Even though they’re not quite four yet, my girls are already on the party circuit. Not the fashion, champagne and snootiness circuit but the much more cut-throat Birthday Party circuit.
It started off innocuously with their first invite to a friend’s party. I struggled with what to buy for a (then) two-year-old but eventually I had a present and two nicely dressed girls as I held their hands as we walked around the corner, all set for a few games of pass the parcel and fairy bread… and stopped.
I blinked a few times to make sure I wasn’t imagining things, but no. There really was a giant castle standing right in front of us. Inflatable of course, but still.
Fairies and clowns roved around the garden charming children with their magic and glitter dust. There were pony rides and puppies. Smells of exotic food wafter through the air and was that a waiter? And did he have a cocktail?!?
I rifled through my bag to check the invitation because unless I was mistaken I was pretty sure we had accidentally stumbled into the tent of the Moscow Circus or a movie set.
But no, we were at the right place and the next few hours were a parade of entertainment, games where everyone won prizes and full catering for both parents and kids.
I was stunned but it wasn’t over yet. As we left – thanking the host effusively – the girls had goody bags thrust into their hands. Bags that had more in them than Ekka showbags. What? Wait, it’s her birthday but my kids get presents? What is this madness?
When I was a kid we turned up, handed over a present (sometimes reluctantly), played in the backyard, had cake and went home. Everyone was happy.
Nowadays it’s an event to rival The Great Gatsby for decadence.
Admittedly the next party wasn’t quite as over-the-top but it still wasn’t anywhere near the cheap gathering of people I expected. And the goody bags were once again, to my way of thinking, extravagant.
So I asked around and discovered this was normal. Large parties were expected and the pressure to match or overshadow previous parties was immense. In the US you can have a sleepover at a toy store for $30,000. Some parties see toddlers picked up in limos. And don’t even start me on the intricate detail of cakes today.
Somewhere along the line between making it a special day for their child and playing one-up-person-ship with their peers, birthday parties have become An Event (note capitalisation).
I was going to make fun of the fact that we’d no doubt be seeing professional party planners doing kids birthday parties soon. But they already exist. I checked. And they’re not cheap if you want to put on a memorable party. Forget the fact that most of these kids at two and three won’t remember these parties, it’s all about style and some of them don’t even appear to be about the children.
Not that I’m immune. We’ve had two parties for the girls (at two and three) and they started out as small affairs but ended up ‘going big’. The first was just supposed to be a gathering in the park. Firstly I invited everyone from their daycare because I didn’t want any kid to feel left out (I hate the thought of a kid feeling sad). Then the grandparents got a big jumping castle for next-to-nothing.
And I did big goody bags partly because everyone else did it and partly because I felt guilty that most parents purchased two presents (twins remember) even though I actively said to not worry about gifts.
And for their third birthday we had a joint party with their best friend (who shares their birthday). It was at a farm and run by a wonderful charity named Harmony Hooves who put the profits into sharing the animals with less fortunate and disabled children. And they put on a show that far exceeded my expectations and I suddenly realised – amidst the pony rides, fairies (yes multiple) and swings and castle – that I’d inadvertently become a big party parent. Lots of kids. Amazing amount of entertainment.
So I guess parents who party in castles shouldn’t throw goody bags full of… wait, this metaphor got away from me. Just like my sense of perspective on birthday parties.