5 Annoying Birthday Party Traditions You Can Ditch

 All you need is love. And cake. Image by  Foto: Fortepan / Pohl Pálma, CC, .

All you need is love. And cake. Image by Foto: Fortepan / Pohl Pálma, CC,.

Does throwing your kid a birthday party need to give you a migraine? Can’t you just get some friends together, sing happy birthday, eat cake, and call it a day? You can. Here’s what to skip from now on:

1. Buying Fancy Birthday Cakes

Consider this your get-out-of-jail-free pass: Don’t spend hundreds of dollars on your kid’s birthday cake. No one will care if you do. They’ll care for exactly 30 seconds, as long as it takes to ogle the cake before it vanishes into everyone’s jaw. Kids will eat it because it’s a cake, whether you paid $500 for a custom cake from a fancy bakery or $29.99 for a sheet cake at the supermarket. If parents are at the party, most of them will ask for “a sliver” anyway and will barely notice if it’s a fancy sliver or a sheet-cake sliver. Ok, they’d be happier eating a real baked cake, but their chief concern is surviving the party small-talk and keeping their kid from accidentally killing anyone. Save the cake-ordering headache, save money, save energy for what really matters: Making it through the party without getting (visibly) drunk on all the wine you’ve stocked for the party. Because parents who show up want that wine way more than they want cake.

2. Writing Personalized Thank You Notes

It’s sweet to get a thank you note. People like it. I like getting thank you notes, and I even like writing them, in theory. But when you’re staring at a pile of unwritten cards after a party, it’s not awesome. It takes me weeks, months, to attack the pile, and the whole time I’m asking myself why I suck so much and haven’t written the damn notes yet. Last year after a party for one of my son’s friends, his mom mass-emailed the guest list to thank everyone for coming and for the presents. Her son had ripped through the wrapping paper so fast, she’d lost track of who brought which present. Her short but sincere note did the job. If we’d brought the kid a Corvette (am I dating myself?), I may have been bummed not to get a gushy personalized thank you card. But we didn’t get the kid a Corvette. We got him some toy, probably a Star Wars thing.

Anyway, this year, my son did the same thing. I’d pep-talked him into leaving the presents alone until after the party, so we could open them together quietly and write down who brought what. But he and his sister ended up ripping the wrappers to shreds during the party, and the cards got separated from the toys. So I sent a mass email thanking everyone. What happens at school the next day? The mother of one of his friends comes up to me and says, “Your note saved my life. I’m never writing thank you notes for birthday presents again. THANK YOU for that idea.” She really did say it in all-caps.

 “Forget it. Where’s my laptop?” "Woman Writing a Letter, With Her Maid, by Johannes Vermeer, via Wikimedia Commons.

“Forget it. Where’s my laptop?” "Woman Writing a Letter, With Her Maid, by Johannes Vermeer, via Wikimedia Commons.

3. Stuffing Gift Bags

My husband and I call goodie bags “choking hazard bags.” Every single item in those things— the superballs, the miniature cars, the gummy erasers—is deadly if you have anyone at home under five. If your kid or his friends don’t swallow the toys, their infant siblings will happily do it. We toss out most of the junk as soon as our kids bring it home. I don’t blame the parents: Giving out a goodie bag at the end of a party feels like a requirement (why?!), and I’ve done it too (why?!). But no more. The best goodie bags have just one (non-chokey) thing in them, like a book—a cheap book, but a book. Or a kite—a cheap kite. but you get the idea. Kids will use books and kites. And if they don’t, at least they won’t eat them. So consider the one-item bag next time. Or no bag.

4. Hiring a Musician

Don’t do it. Forcing children to stop playing and listen to a band is nice if you’re at Carnegie Hall. But this is a birthday party. The kids just want to have fun, and unless they’re under two, most of the time party musicians aren’t that much fun. At my son’s classmate’s birthday party, the musician started yelling at parents to stop talking. He sent the chatty grownups to the back of the room so the kids could hear the enchanting little songs he strummed on his guitar. Seriously. The guy hired to entertain a pack of kids lost his shit and yelled at the parents. At another kids’ party, the parents hired chamber musicians and all the preschoolers had to be quiet for half an hour while the band played classical music. Lovely idea. Sucky in reality. Aside: Why do musicians at kids’ parties always look like Jack Black? But aren’t ever as funny as Jack Black?

 Does he look a little like Jack Black? Photo by  Cayambe , from Wikimedia Commons.

Does he look a little like Jack Black? Photo by Cayambe, from Wikimedia Commons.

