In case you’re wondering, my girls have already started planning their next birthday party. They’re thinking sleepover, movie, pizza, cinnamon buns for breakfast. They’re working on a guest list. They’re wondering if they want to have a little “DIY spa day” element.
When’s their birthday?
Oh, May. As in, eight months from now.
Apart from Christmas, birthdays are probably the biggest special occasion around here, and it’s one of those aspects of our family life that is radically different from how I grew up. My birthday is in August, so most often, my childhood parties were family ones, jointly celebrated with my twin cousins and grandfather, who also have August birthdays, on the beach vacation our families took together. Then as I got older, I remember at least one middle-school sleepover and one pool party, and I know I went to a few pizza-and-roller-skating parties, but I don’t remember going to that many, or them being major events.
These days, birthday party politics are much more complicated. My kids went to eight birthday parties last year, which varied from themed sleepovers to parties held at horseback riding farms to one held at a large gymnastics facility that included trampolines and karaoke. They’ve also gone glass-blowing, roller-skated, bowled, visited an indoor water park, gone to the movies, played Quidditch with the local Quidditch team, and completed neighborhood scavenger hunts. In preschool, kindergarten, and even first grade, they went to enormous whole-class parties at bounce-castle places, but in recent years, 6-8 parties a school year has been more the norm. They’ve come home with tie-dyed t-shirts, custom-printed t-shirts, goody bags, candy, and craft projects, and eaten more pizza and cake than I can imagine.
These birthday parties are big social events, and ways for kids who don’t live down the street from each other to cement social ties, but of course, they also often result in exclusion and hurt feelings. I know that in my head, I measured my girls’ social success at their new school by when they started to get invited to birthday parties, and hung around a little longer after drop-off to try and catch some of the social dynamics and strike up friendly chats with the moms. They got an invitation this weekend from a girl who is new this year, and I know it confirmed for them that, yes, maybe those times we sit together at lunch and chat in Chinese class do mean that they are making another new friendship. Another family rule for us has always been that if a kid invites them to a birthday party, that kid’s name automatically goes on our invitation list, so that we can try and even out the social calculus a little that way. I never assume that both kids are invited to a party, but am secretly relieved that so far, there hasn’t been a day when one girl is frolicking at laser tag and the other girl is moping home alone.
I admit to feeling some anxiety about the idea of a birthday sleepover, not because I can’t handle a bunch of 12 year olds, but because many of the new friends they’ve made live in houses far more luxurious than ours. But I know that’s my own issue, and a fact of life I’ll have to help my girls navigate, so maybe some pizza and nail polish will help smooth the way.