Monday, April 23, 2007

No Theme, No Stress - Blow and Make a Wish

My son Cheeks turns four June 24. I have almost exactly two months to (un)prepare.

Usually I'd be in a stressed out huff by now, trolling for themed baseball or pirate party sets, hopefully no pricier than $2.95 per guest. Of course I'd also scramble to nail down a themed, stuffed to the seams piñata, helium balloons and the crowning inflated jewel of the party - a colossal bounce house.

What about the invitations? If you know me, I'm as much of a slacker when it comes to those as I am at sending thank you cards. It's strictly Evite for me and email thank yous for you.

Next, I'd stress the party menu. Triangular gourmet paninis for the adults or cutesy cookie cutter shaped, monogrammed PB & Js for the kids. Aw, it's all so Martha Stewart I could puke. Last year my son opted for a chopper motorcycle themed party, complete with checkered racing flags, a fancy chopper piñata and an amazing finale featuring his uncle's real, unfathomably loud and awesome Harley chopper. My son was higher on happiness (or chopper exhaust fumes).

Birthdays Without Pressure

I was far less elevated, having dished out 600 smackers on the party, which only a third of those who RSVP'd yes showed up to. That's 600 bills before the cost of his presents from his siblings, myself and his papa. Not this year. No way. Perhaps not ever again.

Drag out the wet blanket and promptly place it over the birthday candles spiking out of the overpriced, in keeping with the theme frosting heap called a cake. Meet William Doherty, a University of Minnesota social sciences professor whose mission is to take the pressure out of over-the-top, extravagant themed kids' birthday parties. (I wish I'd heard of him several thousand birthday party dollars ago, when I threw my first massive, superhero steroid injected parties at the park for my first son, starting six years ago.)

"Mothers run these parties and compare notes," Doherty said in a recent interview with USA Today. "It's the one mother out of 10 or 20 who ups the ante, then the others fall into place. That's what's so insidious about this."

Doherty is a member of Birthdays Without Pressure (BWP), a St. Paul group that wants parents to subtract mucho money, themes and stress from birthday celebrations. Is there a local BWP and when can I sign up? Read more about BWP and Doherty here. Read about the biggest birthday bashes here to see how bad it's gotten.

This year we'll invite Cheeks' cousins and a neighborhood friend or two (I'm thinking eight kids tops, including his two sibs), to the local park to grub on take-out pizza and juice, where we'll play for two or three stress-free, plain and simple hours.

If I cave and make favor bags, they will be as they always have been for our celebrations -- plain paper lunch bags that my children decorate with glitter, rubber stamps and whatever sparkly mess we can dig up from the overstuffed art box in the garage. They will be filled with 99 Cent Store penny racers and bubbles, or maybe with animal shaped lint balls from the Hubster's bellybutton.

At first I wanted to host Cheeks' party at the local rock climbing gym. He loved climbing there last Winter at his friend Maggie's sixth birthday. You should have seen him beam with pride (and a smattering of brow sweat) when he climbed to the very top and scaled his way back down again. I was impressed by the letter shaped hand and foot holds. The party was simple, fun and classy. Still, renting rock gym space isn't cheap.

Instead, I'll reserve a spot at a nearby nature park. I believe the rocks there are free, and so are the trees. No theme. No breaking the bank. No competition and NO STRESS. What's not to celebrate? Cheeks will still delight in a frosting topped cake that he will help decorate (he likes scraping the batter bowl better, I think). If guests should bring presents, he will open them.

When we look back on Shutterfly at Cheeks' big day, I'm sure we won't see any children sitting at the foot of a Eucalyptus or palm tree, mopping up tears shed over not bouncing into oblivion in a Batman bounce house. I have no doubt that the kids probably won't even notice the lack of batter dipped extravagance and trademarked superhero paper cups and plates, even if their mothers do.



At 7:05 PM, Blogger Awesome Mom said...

We have always had low key parties and I intend on keeping it that way. My parents did not have the money for a super special birthday party every year so I grew up used to it.

At 7:12 PM, Blogger Lara said...

bravo to you. i think these kinds of parties are way better than the trademarked ones anyway. these were always my parties growing up, and i loved them. :)

At 7:46 PM, Anonymous Suburban Oblivion said...

I'm right there with ya, but be careful of the other moms! This is actually how I discovered Plain Jane Moms blog!

At 10:56 PM, Blogger Charlotte said...

Good luck with your boy's party. I admire you for taking it down a notch or two.

Here in Germany, kids' parties are very modest. It's such a relief - emotionally and financially - to give low-key parties. Not a magician or a blow-up castle in sight. And the kids still have a lovely time.

At 1:51 AM, Anonymous Kim said...

Good on you! We usually kept it simple...backyard BBQ, some children who bring their parents along to share a glass or 2 of vino, couple of kiddy games (good ol' pass the parcel and musical chairs) and there you have it!

One guy took his son and 3 of his friends down to a creek to look for's that for being creative but cheap?

At 4:11 AM, Blogger cce said...

I have called a moratorium on b-day parties that include anyone other than family this year. I'm still recovering from last year's extravagant blow out with the ponies and the bounce house and the fairway games and giant seven dollar frosted cookies in the shape of birthday cakes. It was rained out the first time and rescheduled for Fourth of July weekend and only half the guest list showed up and I can't even talk about how much guilt money I spent on the whole thing trying to make up for the fact that I had relocated my family hundreds of miles away from their birthplace. Gasp...I'm still eating seven dollar cookies out of the freezer. No more parties like that, I swear. It's that damn Martha Stewart Kids magazine and the party themes therein making us all feel inadequate.

At 8:37 AM, Blogger In the Trenches of Mommyhood said...

I'm so with you. 2 of my children's birthdays are coming in June and we're combining them (they're only turning 2 and 3)for a cookout at the local lake with just family and 2 other couples w/ their kids. I already bought the party favors--$.79 colored metal sand buckets with shovels.
I hate the showy parties. Kids are so spoiled these days.

At 8:53 AM, Blogger Mama Nirvana said...

Perfect timing. I am just about to fill out and send invitations to my younger son's first birthday. In my mind I have been planning something that is way too much work for something my kid won't ever remember.


At 8:53 AM, Blogger Mama Nirvana said...

Perfect timing. I am just about to fill out and send invitations to my younger son's first birthday. In my mind I have been planning something that is way too much work for something my kid won't ever remember.


At 9:32 PM, Blogger Crunchy Carpets said...

I think we are going to do one at the Science Museum in is expensive but means I can stand back and watch and not DEAL with all the kids.

At 6:36 AM, Blogger Rach said...

The perfect party. Nature and good food, and the mum's who are quick to judge, well at least their kids won't go home full of E numbers and artificial preservatives so they should be grateful. Great idea for a party.

At 4:45 PM, Blogger Mama Sarita said...

okay, I am starting to think that somehow, you may be a long lost relative of mine.

My kids bdays are in the next few weeks. I am also doing a park birthday party with family/friends for the two children that is free free free....other than food, cake and juice.

I did go slightly crazy as I am doing a girl tea party at my house the next weekend for diva child's play group. Im more intimidated by that...but hey, cake, punch, tea cups, and dress up clothes? How can that be bad for 6 3yr old girls?!

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