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Mediocre Mom Manual: Birthday Party Bankruptcy

birthday parties


I don’t know about you but I’m always amazed at those people who file their taxes by February 1st and are already happily spending (or saving) their refunds while I’m still gathering all my documentation. I haven’t met many people who have big tabs owed to the IRS, mainly I think, because all the people I know are probably in my income bracket and the government is sending us our money back as their way of saying, “No really. Keep your kids. Go buy groceries.” The last few tax years have been good to us; being at various times a) a student b) unemployed c) a part-time worker and d) parents of yet another baby – all of which seems to keep our exemptions relatively high. That equation equals a nice little refund check, oh say, come May. And this year I think we will spend all that cash on… birthday parties.

Yes – Rene’s not the only mom out there alarmed by the size of today’s parties!

Each year as tax season rolls around the birthday party season also starts, when in a span of five months every child in my family and every child in my children’s class will have a birthday. (Seriously, was no-one having sex December thru April? That’s winter for heaven’s sake.) Not only does that mean we will have to host birthday parties, but my children will be invited to them as well. This kind of funding can only be relieved with the tax return, because it seems to me that birthdays have gotten a bit out of hand. These days you need to:

Find a Second Job to Purchase Birthday Presents

I used to have a $10 limit on birthday presents for kids. That seemed like a good amount to spend on a child’s birthday present, especially given that the Christmas limit is $25. Today ten bucks will buy you two packs of gum and a card. When I was a kid we always brought a new coloring book (or two) and a big box of crayons to every party. My mom said it was nice to get new crayons and coloring books get old. When is the last time you saw a kid open crayons and a coloring book during their birthday party extravaganza? Toys these days either have one million little pieces or run on solar power or batteries, making crayons and a coloring book seem positively Amish. I upped my limit to $15-20, and figured that should be sufficient. But I’m still croaking, “No honey, we can’t buy that, it’s more than fifteen dollars,” every 30 seconds down the toy isle.

Invite every child your son/daughter has ever looked at twice or briefly mentioned.
There is nothing like trying to welcome kids to a party, whispering to your child, “Okay honey, who is that coming in the door now?” Only to have your child shrug and say “I don’t know. Someone in my class.” At the risk of sounding cliché, Back When I Was A Kid…we only invited our closest friends.

I remember very clearly being able to invite maybe 8 or 9 people to my birthday parties. It was unheard of to invite kids in your class that you didn’t play with. Now it seems you must invite the entire class so nobody’s feelings get hurt. Boys, girls, kids your own kids hate, the boy that bullies your son and the girls that sneer and call your daughter names. Yes, invited one and all. It is a birthday after all; a time to engender good feelings for everyone and spread good cheer (or is that Christmas…I keep forgetting). I try to limit my children to no more than 10 kids at their parties. For one thing, they really don’t know the difference in the end. There is no way that they can possibly play with or pay attention to 22 friends. At that point I’m just hosting a play date with food and a place for parents to leave their kid for two hours. I might as well post a sign on the road, “Let me pay you to watch your child! They’ll even leave with a gift!”

Take out a second mortgage to hire Bobo the Clown.

Birthday parties hosted at the house also seem to be unheard of these days. It’s all about the venue. Gone are the days of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, make your own birthday hats and cake and ice cream. We rent hotel pools, jumpy houses, sports arenas, indoor play spaces, magicians, balloon-bending clowns, and traveling zoos to entertain the three-thousand children we’ve invited. Let’s face it, when you have that many kids, I suppose bells and whistles are a necessity just to keep the children from organizing a coup d’état. These events are not cheap to plan and make my wedding budget look paltry. The going rate for parties at these venues run between $150-$300. What happens as they get older? No doubt we’ll be renting planes for a “Skydiving Party,” or maybe flying in Justin Bieber for a backyard concert.

Buy a present for each child at the party.
I’m sorry. I need to what?

Yes. It’s not enough to simply invite your child’s friend, feed them pizza, cake, and juice boxes, and professionally entertain them for two hours. You must also provide them a present. Something to take home as a memento of the party they were invited to (originally) celebrating the birthday of your son or daughter. Candy from a piñata no longer cuts it. The happy memories they have of laughing and chasing each other will not do. This gift must be tangible. It must be cute. And you need three-thousand of them. A party is not a party, until you leave with a gift for yourself.
Don’t get me wrong. I want my children to love me and think I’m cool, just like the next mom. I want them to think back on their childhood with tears in their eyes as they remember the ball-juggling clown, the limo ride to the pizza place, and the 12-story birthday cake they had all to themselves. But I also don’t want them to be greedy, selfish kids. Their behavior sometimes borders on that and (apparently) I don’t even provide them with a lot. My son’s birthday is at the end of April. He wants to invite friends over for a game of baseball and then have a tailgate party, where we grill hotdogs and hamburgers. I like the simplicity of that idea. He’s happy just spending time with friends.

Of course, Dustin Pedroia and Josh Beckett will also be there to sign balls at the end. Our tax refund at work.

Shhh. Our son doesn’t know yet.

But what about you? Do you think kid’s parties have gotten out of hand? What drives you crazy about them? Start commenting everyone…

Rachel Vidoni is a professional writer and blogger and former classroom teacher. She is a mediocre mother to three pretty neat kids. You can follow her humor and family blog at You might not be a better parent after reading her blog, but you will feel like one.




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