Photo by Libby Molyneaux
The Sugar Police, the PC Mommies, the piñata issue it can be confounding. And since when are limos necessary for turning 6?
PART ONE: Manners
Theres a mother of a 3-year-old boy with a message to all you parents who receive timely invitations to childrens birthday parties: WHY THE %#@* [she bleeps herself when her kids in the room] DONT YOU PEOPLE EVER RSVP? WHY IS THAT SO HARD?!!!!
This Mother Against Rude People (MARP) is a nice, sane, generous, funny person, really, and her little boy well call him Der Kommissar is a charmer. I met her in Lamaze class, so I dont know what kind of a person she was before Der Kommissar came into her life, but I can tell you shes a wonderful, devoted mother, the kind of down-on-the-floor mom who makes play dough from scratch, and gets excited about whipping up green eggs and ham with her son helping. Theres nothing high-strung about her. Its just that, like all new parents, shes learning that the social obligations that come with motherhood open your eyes to a whole new set of people and cultural habits. And childrens birthday parties are one of those events where we find ourselves in the homes of people wed otherwise never interact with, playing under their rules ... rules that have changed since we were kids.
The RSVP issue is only part of MARPs continuing observational tirades on todays social norms. Recently, she came home from a birthday party for the kid of one of her Mommy and Me classmates and called me, deploring, When did we as a society decide that its not okay to open presents at a childs birthday party? Who exactly made that decision?
Its true. You notice all the time that the presents are collected, whisked away and never mentioned again. And the thing is, she continued, the higher up the Hollywood echelon you go, the more prevalent it is. Der Kommissar and I made a special trip to buy Dickie something cool. We picked out the gift and we made a card together and were looking forward to seeing Dickies face when he opened it. I wanted to teach Der Kommissar about giving and how its not his day to receive presents. Then when its his birthday, hell understand.
Der Kommissar probably wont be scarred by this oversight, but she has a good point. Some of the self-proclaimed expert mommies argue that opening presents in front of the guests can make people feel uncomfortable if some gifts are cheaper than others. But ask any kid to name his favorite present, and the price tag will have nothing to do with it.
And remember the thank-you notes our mothers used to make us write? Apparently, theyve also gone the way of the curtsy. I never get thank-you notes, MARP told me, overlooking the card I sent her. How do you know if they even opened the present? Did they like it? Ill never know.
A small tragedy, but its still kinda sad.
PART TWO: Simon Says, Avoid Overkill
When children show up for a birthday party at another childs house, the thing they are most interested in is seeing what toys the other kids have, says Chrissy OGrady, who runs the Reptile Family. Shes seen plenty of kiddie parties in her 18 years of bringing snakes, tortoises and other scaly pals to parties. Ive seen parties with us, a magician, a bounce house as big as some peoples real houses and more. The kids just get overstimulated, she says on the phone, possibly while fondling a boa constrictor. People need to ask themselves, is the party for you or your child? Parents need to let the kids make the decisions. Children dont get to make that many decisions at this stage of their life. Thats why we always let them choose if they want to touch the reptiles. She goes on, There was this boy, the son of a well-known actress. He wanted a reptile party and hamburgers. His mother refused because shes a vegetarian and a member of PETA. More proof that PETA members dont want us to have fun damned PETA poopers.
Dan Jordan, a.k.a. Dan the Magic Man, has performed his feats of wonder at more than 1,000 birthday parties and has noticed that parents often try to outdo each other, especially when it comes to the food. A lot of kids just want hot dogs, he says. And as a performer I have to make sure Im not too close to the moon bounce, where the kids get distracted, or by the food, where the adults gather to talk.
Then there was the Harry Potter theme party, complete with fog machine and hired actors dressed as lead characters roaming the grounds. This was for a 4-year-old. The kids were scared, reported MARP.
Fear of clowns has been known to have its genesis at toddler parties. And anyone under 5 probably wont remember the magician you hired. Even professional clowns will warn you away from hiring them for parties for kids under about 5. As Boofy Jo posted on babycenter.com: I am a professional clown and have been performing for 10 years. I always try to discourage parents of small children from booking me at a birthday party. Up until they are around 4 or 5, the party is mainly for the adults anyway. I have twin boys who will be 2 in August. I think that I will go the old Peter Piper pizza route.
PART 3: Simon says, Oriental Trading Company
You cant tell a parent to keep it simple when it comes to their little darlings big day. And when the theme is Thomas the Tank and you discover Web sites that offer everything from Thomas bubbles to underwear, its easy to go overboard. The best way to keep costs under control is to get a copy of the Oriental Trading Companys catalog. The bargains are a party throwers wet diaper: 12 miniature Dinosaur Craft Kits for $3.95! A dozen smiley-face punch balls for $4.95!
For us older parents (not as old as Beverly DAngelo but older than Catherine Zeta-Jones), its amazing how the party-planning business has changed since we were kids. MARP called the other day to report, I just ordered balloons from Party America, and you know what they asked me? If youre insane? I didnt say. They asked me if I wanted to pay extra for uplift. Me: Whats uplift? MARP: I have no idea. I told him no thanks.
Piñatas are another current source of debate one that ends when someone mentions the 8-year-old kid who died when struck by a blindfolded birthday boy with a wayward stick. The PC moms are usually against them entirely: The small toys inside are choking hazards, and giving kids handfuls of candy is tantamount to passing out balloons with heroin. You can compromise with the so-called pull-string piñatas, a safe version in which strings are attached to the opening, but to be safer still, fill the piñata with granola bars and subscription cards to Mother Jones.
The pages of L.A. Parent and Family Magazine have loads of party-entertainer listings. The aforementioned Reptile Family shows up in safari suits with baskets of snakes and turtles and delivers a ton of squeals from the kids and grownups for $200. And we can vouch for the magical shenanigans of Mr. Jordan (www.danthemagicman.com), who makes it a point to have the birthday kid be the star of the show.
The beautiful thing about throwing a child a birthday party is that youll have no trouble knowing whether or not it was a success. Unlike adults, kids dont fake their good times. All you have to do is look around.
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And if anybody knows what uplift is, please let me know.
Reptile Family, (805) 498-8788, www.reptilefamily.com.
Oriental Trading Company, (800) 875-8480, www.orientaltrading.com.
Dan the Magic Man, www.danthemagicman.com.