Thursday, April 12, 2012

5 Universal Laws of Kids' Birthdays

Why do kid's birthdays always seem to degenerate into a giant cluster of stress, disappointment, exhaustion and not enough juice boxes? Seriously. I want to know.

You see, I'm doing my very best not to raise bratty, over-entitled children. We give them each three presents at Christmas. THREE. We discuss with them how much things cost and what is reasonable. We talk a lot about gratitude and taking things for granted. We tell them stories about how poor mommy and daddy were when they were little. I have no idea if it's sinking in. Because when it comes to birthdays, especially with little kids - all bets are off.

I should also say that I make no effort to keep up with the Joneses and their Pinterest-perfect cupcakes. In large part because I lack the skills and resources required to do so. Once, I threw a bouncy house party with my friend Ellen and I was almost murdered by a serial killer. After that I pretty much gave up.

But I made careful study of kids and birthdays and from that, I created these five universal laws. Starting with...
 

1)  The Expectation Proclamation
The 7-12 days before their birthday, your child will be up your bum like a proctologist on meth. No matter how much you try and inject reason into their squirrelly little brains, it will not work. Why am I a mean mommy? Because I was unwilling to buy a large Bengal tiger. That's how toddlers are. One friend made her child cry because she said no when he asked for a power saw. He was four.

This would totally happen to me.
2) The Bait and Switch
Someone will promise to get your child a very important birthday present. The one thing they really, really want. It will be a huge relief because you really can't afford it/don't have time to track it down/insert reason here. Then without telling you, they'll change their mind and send something else like underpants or a Bratz doll. To which there is only one response. Writing a nice thank you note and hauling your ass to Target before it closes, except not in that order.

3) The Chernobyl Moment
On the actual day, the birthday kid is going to have a melt down so intense and horrifying that you're going to wonder if you need a neurological consult. They are clearly over-wrought with the excitement of it all, but this fact is easily lost in the midst of a potentially ten alarm tantrum. If it happens in public, you will be both flabbergasted at the brattiness and lack of gratitude your child is showing and also completely humiliated in front of your friends and family. Hopefully instead of getting the righteous sniff from your Aunt Suzie, someone kind will remind you that this frequently happens, pat you on the shoulder, and hand a you a refreshing adult beverage.

4)  Putting the "B" in Birthday
If you throw a party, you will probably (and temporarily) turn into a raging B. This occurs simultaneously with spending too much money and trying valiantly not to square up on the parent who comes an hour early/picks up two hours late/brings three extra kids. Don't forget the urge to be unfairly evil to your husband for no apparent reason. Also, for many of us with young children, the only time our houses get REALLY clean is when people are coming over. So in addition to the party stress, please add the need power-wash the bathrooms, steam clean the carpets, remember that you have baseboards and wash them and - oh yes - find whatever is causing that smell.

5) The Denouement
At the end of the day, you will gently tuck your beloved child into bed and ask them if they had a happy birthday. At which point your child will hug you and thank you and then say something to let you know that despite your hard work and exhaustive efforts, it was at least partially a disappointment.

Try not to let it bother you, sweetie. There there. Here's a nice adult beverage.
xo, Lydia

(c)Herding Turtles, Inc. 2009 - 2011

35 comments:

  1. OMG! Perfect timing, this post. We literally just did all of that and you put into words exactly our day.

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  2. yup, just dealt with that and gearng up to deal with it again. I kept it as simple and low-key as possible and used your suggestion of 5 bucks and half goes to charity (which was hugely successful, thank you! She raised $40! Many people gave her extra because it was going to help a little girl). But I still spent too much money and was incredibly stressed. But at the end she was thrilled to have anyone show up and eat ice cream with her. One down, three to go!

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  3. Just wait. My 14 year old daughter just told me we have almost 2 years for her sweet 16. Lord help me!

