Moms who throw over-the-top parties for their kids are becoming the new bridezillas, villified on freak-show reality television like TLC's "Outrageous Kid Parties." But one mom who recently found herself doing the twist with Brobee at her son's totally awesome and over-the-top third birthday party says: Birthdays are no time for tasteful restraint.
Writer Jillian Lauren, husband Scott, and one very happy 3-year-old birthday boy.
By Jillian Lauren
On my mommy message board, I recently saw a link to a Jezebel article about the TLC Outrageous Kid Parties show. The link contains a video clip of an admittedly nauseating $32,000 Princess extravaganza. Even though I live in Los Angeles, perhaps the world capital of barf-worthy kids parties, my message board and my friends in general tend to be pretty down-to-earth. The comments that follow the Jezebel link are all a variation of, "PLEASE, MOMMIES, STOP THIS MADNESS!!!!" or, "I AM APPALLED!!!"
Well, so was I. Until I realized that my kid's third birthday was coming up and I was having the unmistakable urge to throw an outrageous kid's party. To clarify, my version of an outrageous kid's party would never pass muster with TLC. Nevertheless, for our family, the party was pretty out-there. I reserved a space at the vintage train museum my son loves. I hired someone to come with a big train set for the kids to play with. I ordered engineer costumes for my husband, my son, me and my two closest friends. I ordered blank wooden train cars for the kids to decorate with twelve trillion dollars worth of art supplies. I demanded that my husband find exactly the blue electric guitar my son had been coveting on Yo Gabba Gabba and then I ordered a massive chocolate cake with that same guitar airbrushed onto its surface. I hired the organic hot dog cart to come serve dogs. I got my son's fave character, Brobee, from Gabba to come entertain the kids.
I think my desire to throw an outrageous kids party might harken back to my own childhood. My mother was the OG thrower of over-the-top theme kids parties. I remember a luau with a bonfire, a limbo tournament and a singing gorilla in a grass skirt. I remember a come-as-your-idol party, attended by a Michael Jackson impersonator, about twenty-five Cyndi Laupers and one Sandra Day O'Connor (yup, that was me). Don't even get me started on my Broadway-themed Bat Mitzvah, complete with one of the original cast members of Barnum, who walked on stilts and ate fire at the entrance of the catering hall.
My mother wasn't showy or competitive, and we lived in a town where the lack of those qualities was notable. But like many women of her generation, my mother was an extremely imaginative person whose only creative outlet was her family. I think that our birthday parties gave her a space to display her creative talents, as well as to celebrate the very real joy she took in motherhood. And I remember those parties not as outrageous acts of decadence, but as the expression of love that they truly were.
Now, I don't think you have to throw a big party to express love or joy or creativity. Not at all. But if you are so inclined, I say what the heck. Why choose this moment to exercise your moderation and good sense? Why not let your freaky party flag fly?
Perhaps the most outrageous thing about my son's party was the fact that I wasn't even sure he was going to dig it. My son has some special needs, and social situations can be a crapshoot. We've been to birthday parties at which he's had a wonderful time and and we've been to some we had to leave after ten minutes because toys and fists started flying. So I accommodated his needs in the best way I know how and I crossed my fingers.
And then came the tricky part: I firmly resolved to have absolutely no expectations. I was ready to abandon ship at any moment and leave my son's aunties to supervise the end of the party, if need be. Because to me, there really isn't much of an ethical issue around throwing a silly shindig for your kid. There are far worse offenses in the world. The parenting problem arises when there's an expectation of tit-for-tat. I will throw you this party, and you will in turn behave yourself and display the proper amount of gratitude. Never mind that the child might be totally overwhelmed with emotion and stressed out by all of the attention.
I'm happy to report that my resolve went untested, and we all had a magical day regardless of the fact that I spent too much money, ate too much sugar and may have humiliated myself doing the twist with Brobee in some really unflattering engineer overalls. My son still talks every day about how he had the Best Birthday Party Ever. As a parent, I spend so much time saying no and establishing boundaries, it felt great to take a day and give myself permission to go way overboard with saying yes.
What do you think? Have you ever gone a little crazy over your kid's birthday party?
Jillian Lauren is the author of the memoir, "Some Girls: My Life in a Harem." Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Paris Review Daily and Vanity Fair, among others. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, musician Scott Shriner, and their 3-year-old son. She blogs about motherhood, adoption, writing and being a rock wife, at http://www.jillianlauren.com/blog/. Her novel, "Pretty," comes out in August 2011.