The Birthday Party

When my children were younger I wrote a weekly column, “Modern Parenting” for The Pembroke Observer newspaper. Being a stay-at-home dad was rare in our small town in 1991; people wanted to hear about my adventures. When I started this blog I promised to republish some of those old pieces, then I got sidetracked. 

 Today I’m revisiting one of the articles that I think has stood the test of time. Or at least is a change of pace. I don’t intend to do much in the way of editing, but may make the odd comment in italics. This post was first published June 14, 1992.

There are unwritten rules to parenting, rules you will regret breaking. But I thought we could get away with it.

I’ve been told that the rule of thumb for birthday parties is one child guest for each year of your child’s life. I think I read that somewhere too. Still, for Paul’s third birthday last month we invited five children. (I can assure you that wasn’t my idea!)

It’s not that we deliberately set out to flaunt the rules. We just didn’t think they applied to Paul and his friends. After all, for his second birthday we’d invited four children and the party had gone well. It was only after this year’s event I realized there were differences.

Last year one of the requirements was that at least one parent stayed with each child. As a result we had more adults than children on hand, which kept things at a passable level. There’s not much mischief you can get into when you are two and outnumbered. And it was only for dessert, not a full-fledged party.

This year though we innocently told parents they could just drop their kids off and then pick them up a couple of hours later. If they came back earlier they could share in the pizza and cake.

This year’s party wasn’t a total disaster, but it could have been a lot easier. The biggest problem was the guest of honour. Usually even-tempered, he decided to be grumpy and demanding. We’d deliberately scheduled the party to be after his nap, but that didn’t help. He was reluctant to share his toys, and wanted cake before pizza. (So we let them eat the cake before the pizza. That was no big deal and you have to be flexible.)

We were uncertain about gifts. Last year the invitations read “No gifts.” At two, we didn’t think Paul would care, or even know about them.In the past year though he’s been a guest at a number of parties, and now he knows about gifts. So we allowed his friends to bring presents.

Paul’s friends have chosen their parents wisely. The gifts were appropriate and acceptable. I remember the look of horror on one friend’s face last year when her four-year-old daughter opened her birthday presents with delight to find a Barbie doll, something her feminist mother had vowed would never be owned by her daughter. (I wish I could remember now who this was – I am kind of curious as to how the girl turned out.)

Our party was a success, even if Paul was a bit whiny, though I found it a bit overpowering. We tried some unstructured play, which resulted in the trashing of some toys by exuberant children. We won’t try that next year.

What did work was the trampoline (an exerciser in real life, but the kids don’t know that) and the great batch of play dough Vivian made up before the party. Story time went over well too. I had trouble getting the children to come for pizza because Vivian was reading stories.

I don’t remember getting goodie bags at birthday parties when I was little, but they seem to be the norm now. Paul has received several this past year. I think it is a good idea – you bring a gift to the party, but you get one also. That’s important to children, to know that they too are special and deserving of a present.(I’m not sure I would phrase it like that today. Children are special, but do they deserve presents?)

However, I was very insistent that the bags be given out only on departure. That’s because among the enclosed toys were little musical instruments. I didn’t think I could handle the additional noise.

Now we’ve learned our lesson. Next year’s party will be better planned, with no room for individual play. Hopefully Paul will be in a better mood. I’m making my plans too. I don’t want to attend unless I get a goodie bag. (I didn’t get a goodie bag, and I was compelled to be there. Fatherhood comes with its responsibilities.)


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