5. Harassing Everyone to RSVP

Don’t plan the kind of party where you need to give the manager of some space somewhere a final head count. If you’re having the birthday at a special party space or acrobatic gym or indoor climbing wall or whatever, pick one that’s flexible about how many people are showing up. People forget to rsvp then show up anyway. Or they rsvp “YES!” the minute you send the invite, then never show up. Reminding people once is ok, but do not harass. Choose a space with flexibility (or a park? or your living room?). Buy a cake (see above). Buy wine (see above). Drink a glass or three, relax as best you can, and let it be.

Chicken Little Was Right: The New UN Climate Report Is F'ing Terrifying

Chicken Little Was Right: The New UN Climate Report Is F'ing Terrifying

“The sky is falling. The sky is falling!”

Chicken Little was right all along: The sky IS falling. The latest UN report on climate change predicts a Walking Dead scenario—wildfires everywhere, mass starvation, wildlife in collapse— as early as 2040. Not at some abstract point in the future, as many of us who’ve been terrified about climate change have let ourselves believe.

2040. That’s pretty much tomorrow. A physicist and climate scientist named Bill Hare, quoted in the New York Times article about the report, summed it up best: This, he said, is “quite a shock.”

You’ve probably already done the math about how old you’ll be—and how old your kids will be—by 2040. If you’re like me, you’re ready to sign a lease for a cozy little condo on the moon, because our planet will be toast before we hit retirement age. If we take political action immediately, i.e. in the next 10-12 years max, to massively cut carbon emissions, we may delay the inevitable by a bit. But needless to say, action won’t happen under the current U.S. administration.

Yesterday I saw this post from a mom on a Brooklyn parents’ email listserv:

“I’m sure many of you read the troubling report that states we have 12 years left to act in order to avoid catastrophe. What do we do? I’m new to this level of activism but I want my kids to have habitable planet.”

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Crappy Children's Books: A New Crunch Time Parents Video Series

 Michael Chabon’s Awesome Man is….not so awesome.

Michael Chabon’s Awesome Man is….not so awesome.

Why this series? Because we’re reading a lot of kids’ books lately, sometimes to our own kids (currently 3 and 5 years old), and sometimes to other people’s kids. Or we’re browsing in the children’s section at the bookstore or library, and we come across a book that makes us go: “No.” And: “How did this ever make it to print?” Sometimes the reason is simple: The author is already famous and now gets to publish pretty much whatever he/she wants.

Without further ado, here’s the first installment in our series, Today in Crappy Children’s Books, in which we (i.e. my husband) will take a look at The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man by Michael Chabon. Check it out on Crunch Time Parents’ Facebook page , and please Like the page for updates on upcoming videos.

A Brooklyn Doula Shares Tips on IVF, "Natural" Birth, and What to Do When Doctors Won't Listen

A Brooklyn Doula Shares Tips on IVF, "Natural" Birth, and What to Do When Doctors Won't Listen

“Deliveries are for pizzas, births are for babies,” Tia Dowling-Ketant told me when we sat down to chat and caffeinate one late-summer morning in Brooklyn. It was one of the dozens of quotable moments that stuck with me from the hour I got to spend with Tia, hearing about her work as a doula with a mix of clients ranging from low-income pregnant women in underserved neighborhoods, to affluent women looking for an experienced doula who knows the ropes, to couples of all backgrounds coping with infertility.

Hiring a doula can be expensive, but more and more community-based organizations like By My Side Doula Support—which Tia works with in Brooklyn—are helping lower-income women access the kind of care that usually only wealthier families can afford. This is especially crucial in neighborhoods with higher-than-average rates of maternal complications and mortality. Doulas are making a huge difference, and the data backs it up: “One-to-one emotional, physical and educational support provided by support personnel, such as a doula, is associated with improved outcomes for women in labor,” the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) said in a recent report.

Tia spoke to Crunch Time Parents about why she switched careers to do this tough and life-changing work, and gave tips on how women can become our own vocal advocates before, during and after pregnancy. And because Tia is also a fertility doula who experienced infertility before she went through IVF and gave birth to her son, she shared insights for anyone on a similar path.

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Adam Ruins Everything's Video About Fertility After 35 Is a Must-Watch

Adam ruins everything. Except when he's delivering a badly needed dose of reality on an issue we've been misled about for years, decades, actually centuries. Like: how rapidly a woman's fertility declines after age 35. How rapidly? Not as much as we've been led to believe. 

We won't ruin the video for you if you haven't seen it already. It's one of the best in "investigative comedian" Adam Conover's all-encompassing Adam Ruins Everything video series. Just a couple of things:

1) "An average woman, age 27, who is healthy has an 86 percent chance of getting pregnant within a year," says researcher Jean Twenge in the video. At age 37, the chance of the same woman getting pregnant in a year dips slightly down to 82 percent. "That's barely a difference!" says the puzzled guy in the video. Exactly.

