Life with a child is always interesting, and no time is quite as interesting and regularly spaced as the Birthday Party. For kids, Birthdays are extremely important. Birthdays, with a capital B on purpose, because the annual Birthday is as important as Christmas – all the presents and fun without the requirement to get dressed up in uncomfortable clothes and waste half a weekend day being tortured with boredom at some religious ceremony, and none of the requirements for older children to pretend to believe in a mythical being (Not Jesus, the other one, in the red suit) in order to receive presents. Yes, there are parents that threaten kids with, “if you don’t believe, you don’t receive”. Generally those are the type of families highlighted on TLC, but I digress…
But, for some reason we put a great emphasis on surviving another year. I guess in ancient times that was very important, what with the ever-present fear of death by terrible disease and invading hordes, starvation and famine. In modern times, it just seems sort of silly, heaping gifts on someone just for staying alive.
Parents often try to out-do each other with lavish parties, decorations, professionally decorated cakes, and even “goody bags” (yes – this is a thing, some parents send home treat bags for the attendees, despite the fact that in three months, they’ll have to attend the other kids party and give him a present, anyway) that sometimes costs more than the gift the other kid brought.
And the birthday cycle never seems to end. You’re invited to ten birthday parties during the year, and then you have to put on one of your own, and the cycle starts again. For the parents of young children, It seems every other weekend there’s a party to go to, none of which involve alcohol (at least during the party – afterwards, yes).
Several years ago, about the time my child was 6, I went skiing with a co-worker of mine. It had been years since I had been skiing. That event was chronicled on Facebook, and was a lot of fun, despite me winding up sliding downhill head first on my back for a significant portion of one of the runs. Of course, Kaylee decided “Hey dad, I want to go skiing too!” So I told her “Next year you can go, you’re a bit young”.
She remembered the next year, despite my notions to the contrary. Christmas rolled around and she said, “I want to go skiing like you said we could, last year”. Thankfully she has a January birthday. I told her, “You can either go Skiing, which is expensive, or you can have a birthday party with your friends and cake and ice cream and all of that”. She chose skiing, and a wonderful, magical, beautiful, thing happened. We got off the birthday carousel.
See, when she decided to go skiing, on her own, “just with me and dad!”… she didn’t have a birthday party. Subsequently, I’m not sure if the overactive moms got offended or what, but suddenly the endless invitations kind of stopped coming. “What? No Party!”. She might have attended one or two that year, at people’s houses, but gone was the endless stream of parties. Sure, the ski trip cost around $450 for the hotel and equipment rental, but add up the cost of not only what you spend on your own kid’s party, but all the presents you have to buy to support the Birthday Welfare Machine all year long, and suddenly a ski trip may just be the way to go.
Look at it this way, too: Your kid gets to see all these other kids five days a week in school. If you force your child to suffer through church on Sunday, they probably see another group on Sundays, maybe even some of the same ones. So what are they really getting out of yet another day with the same kids? Not much. As a parent sitting around at a party ignoring the other parents, playing on your smartphone praying the battery holds out for two hours, and that the hostess didn’t cheap out on the cake and get the nasty whipped icing, AND that the ice cream isn’t a half-melted blob of greasy goo because they chose the one with 90% more fat than any other flavor, are you really getting anything out of that? No – not even two hours to yourself, because they expect you to hang out at the party, not just drop the kid off so you can go catch a movie or enjoy some reproduction practice while you have two hours to yourself.
But – what if you could replace that experience of horror and wasted time and money and stress with something else? Who remembers the details of most parties ten or fifteen years down the road. You might remember something like “hey one year we had a superman cake”, or “remember that time we sent up the Wish Lanterns and set the neighbors barn on fire?”, but if you could take that and turn it all into something positive, an experience that you and your kid will remember forever, THAT’s worth getting off the birthday train. It’s not written anywhere that, “thou shalt have cake and ice cream and invite the whole class over to the house and destroy it, and risk getting sued because you have a trampoline without the pads and net”, that’s just what people do. If a birthday is a celebration of making it through another year without getting run over by a bus or catching smallpox because one of the invitee’s parents is an idiot who believes talk show hosts over doctors and doesn’t vaccinate their child, then why not celebrate it they way you want?
Skiing is easy for us, its a five hour drive. Disney World is a 7 hour drive the other way. But surely for those of you in less geographically suitable places, there are things your kid would love to do, that are both easier and more memorable than another party.
So – this year, we went skiing again. I let her take over – it was all about what she wanted. She picked the slopes to get on, she picked when to eat and what, and we had a blast together. Unfortunately my wife is picking up on this, and wants to go to Disney World for HER birthday party…
This is our video – there’s no music because we talk a lot… and it just got aggravating trying to figure out the music thing on iMovie.