I’ve been putting off the whole kiddie birthday party fiasco thing for as long as possible. But as Laszlo’s approaching age 3, I think he may be wising up. So when I tell him that his birthday is coming up, I’m hoping that he’ll say he wants to celebrate in a low-key kind of a way – That what he really wants is an early dinner out with mom and dad at the trendy “farm to table” restaurant, Gjelina.
But I ask him if he wants to have a birthday party and he says “YES!” He says “yes” every time I ask. I ask frequently, in the hopes of getting a different answer one of these times.
Now that he’s older and people like to pretend that 2-year-olds have friends, we’ve been going to birthday parties practically every weekend. In Los Angeles, that means presents, a cake, balloon animal artists, face painters, bands, bouncie castles, magicians, gift bags and/or professional bubble shows. It’s like every time he has a birthday from now on, it’s going to be an annual rehearsal for a blowout bar mitzvah when he turns 13.
“Who should we invite?” I ask.
“Mommy. And Daddy.”
I see him struggling to think of more people he likes. “Nana and Pop Pop.” (They had just been to visit.)
“Okaaaay…. Anybody from preschool?”
Jack is the one kid from class that he ever talks about. When I ask him why he likes Jack so much and what they do together, he says “Play cars and trucks”. Yeah, Laszlo, this Jack kid sounds spectacular. I can see what you see in him. I suspect that what’s really going on is that Jack must be the one kid in his class who’s never pushed Laszlo around.
I’m relieved that I have Laszlo’s blessing to not invite everyone in his class. Not only do I not know most of the parents in his class, but we’re not even returning to this preschool next year. Also, there are a couple of criers and screamers in his class and that kind of behavior usually brings a party down. At least, that’s what I remember from college parties.
I decide to throw the party at an indoor playground called Romp because this is the place where we have attended the most kid parties. And because I won’t have to clean up afterwards or risk the destruction of the wool Turkish rugs in my house. But it turns out that Romp will cost more than $1,000 (including pizza, cake, gift bags, balloons and the cost of the extra kids we want to invite beyond the stipulations of their package terms.) I’m in shock. If I’m going to spring for that kind of expense, Laszlo will need to be old enough to remember it. I will keep it in mind for his bar mitzvah. 13-year-olds like to jump in ball pits and bouncie castles, right?
A couple of friends also suggest that I check out another nice indoor playground called The Coop. I look it up online. The homepage shows photos of Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner and a bunch of other celebrities having birthday parties for their kids there. I decide to not even look at the price at that one.
So it looks like we’ll be having the party at the park, because it can get messy and it’s free. And there’s grass there, unlike at my house. But I begin to worry. What if it rains? What if the park is full of picnickers? If this party goes down poorly, it’s on me, not on Romp or The Coop or anyone else. Am I supposed to get the bouncie castle? The face painter? The balloon animal guy? All of the above?
One friend threw a birthday for her preschooler recently in which there was not just a spread of snacks, mimosas and birthday cake, but also a face-painter, an extensive collection of costumes to play with, and a food truck parked near the house. There was also a real band… A hipster band, no less, singing kiddie songs. There were awesome gift bags with professionally designed tags. Sometime in the middle of the party our hostess confessed to me and Joel, “Do you think there’s enough to do? I’m worried that people aren’t having fun.” I suspect that if anyone wasn’t having fun it’s because they were lost in thought about how inadequate their last birthday party was for their kid.
When I think about my friend’s panic at her perfect party, I panic. I realize that I need help. Joel’s too busy with work to help me figure this out. So I turn to Laz. I decide that if he’s old enough for a birthday party, he should be old enough to help me plan it, too.
And then I realize that Laszlo doesn’t even like these things I’m about to ask him to choose from. He doesn’t get too excited about balloon animals. Any time anyone has been so kind as to offer to paint a flower on his cheek, he politely declines with an emphatic, “No, no, no, no, no!” He’s only swam in a ball pit once and he seemed neutral at best about the experience. And he rarely goes inside bouncie castles, preferring to watch the kids who are jumping inside them with a furrowed brow, as if he’s thinking, “I just know that this isn’t going to end well.”
So I get the crazy idea to think about what he likes instead of assuming I have to go all out. I decide that my best plan of action may be to actually listen to him.
“What do you want to have at your party?” I ask him.
“Cake and presents.” That’s it?! Of course! Easy! I LOVE THIS KID!
He gets a book from his shelf. It’s “Curious George and the Birthday Surprise.”
“I want a Curious George party,” he says, only he doesn’t pronounce “Curious George” correctly.
I ask him what he likes about the party in the book and he points to the pictures of the balloons and the cake and the presents and the old fashioned games. I feel a sense of relief. I can do this. I remember that when I had a birthday party as a kid, my mom lead everyone in games of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” and “Musical Chairs”. I was just excited that there was cake and that the paper plates and napkins had pictures of Holly Hobby on them. Yes, I’m old and yes, I was a dork. But I was a happy dork. It really doesn’t take that much to make a kid happy. At least, that’s my excuse for not springing for all that fancy stuff for his party.
I just realized that little bastard probably expects a monkey at his party.
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