Childrearing

In Defense of Extravagant Birthday Parties

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My daughter and I are just starting the birthday party circuit. At four years old, I feel like she’s being introduced into society. This seems to be the year that friends and classmates start inviting one another to celebrate their special day. So far, we’ve been to a couple pool parties, a Rapunzel-themed day in the park and a pottery-painting event. Each time, as my little girl watched her friends open up their gifts and peeked in to her goodie bag, I got excited for the opportunity to throw Brenna’s first big birthday party.

Up until now, we’ve only invited family to her birthday. That might seem low-key until you realize that our immediate families include about 30 people. Even more than that, our families tend to be all-or-nothing when it comes to parties. At a recent bridal shower I threw with  my sister-in-laws, we had a huge sweeping beach theme that included a cake made to look like a sandcastle, Pomegranate Mint Mojitos and Ginger Peach Champagne Cocktails, and hundreds of dollars invested into games, prizes and take-home gifts. Extravagant is really the best way to put it, and it was not an anomaly.

I have to admit that my first parties seemed to be an attempt to keep up with the status quo. I was playing catch up with parents who had spent years perfecting this whole birthday business, and that was just my family. But last year, as we packed nieces and nephews into the car for a trip to the circus, I realized something else about our family’s birthday parties; they’re special. On that day, my daughter felt like everyone stopped to celebrate her. She was glowing and excited in a way that I had never seen before. And when she thanked everyone for spending the day with her, I could hear the warmth, honesty and emotion in her voice, even at three years old. You can tell me that I imagined it to assuage my conscience from spending hundreds of dollars on the circus and the cupcakes and the gifts, but it won’t matter. That night, my daughter told me that her birthday was the best day ever. That’s enough for me.

This year, we’re going to a place called “Bounce Mania.” No, I’m not joking. It’s an activity center filled with slides, bounce houses and ball pits. I’ve read one of our writer’s horrible experiences with such a place and I was more than a little worried to book it. But my house simply isn’t big enough to host our large family, plus kids from my daughter’s daycare, pre-school, and other family friends. Brenna decided on a Batman-themed party, so I’ll be decorating our rented room in blue, gray and a little yellow. I’ve ordered the cake and started putting together the gift bags. I admit that it’s quite a production and I’m spending a decent amount of time getting it all organized. That doesn’t make me dislike the process at all.

I understand the objections to extravagant birthday parties. Some people don’t have the time, money or inclination to make a huge deal out of every birthday. And once one parent goes over the top, everyone around them feels the need to do the same for their little ones. But even though I started on this path by trying to keep up with huge-party-planning in-laws, it doesn’t feel like a competition for me. These events, whether it’s a bridal shower, birthday party or family reunion, have never been about displaying wealth or outdoing one another. My in-laws throw extravagant parties because they care very deeply and want to celebrate the people they love in every way possible. Having received one of these parties for my own wedding, I have to say that it’s endearing and touching. It never felt forced or snobby. It was wonderful. [tagbox tag=”birthday parties”]

Now, I enjoy giving that same feeling to my daughter. I don’t think that making one day out of 365 all about her will turn her into a spoiled brat. Inviting the class and renting out Bounce Mania doesn’t mean that she’ll land on My Super Sweet 16 someday. (P.S. Is that show still around?) Extravagant birthday parties aren’t the enemy. And just because it’s my choice to go all-out, it doesn’t mean that I assume every parent around me will want to do the same thing.

I’ve honestly been a little nervous about inviting other families to our large birthday celebrations. I don’t want to make people feel uncomfortable or pressured to do the same. But at the same time, I want to give my daughter her special day. I want to see her shine as a group of all the people she loves sings “Happy Birthday” to her. I want to watch her face as she hands out mini Batman buckets with superhero stickers, notepads and action figures. I want this day to be all about celebrating my beautiful little girl. It’s one extravagant day. And at the end of it, I don’t think that you should have to worry about everyone else’s opinion of it. Each family has their own traditions and our’s includes huge cakes, plenty of confetti and a party of the birthday girl’s choosing.