I am never doing it again.  And this time, I mean it.  Seriously.

By “IT” I mean children’s birthday parties.  You know, that well-intentioned, heartfelt celebration of your child’s life that – somewhere between Party City and Costco – seems to take on a life of its own, snowballing into a frightening combination of Toddlers in Tiaras and The Real Housewives of New Jersey.

When did this happen?  I hate to use the “back when I was a kid” comparison, but…back when I was a kid, birthday parities consisted of a handful of kids, a picnic table, and an ice cream cake.  Round up a few neighbors and a cousin or two, grill up some hotdogs, and then bust out a real crowd pleaser like Carvel’s Fudgy the Whale cake -and, voila! You were in business.  I give you Exhibit A:

I am not sure where I went wrong, as I began planning for Emma’s 5th birthday party with such purity of vision. Amidst a sea of generic parties at Sweet and Sassy or the Bounce House, I decided to go back to my roots and have a party at home.  I felt very earthy and self-satisfied about bucking the status quo.  But then things took a turn – I think maybe I was possessed by Tori Spelling – and my homegrown party ultimately imploded into a poof of glittery chaos. I give you Exhibit B:

In my personal inquiry into how I lost control of this party bus, I stumbled across the website of a parent-led citizen action group in St. Paul, Minnesota: http://birthdayswithoutpressure.org. It was here that I read about a social phenomenon that certainly had me in its clutches. “The Martha Stewart Syndrome: Make it beautiful, and make it from scratch.” Back when I was a kid, my mother thought baking a cake from a Betty Crocker box WAS making it from scratch.  And one of my all time favorite stories about my mother-in-law involves my father-in-law requesting that she make pancakes from scratch, to which she responded, “Bob, you can scratch my ass.” Now that is a woman who has her priorities straight.

I, apparently, lack such wisdom (and quick wit). My husband shook his head in silent protest as I crafted and cursed my way into the midnight hour last Thursday night, unsuccessfully attempting to turn some fishing wire and tissue paper into “delightful floating Dahlias.” It wasn’t until the next morning when Emma soothed my wounded ego by stating, in a matter of fact tone: “You know Mom, no one really notices that stuff anyway.” Hmmm. If this is true, then I am faced with the question:

Why am I doing this?

I became aware of my own craziness when, in between my online purchases of tutus and feather boas, I began reading a book given to me by my friend Alison called Simplicity Parenting. The author encourages “less is more” philosophy in a culture of “too much.” She asserts that our culture of too much stuff and too many choices often leads to anxiety and mental clutter, both in ourselves and our children. While as parents all we want is the best for our children, we sometimes fail to realize what they really require is,  “our time and presence,” not a party with all the bells and whistles that sends everyone in the family into sensory overload.

This may explain why 10 minutes into her birthday festivities, Emma was having a colossal meltdown because someone took HER pair of sparkly star-shaped sunglasses. To which I replied, through clenched teeth, “If you don’t pull yourself together in 30 seconds, I am sending everyone home.  WITH the presents.”

Can’t you feel the love?

So…..if I am not doing Emma any favors with a party complete with a moon bounce and make-your-own-parfait station, again, I am faced with the question:

Why am I doing this?

Now I am sure there are many potential answers to this question, all of which could be aligned with the “Too Much” argument: too many options, too much pressure to top last year’s party or at least match the one’s of your child’s classmates, etc.  But for me, at least this year, the reason is good old-fashioned Mommy Guilt.  Not to digress or distract with a sob story, but about 8 weeks ago I had my colon removed.  All of it, soup to nuts.  And in addition to the 6 days in the hospital, I was out of commission for a while.  No preschool pickup, no park visits or bike rides.  During this recovery period, I muddled through family time under the influence of substantial narcotics (or wishing I was).  So long story short, I figured my kids must be scarred for life by my absence and post-surgical crankiness.  So, I was going to make it all better with goody bags in the form of pink flowered purses stuffed with plastic jewelry and temporary tattoos.  When, in reality, all the girls probably need to feel close to me is a romp in the sandbox or a nighttime story on the couch.

Now, I am not trying to be a Birthday Bah-Humbug.  I am just admitting that throwing lavish parties do not make me a better mom, they make me anxious.  So next year, when you see my eyes glaze over with visions of canapés and paper mache, please say in a firm but soothing voice: “Jessie…put…down…the glue gun.”

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