The Anatomy of a Child’s Birthday Party

Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be found on Facebook or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.

Since my older son’s fifth birthday party was held last weekend, I find it appropriate to discuss exactly what goes into planning, and ultimately executing a child’s birthday party. Now, I know plenty of parents who will scoff at this and ask, “Why bother stressing over a kid’s birthday?” Well, the short answer is because stress is in my blood. The remainder of this blog is the long answer.

Planning a birthday celebration for an adult is fairly simple. You pick a date, you pick a place, you send a mass text, and whoever is around shows up for a drink. And generally speaking, there’s very little stress (if any at all) and plenty of alcohol involved.

So, about that kid’s party…

The very first thing to consider is theme. As in, which animated character makes your child cry the hardest when pried out of his or her hands? For my son, this was undoubtedly superheroes. Batman, Incredible Hulk, Spiderman, Iron Man. You name it. He’s obsessed with it. Sure, he’s never actually seen any of them on television (or even the comics). But why should that insignificant detail deter him from infatuation? Regardless of what you choose, though, the inevitable theme ends up being “parents spend an obscene amount of money that their child will never fully appreciate.”

So for my son’s party, my overly driven wife decided to make HOMEMADE SUPERHERO CAPES AND MASKS as party favors. In a way, I was impressed by her determination. In another way, it felt like going swimming with cinderblocks tied to each ankle. Ambitious, yet not entirely desirable if you’re already having trouble keeping your head above water.

I wish I’d put half the effort into college that my wife puts into party favors.

The next thing to consider, naturally, is the date the party will take place. Choosing the date closest to the actual birthday of your child is ideal, but not always feasible. What if your child’s birthday coincides with Labor Day weekend, or the birthday of another child in your kid’s class, or the anniversary of Titanic’s sinking? Ultimately, you’re either the type of person who says “screw it” and books your party the date you want it, or the type to play nice and make sure you’re not stepping on feet. No matter how hard I resist, I typically fall into the latter category. I just refuse to touch anyone’s feet.

Choosing the location and party package (assuming this isn’t happening in your backyard) quickly turns into a game of “Which business owner is trying to screw me the hardest?” There will be the basic party package, which they’ll actually title “Basic Party Package” to make you feel like a heartless cretin selecting it. This package typically includes six party guests, 30 minutes of jump-rope, and maybe use of paper goods and plasticware. The basic package is the party equivalent of ordering the 8 GB iPhone. So, ultimately, because you’re having more than six kids at the party, you’re ordering the Jumbo Kid Orgasm Package that costs roughly the same amount as your mortgage payment. But that includes cleanup, saving you the trouble of taking paper plates and napkins and tossing them into a trash bin. So, there’s that.

Then, reluctantly, comes the creation of the invite list. And make no mistake; no adult wants their kid to be on that list. There’s no alcohol, there’s little refuge from their kids, and there’s a strong likelihood that they’ll have that party hat elastic band snapped onto their face. This may explain why we invited 32 kids to my son’s party and a whopping seven replied by the RSVP date. You would think we were asking them to sign up to be a foster family for a homeless groundhog with the hollowness that encompassed our phones and email inboxes. Add on the fact that we mistakenly invited his entire class, and we were met with a whole sh*tload of indifference. For potential ideas on how to quell this RSVP issue, check out this recent article.

Once the date, location, invite list, theme, and alcohol to be consumed afterwards is all laid out, it’s time to “execute the party.” So you cart the balloons, cake, party favors, and every stimulant imaginable to the party place. And you start to realize that holding a child’s birthday party is not unlike having a wedding. First of all, there is virtually no socialization (for you) at all. You’ll greet people as they walk in the door, mindlessly shout “thanks!” as they’re leaving, and practically nothing in between. You’re too busy taking and posing for pictures. You’re too busy documenting who gave which gift so you can mention it in the “thank you” card later. You’re too busy ensuring every soul in the building is happy, eating and hydrated…except for you. And that’s when you decide that your child’s next birthday will be at the Outback.

My task the night before the party was turning Poland Spring into “Super Water”

But there’s something intrinsically important that happens during your child’s party. There’s a moment when the music is colliding with your relentless thoughts, when your spouse is anxiously asking you where you left the camera and you feel the sweat start to bleed through your shirt fabric, when you see your child absorbing every stimulating element surrounding him. And he’s so incredibly happy that you can’t help but smile through the chaos. Because you know, despite the price tag, your sweat is worth his joy.

Another thing that was actually worth it? This cooler than cool superhero cake.

Yes, the fist is edible. Yes, I ate the fingernails.

Alternatively, if in that moment you don’t see your child exuberantly smiling, at the very least you’ve brushed up on your project management skills.

Thanks for reading, and please join the conversation by adding a comment below, checking out my Facebook, or following me on Twitter. And if anyone in the New Jersey area wants the number of the cake creator, drop me a line.

Get started planning the perfect birthday party for your little one using our Birthday Party Planner!

Kid Craft: No-Sew Superhero Capes
Kid Craft: No-Sew Superhero Capes
Kid Craft: No-Sew Superhero Capes

* Balloon photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

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