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  4. Man, you are totally and absolutely right on! For years I knocked myself out, trying to create the ideal party that everyone -- especially my kid -- would love. Which is why I love #5 on your list. Best idea ever: my best friend told me to have a peanut hunt (which you probably couldn't do now, what with the allergy thing and all). We took a bag of peanuts in the shell and FLUNG them around the yard, and sent the kids to find them. They LOVED it! Never ate the peanuts; it was the hunt. So easy! And here's the best news: for my daughter's 14th birthday, she and her friends did the whole thing: had a water fight in the backyard, came in and ate the frozen pizza I heated up, decorated --and then ate -- their own cupcakes. Easiest party EVER. So for those of you with little ones, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Unless, of course, you have to do the whole bar mitzvah thing, in which case, bring on the adult beverages!

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  5. OMG, yes, yes, yes!!! This is EXACTLY what happens at my house!! One year, I did a combined first birthday party for my daughter and second birthday party for my niece, because their birthdays are only a few weeks apart and we have out of town relatives who wanted to attend both parties. 60+ people at my house, my husband thought that he was supposed to enjoy himself and talk with his friends, and my older daughter spent half of the party on the toilet sick at "both ends". Um, I don't know if it was nerves or if she was just trying to upstage the birthday girls. My head was swivling off of my body, by the end of the day. I have to keep repeating to myself, never again, no more combined birthday parties....

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  6. Wow, sometimes I feel like I'm the meanest mom ever because we don't throw birthday parties. Then I read a post like this and remember why :D Hey, I have 4 kids, I'd be spending the entire year stressed out if we did! They get to pick a destination (like the park or, *heaven forbid* Chuck E Cheese) and a place to go out to dinner. Since my husband is in the Army, it's not like we have a bunch of grandparents around expecting a party!! Score!!

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    1. I seriously think this is the way to go, and I only have one kid! This is what my parents did when my sisters and I were growing up, and I have wonderful memories of simple family traditions like this. We picked either a restaurant or a special meal we wanted Mom to make. As an older kid I always made my Mom do home-made Chinese food - a lot of work, but a heck of a lot easier/cheaper/less stressful than a party! :)

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  7. Also, during the denoument, your sweet hubby will try sweet talking you (such a great party my love! what an amazin hostess you are. And mom. And wife....) in an effort to get some sweet lovin. At whcih point you will warn him that if one more person (namely HIM) puts slimy hands on you for any reason, he will pull back bloody stumps!

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    1. Your comment made no sense at all, especially considering the topic.

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  8. This is SO TRUE! We just went through this again two weeks ago. You also left one out - the jealous siblings who mope around the whole week because it's not their birthday and no one is sending them cards in the mail or giving them new toys or singing happy birthday to them. It starts out young too -- we have a hilarious video from my 2nd son Noah's 1st birthday. My 1st son Daniel was a few months shy of 3. I'm sitting with Noah on my lap and Daniel standing next to me - candles lit on the cake in front of us. The whole crowd starts singing and Daniel has a big smile on his face. As soon as they get to the part "happy birthday dear NOAH", Daniel's face instantly switches to a frown with tears and an nuclear meltdown erupts. All captured on video - we laugh about it now.

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  9. OMG I just did this and a month later, I'm still pissed!

    It was my youngest kid's 3rd birthday and I spent most of Saturday making an entirely homemade cake. I had planned to do (homemade) dinner and cake on Sunday with the ILs at our house but MIL wanted to do lunch, with them bringing lunch from a restaurant. Fine, I said because it was going to be less work for me (here we go with the bait and switch of another kind) and I foolishly think everything is under control.

    Sunday morning DH is farting around online, the house is still dirty, he hasn't showered, the kids are being more bonkers than usual... at 10:30 he finally detaches from the internet and says he doesn't know what we're doing for lunch. Um, whuck? He farts around some more, emailing his father rather than picking up the phone, etc. and his parents are acting all confused by the concept of picking up food, getting in car, driving 5 minutes to our house. I lost my shit at all of them and made hot dogs or something for our lunch and the party was off.

    We spent the afternoon bickering about how positively stupid the whole thing was and finally we decided that we should at least have the ILs over for the cake after they went out to dinner (yeah, I ended up having to cook dinner too) and presents. Then MIL answered her cell phone and gabbed with a friend as DH brought out the cake I worked so hard on.

    So yeah, I'm still annoyed and twitchy at the concept of birthday parties.

