Monday, July 2, 2012

Mommyblogging - Birthday Party as Competitive Sport

With the Olympics coming up, it seems only natural that we turn our attentions to competitive sports - yes, even those that might be more suited for the Stay-at-Home-Mom Games:

Flashback Master P at his 1st birthday; he'll be so pleased one day that I kept a photo of him of that hat . . . 
Over the past few days I've had two separate conversations about how birthday parties for toddlers - you  know, the ones not old enough to know about things like birthday parties - have become something of a competitive mom sport in certain circles, with each fete more elaborate than the next.  A symptom of Pinterest shaming, possibly.

Why is anyone spending money on parties for persons uninterested in much more than endangering life & limb careening off the couch, I've heard some ask? Are we doing this not for the delight of our wee babes, but instead to inspire envy in other moms?

The highly scientific conclusion at which I've arrived is - as with most things, it depends.

Here in my bit of Austin, spending a lot of time or resources on parties - on anything, really - is generally Just Not Done. Spend your entire paycheck at Whole Paycheck Foods and no one will bat an eyelash, but conspicuously drop dollars on much else, like a birthday party, and (possibly un-plucked) brows will be raised.  Parties for young ones do happen - we've been to a number of terrific ones recently (hi, party-throwing friends reading this!) - but the festivities aren't at all expected and tend to be very casual affairs.

More flashbacks - no, my one-year-old didn't think these were as cool as I did. Yes, they were delicious.

Most of the time, I consider myself lucky to live in such a grounded environment. There isn't a whiff of competition in our playgroup set or their parties. As one who's prone to swinging in a spendy direction if I'm in that environment - ok, yes, even when I'm not in that environment - I'm content living in a place where flashy status symbols or events aren't the thing. Happy to raise my children in that world, certainly.

At the same time, this can be a tricky business for someone like me, who is not only a bit of a shopper but also. . . a Toddler Party Thrower. There, I've admitted it.

Let me explain - I grew up in a family where affection was shown less by what was said than by events like big ol' birthday get-togethers. You would never have caught my late grandmother (who, along with my grandfather, raised me) saying something wildly sentimental like "I love you", for example, but I just knew from the energy she put into things like my birthdays. And that's not saying said parties were expensive or fancy - not even a little bit - but - you  know, paper invitations were sent, games were thoughtfully planned out, and so on.

And so I've enjoyed carrying on the tradition for my wee CEO, even though he won't remember even a bit of it in these early years. I'm happy to have the excuse to get family & playgroup friends together for a modest party. I enjoy indulging my inner old biddy with things like ordering old time-y snail mail invitations, not to show anyone else up but Just Because. I'm not good at the crafty details, but I do enjoy some of the trying. In the end, it's a little bit for me, but it's mostly my love letter to Master P. It's not at all for the envy or Pinterest set, pinky swear.

Um, somehow that turned into a bit about me, which wasn't the point . . . my point was . . .

. . . do you see much of this "birthday party as competitive sport" thing happening in your area? Examples of outrageous party excess? Do you take philosophical issue with the idea of a baby birthday party in the first place?


LPC said...

My mom did this 50 years ago, I did it 20 years ago, I think it runs in our culture and we can claim it with pride:). Kind of like how High WASPs like costume parties and silly hats. Allows for fun and self-expression.

Natalie said...

It seems that so much of parenting is a competitive sport! I hope I survive!!

Sarah said...

Oh my, this is so, so true in the West Suburbs of St. Louis. Admittedly, I went completely batshit crazy with my son's first birthday party, but that was more of a bash for my husband and I and our friends (more wine was consumed than juice boxes or even birthday cake). In the future, we will tone it down and cater (no pun intended, because, indeed it was catered) just to the kids. But there will be printables.

Beach Bum & Baby said...

Oh I too am going through this convo with friends as Trey makes his way through the "summer party circuit".

I had a mom friend come to me and explain that her son's second birthday wasn't going to be fancy, she's not crafty like me, etc, etc. I was like WHOA HOLD THE PHONE. Like you, I do these things for me. And Trey obv. It's a love language just like how I write love notes for Trey in his lunch box and JD and his (yep, I'm mushy like that).

Just like you said, it's a way of showing you care. Why did we spend so much time and energy and money on the nurseries. Not to upstage the Joneses down the street but because we were SO excited.

I love parties - I love seeing other people's ideas and creativity come to life but I DO NOT have any ill feelings towards people that don't do what we do.

Elz said...

Parties here (in Houston) are SERIOUS business. I probably take my kids' parties to the extreme-but they are never expensive. Just extensively and expertly planned-think Martha Stewart and pinterest and that's me the weeks before the party. It is 100% working mom guilt, so paper handmade invites, handmade costumes, goody bags, etc. It's a lot ridiculous, but I love it!

Anonymous said...

De-lurking to say that you've brought back fond memories of the terrific birthday parties your grandmother used to throw you in San Dieguito Park! She did love you--those parties were only one of many signs.

Now back to reading a 1596 edition of the Roman Catechism in Latin...


Jessica said...

To each their own.

I loved seeing/going to a party that is well thrown together.

I am not crafty and budgets are tight. I do my best to make my toddler feel special, and put in the most time effort as possible. Thats what matters right.

I don't do things I can't afford. For us, I love the paper invites. But I just don't have the cash. So people get phone calls. I learned how to decorate cupcakes. (Not extra fancy but cute enough- and delicious)

I think we honor our families and children by also living within our means. I hope the parties I go to aren't breaking banks, being charged up on credit cards and putting any additional burdens on families in a need to "be the best".

Belle on Heels said...

I struggle with this and I don't have any baby parties on the horizon at all. I think my stress is similar to yours; for me, it's not that I want to throw a big, creative, over-the-top party to show off. That thought mortifies me. I just really, REALLY love to throw parties for the people I care about. And as excited as I get to throw parties for my friends, I can only imagine how much that joy will increase when it's my own wee tot. I will want to go CRAZY planning child parties, but I fear people thinking I'm one of THOSE moms.

Amy @ Forever 29 said...

I do love a good party, and grew up having to BEG and plan (ok, maybe I was the one who insisted on the planning part) my own parties every few years. I also "swing in the spendy direction" so as a fail-safe we implemented an every-other year party least until the boys start asking about parties. As far as local competition, most of our friends seem to have lots of family locally so we haven't been invited to many parties. Most of the mom-petition is in my mind and with invisible internet friends. None of Cole's party invitees noticed that I didn't get around to cutesy named food labels.

Kate said...

So... DALLAS. Um, yeah. My inner-Austinite is frightened.

That is not to say I don't appreciate and love a great party - cocktail, child, or otherwise. And I had plenty of adorable, creative, well-thought-out and well-planned birthday parties growing up. I think the difference in the parties of my youth / the fetes you plan for Master P {as well as the fiestas I plan on for L} and the over-the-top events I see in Highland Park is the focus... Sure, you might have details that can only be appreciated by adults, but I'm a-betting you keep your child in mind when planning his parties. So many of the Fancypants Children's Events I've seen have absolutely nothing to do with the kids - they are a complete afterthought, just an excuse to impress the parents' friends.

I say rock on with your printables so long as the small fry is truly celebrated!

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