Sunday, February 17, 2008

Curb the birthday insanity!

Anyone who has young pre-school and elementary-age kids, knows just how insane the kid birthday party circuit can get.

My friend recently stopped by one afternoon, looking like she'd just been through the heavy-load dry cycle when, in actuality, she had just been to a birthday party of over 20 kids at the ACAC kidzone. She said it was the worst behavior she had ever seen. Kids standing on tables, swigging kool-aid, and talking back to their parents like some crazy pint-sized version of Animal House. She noticed that one parent stopped by, having seen someone she knew, and promptly allowed her child to eat leftover cake and run amok. My friend shared that the worst behavior was probably on the part of the parents of the birthday child, who had hosted the crazy thing in the first place. The twenty-some odd gifts were whisked away in a large Ford Excursion as an after-thought to the sheer chaos and commercialism of the event.

What has happened?

I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be this way! This weekend my son celebrated his seventh birthday with a reasonable-sized celebration that he planned himself. (finger pointing aside, let's talk some sense)

Here are some tips to stop the birthday insanity:

1-Less is more. You're not going to hurt anyone's feelings if you don't invite them to ONE MORE BIRTHDAY PARTY! Until they turn 10, we say you can invite the number of friends of the age you will be. So my son invited six buddies, plus his brother to make seven. Having a manageable size reduces the sheer volumes of plastic toys you will unwittingly receive (sorry, that's cynical) and the overall amount of waste you will generate. We were able to use regular plates and glass mugs and silverware (no disposables) and literally only had a handful of trash at the end.

2-Save your money by creating your own fun. We hosted this 8-person party for under 50 dollars (and half of that was because of a last-minute cake from a local bakery due to unexpected overnight guests). My son's younger brother and I had fun making a pinata out of newspaper and flour/water mixture while the birthday boy was at school. The next day he painted his favorite football team on it (the party had a football theme: his idea, not mine). I was vetoed when I mentioned putting boxes of organic raisins in there, but hey, pick your battles. Past birthday parties we've done "pin the light saber on the Jedi." Have fun with your creativity.

My son also printed out pictures of teams he knew his friends would like for their "goody" bag (another HUGE pet peeve: getting the wasteful, crappy, plastic prizes in the goody bag that will promptly end up in the landfill for time and all eternity). Our alternative: a picture printed on recycled paper, an earthwrite pencil (no new wood), some cool stickers, and the obligatory candy treat in a reusable bag.

3-Good old fashioned outdoor play. The main event: a football game my son orchestrated between his friends' two favorite teams with Dad refereeing. My husband painted a field on the grass out back and they were happy chasing, plotting, arguing and catching for a good half an hour. When I asked my son what we would do if it rained, he said, "Mom, football players play in any kinds of weather!"

4-Embrace the re-gift. As you may have read from a previous blog, the re-gift has never before been as widely accepted as it is now, especially in Better World Betty circles. Because of my no-new purchases pledge this year (going strong in its second month), I bought him ten free songs on i-tunes (he LOVES music) and two cool, used books from the SPCA Rummage Shop about paper airplanes and tigers!

At the risk of sounding preachy, I have to say I believe the gift exchange is an essential portion of the party. It's so important to learn how to receive as well as give, but also to have the act of giving come full circle. I know when I give something to someone I want to see their reaction and appreciation on their face because it makes me feel good. I get so frustrated when my son has carefully selected a gift for his friend, only to be rushed out the door at the end of the party, "because there isn't enough time."

5-Allowing your child to help plan the event instills a sense of pride, independence, and responsibility, while taking some pressure off you. It's also a lesson in group/party dynamics. Things didn't go exactly as my son had planned them (who knew he was the only seven year old who likes carrot cake?), but that was a good opportunity to explain that things may not go as we plan, but they are still really fun.

The party was a huge success on many fronts. Don't get me wrong. Having eight boys running around was still loud and chaotic, but my son created a memorable experience for himself and his friends without the overconsumption we often see in our culture.



jh said...

I am an avid reader of BWB and a true fan of her green suggestions. But I do need to voice my disappointment about this entry. There are wonderful ideas for creating a fantastic, green birthday, but they are shadowed by harsh judgement and criticism about third party information. I am the 1st to agree with you that children's birthdays can be out of control. As to changing this phenomenon, I believe that there is a lot more power in positive suggestion than public ridicule. As to green ideas, one idea I'm planning for our next large birthday bash is to have my child select a charity of his/her choice, like the local animal shelter, food bank, or childrens charity. Then party goers will bring items to donate to that charity like, pet food/toys, canned food, or school supplies instead of birthday gifts, which we will then deliver to the selected cause. Thank you Betty for all of your great ideas! I always look forward to your next entry.

BWB said...

Thanks for your candid comments. The tone of this blog was a definite departure.

I agree with you wholeheartedly. Change happens when you accept where people are and nudge them in more positive directions without being judgemental.

I love your idea!

Finally, thanks for being an avid reader. The site will grow and evolve with the necessary input from readers like you.


Jennifer (Jen on the Edge) said...

I second the idea of having the children give gifts that will be given to charity. One of my younger daughter's friends does this every year for her birthday and the birthday girl's parents try to also find a way to include the party guests, such as taking them all to the SPCA to drop off the dog toys and pet the pooches.

My older daughter recently went to a birthday party where there were no gifts. I don't know if it was the birthday child's idea or not, but the invitation clearly said "no gifts" on it.

One of my older daughters received a very creative gift from a friend: An IOU for a dinner and a movie together, which my daughter just loved.

As my children (7 and 9) have gotten older, we've cut back on party favors. Instead of a bag filled with plastic stuff that will end up in a landfill, we've looked for more lasting things. One daughter had a tea party and her friends took home little tea cup necklaces. The other daughter had a horse-themed party where the guests made necklaces that included little pewter horse charms.

BWB said...

Thanks for more great ideas!