Should you hire a petting zoo, a starving actor dressed up as Spiderman, a moonwalk? Are two-year-olds too young for ballroom dance lessons? This is crazy, you think. I’ll just have a few kids over for musical chairs.
Good luck bucking the trend! If your child has been invited to every birthday party, you too must invite the entire preschool class. Don’t forget siblings, cousins and neighbors as well. Unless you live on the Disney Cruise ship you’ll soon be looking for a Fun Place™ to have the party.
If one can quantify folly and charade these Fun Places™ would rank right up there with Catherine the Great’s tour through Russia. Happiness is paraded before you and misery is hidden behind the happy serfs making balloon animals.
The worst is Chuck E. Cheese. There’s something about an ex-felon wearing an enormous papier-mâché mouse head that gives me the creeps. It’s our fate to be mothers in the age of vomit-encrusted plastic tube mazes and piss-scented ball pits.
I still shudder when I think about my last trip across the River Styx for my son’s friend’s birthday party. I watched in horror as a child rifled through the sticking pyramid of socks by the ball pit, trying to find his own. He methodically sniffed each one until he somehow found his own particular note of foot odor.
I looked around to see if any other parent noticed so we could share a “did you just see that?” commiserating glance. But all the other parents were walking around dazed, struggling to find a happy place they could go to in their heads in order to endure this waking nightmare.
Grossed out by Chuck E. Cheese? Then consider renting a party room in your local ersatz children’s museum. You know the type of place: someone gets hold of an old fire truck and a sand table and hangs out a shingle. Recently I was forced to drag my son to a party at one of these florescent-lit mini-hells.
The cacophony of screaming children and the blasting loud choruses of Baby Beluga instantly made me put on my “Let Me Just Get Through This” face. I looked at my watch, calculating the earliest possible socially acceptable time to split. I had ninety minutes to kill.
Trying to make the best of it, my son and I became absorbed by the “Make Your Own Moon Crater” table. This involved dropping a rubber ball into a vat of baking powder. I was mesmerized. Finally, I looked up and noticed my son had wandered off.
I joined the clusterfuck of parents asking “have you seen Cody? Cassidy? Cara? Caitlin?” A blaring loudspeaker shattered my trance. “Will the friends and family of… Connor… please report to Party Room Number Seven to sing Happy Birthday to… Connor!”
I found my son in Party Room Number Seven eating his endangered species animal crackers and trying his best with the accompanying educational activity. Hey kids! Help Koko find her way out of the Jungle Maze before the poacher sees her! All items were conveniently provided by a birthday decoration catalog. I guess Connor has a fetish for mountain gorillas and his mom just went with it.
Then it was time for the piñata. Why haven’t these stupid things been outlawed? They never break apart, the kids start crying and Dad just winds up pulling the Tootsie Rolls out of the donkey’s ass and throwing them on the floor. Or in this case, a Mountain Gorilla’s ass.
I looked at all the other adults checking their watches. Why were we here? For the kids? They too appeared to be barely tolerating this penance. My kids look happier when I tell them to make their beds and get dressed for church.
What does all this mean? Childhood is supposed to involve a great deal of fun, after all. But advertisers know this and marketing to children is an ever-growing niche. We are sucking up this crap as fast as the market can spew it out. We’re teaching kids that fun is an item in a box. And that it’s somehow better if it costs more.
It’s also better if we can control the fun to make sure it’s safe and educational to boot. Boy, I sure loved those educational toys when I was a kid. Didn’t you? Let’s face it, Boggle sucked then and it sucks now.
Happy Birthday, Connor! Are you having Fun™ yet? He looked completely overwhelmed by all the fuss. His hovering parents were trying to make sure Connor behaved and impressed his grandparents and his friends’ parents. Poor kid. Why do I have the feeling he is going to have an intense dislike of mountain gorillas when he’s an adult, but won’t be able to quite figure out why?
Need more Kelley? A hefty collection of her great essays, What's the Matter With Mommy?, is now available on Amazon.com.
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