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    1. Bless your heart. There's nothing more frustrating than what you've described and frankly, it makes you want to just forget about trying, since everyone else seems to think it's not worth the effort. It's sad when the adults are worse than the kids!

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  10. In our house it even has a name! "Too Much Birthday" after a Berenstain Bear book of the same name.

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  11. Perfect timing.. this Sunday we are hosting my boy's joint birthday party. My youngest turned 3 on April 4th, and my older son will be 5 on April 19th. I'm feeling the crazy creeping up on me as I type.

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  12. We had a skating party that sent mommy to the brink. It was so fab (and by "fab," I mean "fear-inducing"), I had to blog about it in three parts (with stiff drinks in between)! The moral of the story as far as I can tell: never underestimate the power of a well-timed cake (and the catastrophes that can result cake-related things go awry)...

    http://www.momintwocultures.com/2011/12/birthday-party-part-1.html
    http://www.momintwocultures.com/2011/12/birthday-party-part-2-never.html
    http://www.momintwocultures.com/2011/12/birthday-party-part-3-moral.html

    My seven year-old is already angling for another skating party next year.

    Lord help us.

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  13. You've pretty much nailed it, though I've become smarter and no longer host them at our house. I am still optimistic about his party which is Sat, at a cupcake shop. 90 min tops, less money than we would spend doing it here, and no clean up! He's 5 today!!

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  14. How about, as you are getting ready to put the cake on the table. You reach out, just as the Birthday boy spins around, and you catch him across his whole cornea, with the only longish finger nail you have. Promptly sending him into hysterical crying and yelling how "THIS IS THE WORST BIRTHDAY EVER!!!!" Then having to make a trip to the ER after an hour passes and he can no longer keep either eye open and the scratched one is running with tears like a faucet.

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  15. "Don't forget the urge to be unfairly evil to your husband for no apparent reason." um...yes. although I'm not sure it's entirely unfair as I plan the whole damn party from picking the date/time/place, sending out invites and dealing with the lack of RSVPs so I have no clue whether 1 kid or 20 will show up, making the cake, planning food, buying decorations, getting all 3 kids and myself dressed and showered and to the bathroom and the diaper bag packed etc etc etc etc etc ETC while he farts around and wonders why I'm pissed when we are already late to our own freaking party and he isn't done getting ready. There inevitably will be a raging B blow up that will end up in a fight leaving us both ready to never speak again that I of course have to apologize for because it was entirely my fault. Luckily I have a phenomenal MIL who loves to help throw the parties (at her place so I do not have to clean but it is 30 min away) and helps with food and decor but by the time I get there I'm ready to not ever have another party. *I think this applies to holidays too

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    1. Or he will question your decisions about the party, such as, "why are the kids meeting at the pool? wouldn't it be easier to have them meet at the house? 1:00 is pretty close to lunch. Shouldn't you have planned to make sandwiches? Is that enough cake? did you get enough plates?" I want to punch him in the man globes!

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  16. My kids birthday is on July 4th. We have had one actual party because NO one is EVER in town either the weekend before or the weekend after. Throw into the mix the fact that her father and I are both remarried with split custody and you have a horridly complex set of schedules to figure out: "well, step-mom is working that day and she wants to be there so how about this day?" "nope that won't work for us, step-brother will be at his mom's that day". GAH! Now we just have a picnic in the park with family (kid, me, dad, stepmom/dad/sibs)it works for us. Thank goodness we all get along!

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  17. once again you have nailed it. this post is awesomeness wrapped in wisdom and hilarity. i love it. a lot. and despite having seen those freakin' cookie monster cupcakes before, i still snort when i see them. hysterical and nightmareish.

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  18. This post was perfect timing...I'm planning my son's second birthday party, which is about a month away. At his first, we sat him down in front of his very own smash cake, with all our friends and family looking on. Cameras were ready. I had visions of him sticking his chubby little fingers in and enjoying his cake. Except he took one look at it and burst into tears and threw an enormous hissy fit. I actually had to take him upstairs and calm him, and we missed about half an hour of his own party. Fun times.

