Did you know that the song The Queen is Dead by the Smiths, was supposed to be called Margaret on the Guillotine, or something like that? Seems that Morrisey et al. saw then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as a enemy advancing a cause they most despised — the commodification of every aspect of British life. Being a big fan of both sides, I’d rather not wade into who was right or wrong, but I must say that I agree with the Smiths’ impulse, especially in one particular area. We are living through the age of the commodification of childhood.
I’m reminded of this ever January. Between now and April, I have (count ’em) 5 children’s birthdays. And every year the following conversation is replayed around the dinner table:
“What do you want to do for your birthday?”
“I dunno. Could we go to the Waterpark like J___’s party?”
“Any other ideas?”
“How about we rent out the pool at the (not our) Club, like L___ did? Or have all day art lessons? Or get glamour makeovers?”
“That’s, like, $30+ a person, not including a cake or snacks. How about a party at home?”
“OH OH OH! Could we theme decorate the house and make sugar cube castles and have face painting and build a mini-castle for us to take picture of ourselves dressed up like real princesses?”
“What? Do you live on Mars? I meant rent a movie.”
“Well….that’s the party K___ had. Or we could have a cupcake making party and put everyone’s picture on their very own memory books that we make for them before hand, like S___. But I guess just a party at home would be okay……”
Oh course, the last of that is muttered into their pork chop with a dejected look on their face. I’m sure none of the other parents who shelled out $300 plus for 3 hours of fun for their kid + 5 guests are necessarily that happy either. But no one wants to be the first Mom that gives in. You know, the first Mom who doesn’t put on the big show. The first one that says “No, we’re not playing that game.” In the detente that has become the Birthday Party Fun Time Escalation, the first one to blink. We want don’t want to be, well, the bottom of the pack. Maybe second from the bottom, but not the bottom.
But just as in the battle between the Iron Lady and the Coal Miners during the Strike of 1984/85, eventually someone has to give. This is my official notice that, in the case of the Birthday Staring Contest, I official blink.
My children will not be hosting anything at a rental hall. We will not have a “Personal Party Facilitator”. There will be no teen in an animal costume leading a parade in their honour. A private photographer will not be retained. There will not be custom printed disposable plates with their faces on them. No fans will be inflating bouncy castles, palaces, summer houses, dachas, or Taj Mahals. The Party Room will remain dark.
Could we afford this stuff? Sure. We can also afford to cover the entire square footage of our backyard with pallets of Diet Coke. Both make about as much sense.
The fact is, that all this party mayhem is just setting our kids up for the a big fall called “real life.” How are we preparing our kids to thrive as adults in a world that is usually indifferent, and sometimes downright hostile, with yearly over the top parties? With a life expectancy of over 80, does turning 8 really entitle you to a day of acting like some kind of Neo-Pagan God King, with everyone paying you homage and adoration? If the tab comes in at close to $500 for doing what everyone else “achieves” just by being born in a Western country, what do we owe you when you actually achieve something? Cars for Grade 8 Grad? Geez, those guys that stormed Normandy sure got ripped off.
So this year, feel free to remember me when the Party guilt sets in. Yes, maybe you didn’t arrange a Pirate themed extravaganza, complete with catering, amusement park rides, swash buckling lessons, and personalized pirate bobbleheads for all the goody “Chests of Gold.” But hey, that Mom on the internet is giving her kid a choice of 6 guests with cake and two types of ice cream, or a trip to the Mall. But not both.
See, I bet you feel better already.