Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Birthday Parties

When I was growing up in the 60's and 70's, birthday parties typically meant homemade strawberry shortcake, a devils food Betty Crocker cake with vanilla butter cream or Crisco (don't look down your nose: it was SO incredibly delicious I can assure you) whipped frosting or, my all time favorite, a bakery cake, lemon filling, with pink roses on top thank you very much! YUM! We did not have elaborate affairs and the festivities took place in the kitchen around the Formica topped table. My mother would typically make us our favorite dinner, and the whole family was sure to be there to sing Happy Birthday and watch the gift opening. It was sweet, simple and so special to recall.

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Once in a great while someone would host a birthday party and invite some kids from the neighborhood or school. This did not happen too often in the middle class, suburban New Jersey town where I lived. The parties were typically attended by girls in party dresses and boys in pressed pants and shirts. Parties meant something more fancy then play clothes. It was an opportunity for kids to show off their best manners and dress-up clothes. We played games like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, freeze dance and musical chairs. There were always little prizes for us to win (no such thing as goody bags) and no one went away empty handed. It was truly fun, and particularly memorable as not many people had them.

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Now, fast forward 40 years and parties have taken on a whole new meaning. It is not unusual for most kids to have at least 2 or 3 birthday parties: one with each side of the family, and one with their friends. Some have more while some do indeed have none at all. (Keep in mind I mean parties, not celebrating  sans party accoutrements with your immediate kin.) The array of home entertainment for parties is vast and seemingly endless. There are entire web sites of uber moms sharing party ideas that would put even the most sophisticated of celebrity party planners to shame. People rent tents, bouncy houses, water slides and rent by-the-hour entertainment. There are also a vast array of people who now purchase their own blow up water slides, pools, and bouncy houses to entertain the masses. No wonder people need 4,000 square foot homes and 3 car garages, but that is a post for another day!

There is also an equal assortment of party themes and locations to host the festivities. There are art parties, tea parties, beauty salon parties, Audubon parties, reptile parties, zoo parties, indoor playground parties, arcade parties, movie theater parties, amusement park parties, science museum parties, mini golf parties, bowling parties, swim parties and on and on and on. Basically if you can think it up, someone, somewhere has come up with a place for you to take your child and their friends for a fun-filled birthday extravaganza!

Sometimes we all say the party is meant for our kids. We want them to have happy memories of childhood or because we did not get parties when we were young ourselves. Perhaps you may even be one of the younger generation that had birthday parties with your friends growing up and you just want to do the same for your kids. Well, I have many happy memories of my birthdays and I had no parties to celebrate them, and am not emotionally scarred by it. Sure, I may have wanted a party, as did most of us kids back then, but it did not dampen my enthusiasm for the big day any less. I think many of us say the birthday event is for our kids but if we are being entirely honest, perhaps it is an opportunity to showcase our homes, cooking prowess, party planning skills, and creativity along with a tad bit of wanting to "out do" the other parents with our largess. Just maybe.

When my son was younger, we used to host home parties and have both the kids and all the parents in attendance. We would feed everyone, provide entertainment and in general have a lot of fun. As my son got older my husband and I liked the idea of hosting his parties at locations where the activities are supplied by someone else. Plus, we don't have the clean up afterwards, which is a big bonus to us at this stage of our life. My son would actually prefer to have a home party with all his friends. He asks for it every year and is old enough to understand why we don't do it. We want him to have fun and celebrate with his closest friends but in a way that works for us all.

Unlike some parents, we don't look at parties as a must have event either. And I am a bit mystified as to why some people feel the need to have them at all. In fact, I have an immense amount of respect for all the moms and dads who do not succumb to the birthday party craze, whether it be at home or in a special locale. I think there is a lot to be said for those kitchen table party days, where it wasn't about the latest fad or toy craze or how many kids you can fit in your house or back yard. It was much more about being surrounded by people who truly care about you and want to be there to celebrate your special day.

I did that for my recent 50th, no huge party, no DJ, no fancy entertainment or need to dress up. I wanted my family. The family that is closest to my heart, around me to help celebrate. It was my way of reconnecting to that simpler time when the immediate family was what mattered not the number of people at your party, or what you served or where you hosted it, or that you even had to have a party at all. All that is so fleeting and most people don't really recall much afterward what you did or didn't do.


Betty Crocker Seated, Picasa Web
                                  Where is Betty Crocker when you need her, hmmm?

                                                          And just in case you need it:

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