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  19. We had a tradition of family parties and separate friends parties, after we realised the horrible way some of my in laws behaved around our friends, short of divorce this made the most sense. Parties with friends were lovely generous affairs with adults and children joining in games and dancing and fun, alcohol for the adults helped and having a sizeable garden for screaming children was a plus. However my 16 year old daughter still remembers a family party for her 6th birthday when all the attention was diverted from her by an Aunt and Uncle sharing the news of their pregnancy. No it wasn't the present to give a 6 year old. Never felt the same about that part of his family since then.

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  20. I was reading this during a conference call (work), and then I saw the cupcake pictures. That is when I spit water out of my nose trying to hold back a laugh while desperately looking for my mute button.

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  21. Great post - thanks for this one. I'm getting ready to deal with soon-to-be-stepdaughter's 18th birthday and possible party in a couple of weeks. It doesn't get any easier. It's not helped by the fact that one of STBSD's sisters has an activity on her actual birthday from 6-8pm that's a Big Deal for the little sis. Sigh.

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  22. Oh my god...get out of my head! This is exactly how birthday parties go down at my house. Except that my kids were both born in the summer. In Arizona. So add sweltering heat the list of birthday party atrocities.

    Thanks for the awesome post!

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  23. OMG, Lydia, I'm seriously going to sue you when I finally find those cameras you have hidden in my house. I read this while taking a break from power cleaning our house for our 2-year-old's family birthday party tomorrow. Add in the sibling nuclear meltdown, too - what is it about a sibling's birthday that will send a 5-year-old into fits over a new baby pop-up toy?

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  24. Snort! You gals are hilarious!
    We recently threw our daughter a 6th birthday party at a bowling alley with 16 kids in attendance along with their parents and our friends and relatives. Picture the little hooligans hopped up on sugar running around in the dark (glow-in-the-dark bowling) to a deafening cacophony of squeals, meltdowns and pumping full-volume techno music. I think it will be forever ranked in our top 20 list of the stupidest things we've ever done as parents. But then, there's always tomorrow!
    Totally enjoy your blog!
    M.

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  25. It's comforting to see that it's pretty much the same for everyone.

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  26. Soooooooo glad to know it's not just me.

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  27. Tks, I'm already thinking about bday #2 and these remembrance points will come in handy

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  28. I can think of no edits to your post. It is spot on. I have 5 kids, and THANK THE GOOD LORD, the oldest is now turning 27 and the youngest is 14. I am getting hives just remembering what it was like to throw birthday parties for my kids when they were young. Ugh, double ugh, and triple ugh. My sympathies to you!

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  29. I am totally with you, I am planning my 2nd daughters 4th birthday tomorrow. Just as a warning I have become a bit of a hippy especially when it comes to parties (and gifts) First off, ditch the gift bags people!!! I hate when my kids get them and I'll be damned if I'm spending good money on garbage and sugar to hand out to people that I like. I wouldn't do that to them. Second, I know it sounds weird but I don't buy gifts for my kids or other peoples kids for birthdays. Most of us have a house full of toys that we are always complaining about cleaning up so instead of contributing to the problem I tell my friends to just get their children to pick out a toy that they don't play with anymore, wrap it up and give it to my kids for a gift. I have also done this with my kids friends. Seriously people it is not that I am cheap, I just hate the idea of all of the waste that is produced from the kids toys and the packaging for something that will hardly get played with. It was really awkward at first when I would show up at a party with a recycled gift but once I explained it to the parents they were totally in support. The kids have always been just as happy with their reused toys and I find that my kids are more excited about giving because there is more invested in it. Its starting to catch on with my group of friends and I'm hoping to start a new trend.

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  30. I threw a party last year for his first birthday because I thought I deserved the alcohol and visit with friends. It was stressful. This year I'm not doing it. I don't try hard enough on the materialism stuff (like today I let him pick out a car for his train set at target), but he's not getting a party every year. I really think he'll have to beg. Especially when his sibling gets here.

    I rarely had birthday parties growing up. Like another poster said ... we were military and there weren't family members around that expected it. Mom made a cake, we got to pick the meal. That was it. When we were older we got to pick a movie to go see and we went to Olive Garden. I'm thinking we'll be more like that.

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  31. Although this place is probably not cheap, but they are centrally located, have fabulous staff and delicious food, and most importantly, the best views of the city.

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