Birthday parties have changed since I was a child. Back in the ’70s, I got a sheet cake with maybe my favorite color icing and a few anemic little balloons filled with my mom’s breath and taped onto the backs of chairs. I’m not sure my cake even said “Happy Birthday, Tara.” I think it usually just had the appropriate number of years candles on top.
One year, in a burst of inexpensive creativity, my mom stuck one of my Barbies on top of my cake. If I remember correctly, when the Barbie was removed to cut the cake, I cried because half of the icing came off and stuck to her plastic thighs. The icing is the best part! Now there’s a “V”-shaped naked spot on top of my cake… what the heck, Mom?! After our guests left, she let me eat the remaining icing out of the container with my fingers. Best. Mom. Ever.
I don’t recall party favors or gift bags for guests back in the ’70s and ’80s either. I think you basically got a pat on the head and a “Thanks for coming, kid” as you were leaving. My dad probably passed out a Stroh’s beer or three to the parents, but I don’t remember little make-your-own suncatcher kits or carrot seed packets attached with a sweet bow onto a trowel or even crappy candy in a sandwich bag. It’s not like that anymore…
Thanks to Google Images and, more specifically, Pinterest, many parents (myself included) feel a bit (or a lot) of pressure to step up their birthday party game for their beloved offspring. Having six kids, we go to loads of birthday parties. I’m not going to name names but my friend, Shameem, has mastered the sensational children’s birthday party.
There are two that really stand out: for her daughter’s mermaid-themed party one year, there was the most flawless cake: three tiers, all covered in smooth, fingerprint-free fondant with cutouts of waves and starfish and little pearl-like edible candies. The mermaid was hand-sculpted, three-dimensional and matched the looks of the birthday girl with long, flowing hair and a smiling face staring back at you. I may have this detail wrong, but I’m pretty sure there were a couple of motorized fish circling the top. It was Cake Wars worthy.
Shameem and her sister made that masterpiece, like, themselves. Our daughter, Mia, was standing with me while I was jealously interviewing my friend about the cake. When I looked down at her, she was glaring at me and asked why her cakes had to come from a grocery store. I had no choice but to tell the truth: “Because Mommy is very lazy, darling.”
The other shindig that stands out in my mind was for their 4-year-old son. They had a train, y’all. A train that you could totally ride in — even the grown-ups! There was an engineer and five little carts behind, including a caboose. There were speakers with kid-friendly music being piped through the box cars. All of the kids were given conductor hats and red bandanas which they wore happily and without one bit of reluctance.
I don’t really recall the cake for that party — I was busy riding the train — but the adults were given a small bottle of whiskey, a Waylon Jennings CD* and any leftover conductor hats and bandanas when it was time to go. Y’all should try to score an invite to Shameem’s kid’s parties — even the parents get swag!
There are six Woodchips. That’s a lot of births to acknowledge, you guys. Thankfully, our oldest two are happy having a few friends over for pizza and a movie. Our two youngest are oblivious to what is meant to happen at a birthday party, or even that they are to be celebrated. Those two have birthdays within weeks of each other, so we combine theirs and give them two separate but equally lame store-bought cakes and it would be impossible for them to care less.
The middle two, though, want parties at places. Like the place that hosts five other kid’s birthday parties at the same time and has a massive, animatronic mouse on a stage playing a keytar and staring off into the distance at what, I don’t know — the salad bar, I guess? Personally, I’d assume eat a live, furry baby kitten than host a party at that place.
Once, Leo asked if Jack White could play at his birthday party and if it could be on top of a mountain. Thankfully, Jack was touring Australia and Mt. Everest was kind of foggy that day — phew! Dodged that bullet.
There is something to be said about not having a party at your house, though. I don’t have to try to make it not smell like six kids and two dogs live there and I don’t have to rearrange furniture for maximum seating capacity in the den. In fact, I have been known to offer $10 and a fruit roll-up if the kid will have a party somewhere other than our house (it just can’t be at the animatronic mouse place or on top of a mountain in Nepal). All we have to do is bring the cake, paper goods and any decorations. Most places will do the set up, serve the cake and ice cream and take care of the clean up.
I don’t know about you but that sounds pretty close to perfect and I don’t have to scrub my baseboards or shampoo our carpet lest we be judged on our cleanliness and the odors of our home.
I hope that our kids aren’t measuring my love for them based solely on the spectacularness of their birthday parties — if that’s the case, they’ll be crying on a therapist’s couch before they’re 10. I’m going to assume that they are sure of my deep, abiding and unconditional love for them because, although I don’t throw the most badass celebrations of their birth, they’re (usually) fed, clothed and are told daily that they are the greatest gift I’ve ever been given — birthday or otherwise.
*We didn’t really get whiskey or a CD. We totally got the extra hats and bandanas, though. I still wear the hat.
Augusta’s own Tara Wood writes a monthly column for Metro Augusta Parent Magazine. She really does have six kids.