My roommate’s son turned six over the weekend and his parents put together a Titanic birthday party to celebrate. No, not a gigantic party, it was Titanic-themed with model ships to glue and paint, pin-the-funnel-on-the-Titanic, and of course, an unsinkable and unbreakable Titanic pinata. The birthday boy, now age six, is obsessed with the Titanic. An impressive lego Titanic sits prominently displayed in the house. He knows about the lack of life-boats and that only three of the four funnels functioned. I figured this was a birthday party I could ill afford to miss.
In the six months that I’ve I had a part time (he spends half the time at his mother’s) five-year-old roommate, I’ve gotten to know him well. His lego creation skills are only matched by his dedication to minecraft. And while he is usually prompted by his father, his “Hello, Brendan!” and “Goodbye, Brendan!” are energetic and genuine. I was excited to help celebrate.
But walking in, it dawned on me how strange it was to be going to a birthday party of five and six-year-olds as a thirty-three year old without a child of my own. I have to admit that I was a bit nervous, just like I had been when arriving to a birthday party as a child. Luckily, I recognized a few adult faces as I walked in, and then was immediately set-up glueing and painting a wooden model Titanic next to two friends and their sons. By the time the unsinkable and unbreakable Titanic piñata was launched, the party was in full swing.
I chatted with people from time to time, but painting a model Titanic takes time, so I ruminated on past childhood birthday parties. Mostly, I remember the awkward moments. Once, I was served pizza and soda at party at a local arcade, but unlike the rest of the kids I didn’t like soda yet and was too shy to tell anyone or ask for another beverage. After scarfing down two slices of pizza I was very thirsty little boy. Or, another time in elementary school at my birthday party, I asked my dad to run the party and play games like “Red Rover,” which I thought were still fun, but apparently were no longer “cool.” As the other kids laughed and being asked to play, I had to pretend like it wasn’t my idea.
Throwing a kid party is no easy task. The ever present threat of birthday boy meltdown, like a looming iceberg can be hard to avoid. Not to mention the injury potential (in between whacks at the Titanic pinata the wooden bat came dangerous close to another child’s head) and I’m sure there is drama in who is and isn’t invited to the party. And of course, no matter who much time and money you spend building or creating activities, the party inevitably devolves into kids chasing each other like crazy little squirrels. All kids want to do is chase each other. Fact. One Dad expressed concern over the upcoming bowling birthday party his kid was having. The sound of dropped bowling balls complementing the popping of Advils.
And kid parties have become a growth industry. There’s rock-climbing parties, science parties, red-carpet parties, American-girl parties, sweet and sassy party complete with pink limo. Wouldn’t it just be easier to invite your friends and your kid’s friends and have a BBQ in the backyard. Adults can drink beer and eat burgers, the kids can chase each other, and you hardly have to plan anything.
Why do we throw these parties? Why do we spend so much money on five-year-olds? Are we preparing them for small-talk at parties when they are older. Or are we chasing a white-whale of the perfect birthday that may only be fantasy? So far, kid parties seem like another part of parent you just have to endure, and maybe smile at the absurdity too.