Birthday parties are un-American

I am convinced birthday parties for children are part of a Chinese conspiracy.

I spent two hours yesterday inside a giant warehouse filled with inflatable jumping platforms and slides. Dozens of phlegmy, snotty, sweating kids ran sock-footed around me. They reminded me of wingless flying monkeys, wild-eyed, smiling with sharpened teeth, and hopped up on goofballs the likes of which even well-traveled shaman-types haven’t seen. I was scared and looked for the source of the sugar. I hoped I could save my family–and if not, myself–if I could just cut off the supply. I never did.

It was a birthday party for a child I’ve seen once in my life. His mother takes a dance class with my wife. The kids met in the children’s room at the dance studio. Somewhere along the line, despite the fact I don’t know any of their names, they became our Saturday project. It was the other boy’s fourth birthday party. The only other time I’ve seen the kid? That’s right. My own kid’s fourth birthday party.

After spending the better part of an hour treating each other like torture test dummies, the kids retired to a broom closet where the birthday boy sat on a giant inflatable throne and watched his minions mainline cake, ice cream, and candy. Someone threw a juice box in there to make it healthy. The entire room smelled like a sugar cane farmer’s tube socks. The kid rave reached its zenith during a wild paper-ripping, isn’t that cute, another G.I. Joe gift-opening frenzy.

This is where the Chinese are profiting.

Before the party began, we had to go to Target. There we purchased three monster trucks for the party, what I can only assume was adequate payback for whatever gift my child received from mystery boy at his birthday party two months before. After purchasing the toys, a gift bag, some tissue paper, and a birthday card, we’d spent nearly $30 on a kid I couldn’t have picked out of a line-up until I saw him on his flying monkey throne.

How does that happen?

Well, it begins when your own child has a birthday party. A parent (and there is no need to say which) feels like said party will not be a success (or someone might be offended) if everyone they know and their children aren’t there. And so suddenly there is a 50-person pool party for a four-year old that results in (and I’m not kidding) two SUVs full of toys for one two-handed boy. Every gift is appreciated, thank you cards are written, and future invitations are extended. That’s where it gets ugly.

Because there were 20 or so kids at my kid’s birthday party, we can expect invitations in kind for the next several months. So, you do the math. That many kids bought my kid that many gifts at a similar price. Now, we have to spend the same amount on the rest of the kids. Not only that, we will end up at Target and two-hour birthdays for the foreseeable future. It’s never-ending and the Chinese toy manufacturers are making out like bandits. Or the American companies that have moved to China to find a cheaper workforce and inferior safety standards are making out like bandits. I get confused.

If I had done the math a couple of months ago, I could’ve explained it to my wife in a way she might have understood. I could’ve explained that for the money and time we will spend at other nameless kids’ birthdays for the next year, we could’ve bought our kid all the gifts he got at his own birthday party and saved a couple days of our life. With that time and money, we probably could’ve secured my boy a personal audience with Mickey Mouse or Brett Favre. Instead, we are perpetuating American joblessness, applauding the human rights abuses in China, and probably (although I’m unclear on this part) hampering the effort to free Tibet.

I’m convinced that 95% of suburban family difficulty is based on kids’ birthday parties. Here’s the formula: to prove your love to your child (and ostensibly make them “happy”) you throw them a big birthday party, at which they are visited by dozens of other similar children who bring $20 worth of gifts. This results in children going to other birthday parties all year long and spending $30 per party. By the end of the year, all of the families houses are overflowing with toys, such that they having to rent storage units or buy bigger houses. The families then buy bigger houses they can’t afford, the banking industry collapses, the President goes on television, and somehow Barney Frank and President Bush are going out for nachos.

Today, my kid is enduring delirium tremens from the sugar withdrawal and babbling incoherently about Chairman Mao. I can only assume the 我们心中的红太阳 tattoo on his arm means, “Thanks, Dad, for a great birthday season.”

Brad Willis

Brad Willis is a writer based in Greenville, South Carolina. Willis spent a decade as an award-winning broadcast journalist. He has worked as a freelance writer, columnist, and professional blogger since 2005. He has also served as a commentator and guest on a wide variety of television, radio, and internet shows.

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6 Responses

  1. Dr. Chako says:

    We’re doing the mandatory Chuck E. Chesse for our soon-to-be 6 year old next week.

    The horror. The horror.

    -DrC

  2. BadBlood says:

    Christmas is the same way. I keep telling the wife and all who would hear me to save the money they’d spend on presents and spend it on themselves the day after.

    Nobody listens to genius.

  3. Chilly says:

    We have a $10 guideline for kids gifts and re-use the gift bags that showed up at our party.

  4. Drizztdj says:

    Sort of like weddings.

    Only you don’t get drunk, grind on a random married females to “Ride a horse, save a cowboy”, and the birthdays tend to happen more often (for most people).

  5. Jen says:

    OK, so this post left me rolling around in fits of laughter.
    Chairman Mao, indeed.
    This year we did none of that for my son’s second birthday, and never looked back.
    Of course, he’s not old enough to ask for anything yet. Rue that day.

  6. Da Goddess says:

    I’ve had exactly ONE party for my son that involved other kids. My daughter had ONE party involving other kids. The ex and I decided long ago that family matters most when it comes to parties. That’s a rule we’ve adhered to with those two exceptions.

    Do my kids seem less happy with fewer guests? Nope. In fact, they’re more relaxed, have time to appreciate each person in attendance and the gifts they receive. There are many hugs, lots of laughter, and no tears except those from a mommy who can’t believe her babies are growing so quickly.

    Where we live, there’s no way we could keep up with the Joneses or anyone else. If we tried, we’d be deeper in debt and no one would really be any happier.

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