Back in my day, when we had a birthday, we didn't have any bounce houses, or petting zoos, or fancy Martha Stewart cupcakes arranged in a pyramid. We got a cardboard, cone-shaped hat with an elastic band that snapped under our chin, we pinned a tail on a donkey and we ate a piece of Duncan Heinz cake. AND. WE. LIKED. IT.
And truly, we did. I have happy memories of (or at least lots of grainy pictures of me looking really happy) those birthdays with my friends and cousins, growing up in the 70's. And I know that living simply is the best way to live. De-cluttering and choosing to make do with less are big things these days and I am totally on board (you should see how little I buy at Target these days--sad, but liberating. You'd be proud of me. Tell me you're proud of me!). But I have to admit. I LOVE me a birthday party. Especially a kid's birthday party (if only because, who are we kidding, once we have kids, our own birthdays lose some of their partyability, what with the having to be able to cope with a preschooler the next day).
Since we've been back from Hawaii (two weeks), we've been to two birthday parties. One was at a bounce-house place where almost every square inch is inflatable jumpy joyful goodness and you have to take off your shoes when you walk in the door (I am always on board with a venue that requires me to lose the shoes), and the other in the friend's back yard, which was transformed into a fairyland, complete with magical fairy entertainer who entranced the children with her fairy-beauty and magic, and impressed the parents with her ability to speak at a pitch almost out of our hearing-range and without needing to take breaths, seemingly ever. Every single kid who attended either (or both) of those parties was entirely transported to a state of blissful rapture with the jumping and the screaming and/or the fairies and the magic wands. Each party perfectly captured the personality of the birthday children.
I guess that's what I love about birthday parties today--recognizing the uniqueness of each kid as they celebrate their birthday. Even though people crab about how overblown and over the top they can be. And sure, they can be (but let me say for the record, the one's I've referred to in this entry were not!). No kid neeeeeds a petting zoo or circus performers at their birthday. Hell, I just left a banquet supplies rental place where I reserved 3 little tables and 24 chairs for Ethan's party--"back in my day", if they didn't fit around the dining room table, they weren't invited--period!
But I think there's tremendous value in, one day a year, buying completely into whatever it is--fairies, ponies, pirates, jumping around with abandon, to your heart's content---that makes your child tick that year. Each themed party, is a celebration of who your child is at that moment. Because they won't always be into ponies, or Blues Clues or magic. One day they'll just grunt that they want whatever the newest i-Thing is and to go out with their friends.
So for now I'm perfectly happy to spend all of my energy and time leading up to Ethan's Beatles-themed 4th birthday party on Saturday painting styrofoam balls that the kids will turn into an "Octopus' Garden in the shade," or hot-glue gunning white felt to a long strip of black fabric to create an "Abbey Road" walkway to our backyard, making a "Here Comes The Sun" mural on the side of our house, baking and decorating guitar-shaped cakes and going to every Michaels craft store in the bay area to find glittery foam guitar stickers for the foam frame craft. And I'm still considering a poster sized picture of the Beatles with a head cut out (sadly probably George, since none of the kids know him--sorry, George) so the kids can have their picture taken "with" the Beatles.
And don't think for a second that I didn't google the crap out of "Beatles impersonators" for the party. Because I did. (but, um, no, because I'm not a crazy rich person).
These kids may not have crystal clear memories of these birthday parties when they look back as adults, and maybe some of the effort we parents put into them are for us, to satisfy our own frustrated party planning yen. A child's birthday is, in and of itself, a magical day. I know. But I love the idea of the look on Ethan's face on Saturday morning when he sees all the Bealtes-ish stuff that we've put together for him.
It's not about just celebrating the fact that he was born--I love him to pieces, but let's face it, he didn't have a lot to do with that process. It's about celebrating who he is right now, his own little person, who lives and breathes the Beatles, something he came to entirely on his own, and which is a passion that is so much a part of his personality and his own sense of self that it just needs to be celebrated.