When my first daughter was old enough to ask my age, I said I was 21. Unfortunately, we accidentally sent her to school. There she learned a bit more math, and wondered why my parents let me go to college at age eight and get married at twelve. I told her that was because I grew up in California. But in Illinois, where we now lived, girls can’t get married until they are 32 and have completed their PhD.
Then for years I did my part for conservation by recycling my 31st birthday, until offspring who were still adding “and-a-half” to their age demanded more significant observation of their advancing years.
When I first became a parent, I had higher standards. I might even have had ideals, but that period is kind of a blur. I do remember the first party I gave for my older daughter, mainly because she and her friends were still talking about it a decade later. But back in that more innocent time, I was still getting my parenting tips from publications with titles like “Naturally Raising the Consciousness of Your Holistic Macrobiotic Child in a Non-stereotyping Environment.”
My daughter’s little friends were stunned to discover that at her birthday party the treats consisted of raisins and peanuts, 100% natural juice dense with pulp, and a biodegradable carrot cake. All of it was as recyclable as their folded-newspaper hats because no kid would touch it on a bet.
Her social obligations soon led my child to accept a number of birthday invitations which revealed the scope and scale of my betrayal. At real parties, children consume doses of artificial food coloring and flavors which would be fatal in laboratory rats—although, let’s face it, everything is fatal in laboratory rats—before being sent home with treat bags bulging with enough sugar to send them on a three-day bender.
As time, additional children, and sleep deprivation eroded my standards, my pediatric partying switched into Licensing Mode. When you care enough to spend the very most, you take your preschooler to Party-Papers-R-Us to choose party invitations featuring her Saturday morning cartoon character of choice. Thoughtfully arranged next to the invitations are about a mile and a half of shelf space containing matching party necessities made of enough paper to deforest Vermont. And you can’t just buy one package of each item because PPRU’s crack market research team has figured out how many children your daughter will invite and has packed exactly one less item in each package.
The next step in party preparation is the cake, or technically, the frosting support.*
*[Birthday Tip #1: There are some good mothers out there who actually decorate cakes to match the party theme, but since no child will eat more than the frosting, I recommend you get a brick cut into 3-inch squares and keep re-frosting it for years of party fun. Throw a bag of M&Ms over the top, and the kids will think you’re another Picasso.]
It’s important to set a time limit on the party.**
**[Birthday Tip #2: A little rule of thumb is that no matter how many activities you have planned, it will take an entire houseful of preschoolers exactly 8 1/2 minutes to play all the games, dissect their frosting, unwrap, and break the presents. Even allowing another twelve minutes for at least one child to throw up, and you’re still faced with at least another 99 1/2 minutes for the sugar-crazed horde to ransack your house while their parents ignore your frantic phone calls.]
Just keep telling yourself: it would probably ruin your child’s special day if you were brought up on assault charges when those parents finally show up.***
***[Birthday Tip #3: If you don’t live in a legalized marijuana state, valium works well here.]
Another solution is revenge.****
****[Birthday Tip #4: You can talk to your child’s friends about their families. Believe me, they’ll tell you anything. At my children’s parties I have been told in detail about parental salaries, medical histories (“Don’t you like my Mom’s nose? She got a new one from the doctor…”), traffic tickets (“I asked the policeman if he was going to put Dad in jail or just shoot him…”), or even one mother’s lingerie (“She says she got it for my Dad, but it’s really little and red with little black bows and I don’t think it would fit him at all…”).]
When the parents pick up their child, look them straight in the eye and say, “We had a wonderful time with little Susie. She told us all about your interesting family and the photos from your weekend in Vegas.”