This is an article I wrote yesterday that got rejected. So, here it is!
Children’s birthday parties certainly have come a long way over the past 50 years. How did they evolved from afternoon gatherings at home featuring cake, presents, 5 or 6 friends and a few rounds of “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” to lavish soirées involving restaurants, bowling alleys and even theme parks? It boggles the mind. There was a time when it was an unexpected treat to have a clown make an appearance at a child’s birthday bash. These days it’s not uncommon for parents to host an event for 30 or so friends and classmates of their child. Does the kid even remember the details of his or her party: who was in attendance, what gifts were given and by whom?
Did he or she even read the birthday cards, or haplessly rip them open and toss them aside if the card fails to hold money or concert tickets?
One wonders how the parents follow such an event. The child would surely expect the same or perhaps something even better for his or her next birthday. Seemingly, when such “birthday overkill” is regarded as a common experience, the child cultivates high expectations that aren’t always met and exceeded. When a person experiences the best of everything on a regular basis, what’s left to look forward to? The extra-special has been reduced to the mundane. Events that would be under normal circumstances memorable are likely quickly forgotten. This could be due to the assumption that next year, the party will be even bigger and better than in the past.
In another direction, how is it possible to keep track of so many kids, let alone ensure that no one feels left out? Is it fair to throw children into potentially stressful situations under the pretense of “fun,” when quite possibly their social skills are unequal to the task? It’s no fun being the odd-person out, especially at a young and tender age when everything that goes wrong is embedded in your memory and seems to haunt you throughout life. The impact of social trauma is a formidable foe; once it happens, in some cases, it happens repeatedly.
Case in point: To be fair, not all of my birthday party experiences were positive. Many were the social gatherings I would more than welcome the opportunity to forget. When invited to a party that large (more than 3 guests?), or if I were unfamiliar with many of the guests, I was the kid who sat in the corner by herself, trying hard to blend in to the wallpaper. The birthday girl’s mother would attempt to socialize me, but I wanted no part of playing games with strange kids I didn’t know. Sometimes I wouldn’t even eat the cake: stress-induced nausea. All I wanted to do was go home; which I usually did. One way or another, either by sneaking a phone call to my mom, or quietly slipping out the door, I was gone. To this day, I have a difficult time with social interaction. In fact, if there is any way possible by which to avoid party, consider the party avoided. In order to attend any type of social function, I have to prepare myself mentally and emotionally. Given the choice between having a few impacted wisdom teeth removed and going to a party; take me to the dentist.
On a happier note, not all birthday parties turned out lousy. One of my own most memorable birthday parties was held on a weekday afternoon― strategically planned by my mother to ensure dad would be at work. In attendance were four or five of my playmates; all girls of course, since boys were still “yucky” at the time. We were served a devil’s food cake and ice cream roll on paper plates, and milk in colorful, waxy Dixie cups. Balloons, “Pin the Tail on the Donkey” and party hats were the “special effects.” The truly best part, however, was the candy lipstick my mom had purchased as party favors for me and my little guests. What a mess we’d made! But we felt oh, so grown up! The mother’s of my friends were none too pleased with my mom for sending their daughters home; faces smeared with cherry flavored lipstick and party dresses permanently stained with the stuff. Who knew candy lipstick stained? This was before the days of “Shout!” and “Tide Stain Sticks.” In any case, that birthday is still talked about and laughed over. In fact, I still have the party invitations, birthday cards and the empty tube of candy lipstick as mementos.
There is nothing more heart-warming and memory-evoking than a birthday card or invitation from days gone by. Such keepsakes never fail to conjure not only the special memories of the day but the smells, tastes, and sounds associated are seemingly at one’s fingertips. Re-reading the cards and invitations can be an inspiring and magical stroll through the past. It harks back to a time when simple things counted. We learned that the best things in life did come in small packages: the size of a tube of candy lipstick and an envelope.