2) The fertility data most women hear about, i.e. that it becomes much harder to become pregnant after 35, is based on 17th century French studies. Again, thanks to Jean Twenge for uncovering the outdated info that's been freaking women out for much too long.

Caveat: Pregnancy later in life does carry some risks, but again the risks are often over-stated and taken out of context. Also: The pros and cons of egg-freezing are more complex than this video lets on. Egg-freezing does create a reassuring plan B (or C) for women who are willing to spend the money and take their chances, and many women argue that the increased confidence it creates is priceless. Like we said, it's complicated. 

That said, we're happy this video exists. Please watch, share, and discuss.  

Let's Stop Fat-Shaming Pregnant Women (Oh, and Age-Shaming Too)

Let's Stop Fat-Shaming Pregnant Women (Oh, and Age-Shaming Too)

A Huffington Post article this week makes the long-overdue case that doctors need to stop fat-shaming pregnant women who suffer from obesity or are simply overweight. In a nutshell:

"The reality is that the vast majority of overweight and obese women have perfectly normal pregnancies. But medical professionals are not immune to society’s tendency to disrespect fat people," as Brianna Snyder writes in the HuffPo article, titled "Fat-Shaming the Pregnant: How the Medical Community Fails Overweight Moms."

What does that disrespect look and sound like? Bullying women into believing that they'll be required to have a C-section if they don't lose weight. Frightening plus-size women into thinking they're risking their lives just by becoming pregnant. Asking them to abort the baby, lose weight, then get pregnant again. The horrors go on.

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The Baby Quote That Got Carrie Underwood in Trouble Makes Perfect Sense

The Baby Quote That Got Carrie Underwood in Trouble Makes Perfect Sense

Carrie Underwood is all over the tabloids this week now that she's unveiled her baby bump, but the singer has had a rough few days. She got massively trolled for saying this to Redbook:

"I'm 35, so we may have missed our chance to have a big family. We always talk about adoption and about doing it when our child or children are a little older. In the meantime, we're lucky to be a part of organizations that help kids, because our focus right now in our lives is helping as many kids as possible," Underwood said in her recent Redbook interview.

Twitter didn't miss a nanosecond to start railing at her, and comments got nasty. Here's one: 

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Fertility Education Needs to Start Early, But When's the Right Time?

Fertility Education Needs to Start Early, But When's the Right Time?

Sex-ed classes in schools tend to steer clear of a topic that most people will face at some point in their lives: Do I want kids, and if so, when? 

That question is thorny enough for adults, so it's no surprise that sex-ed curricula ignore it, or barely skim the surface. But considering that in a recent study of college students, less than half of women, and even fewer men, didn't know when women's or men's fertility starts to decline, it's time

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Hospitals Can Prevent More Than Half of Maternal Deaths: Why Aren't They?

Hospitals Can Prevent More Than Half of Maternal Deaths: Why Aren't They?

Two of the most common causes of death during and after childbirth are blood loss and sharply rising blood pressure. Hospitals can reduce deaths by fatal hemorrhages by up to 90 percent, and deaths by stroke and other blood-pressure-related conditions by 60 percent. They know what to do, but they aren't doing it. Why?

Following up on ProPublica's groundbreaking Lost Mothers series, USA Today's "Deadly Deliveries" report this week analyzes data from 75 hospitals around the U.S. to figure out when and if hospital staff are following basic protocols. Reporters found that dozens aren't doing two basic things: weighing bloody pads to measure blood loss, and giving medication for high blood pressure within the crucial 60-minute timeframe after it's detected. 

Those two basic protocols would dramatically reduce the rates of maternal death in the U.S.. Incredibly, "there are no requirements that U.S. maternity hospitals follow best practices," the article notes.  

California is the only state where hospitals across the board are implementing best practices. The initiative has had stunning results: California chopped its maternal death rate by half in recent years.

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How to Know If You're Having a Heart Attack While Pregnant or Giving Birth

How to Know If You're Having a Heart Attack While Pregnant or Giving Birth

By Salma A.

It's not exactly shocking that pregnant women who have a heart attack often can't tell they're having one: The symptoms are hard to tell apart from all the discomforts that spring up normally in those nine months. But keeping in mind that heart attacks, of all things, can actually happen to pregnant women—especially pregnant women older than 35—is at least one step toward recognizing them in time, and getting help. 

A newly published study of 55 million women by the NYU School of Medicine notes that heart attacks in women who are pregnant, giving birth, or up to two months postpartum went up by 25 percent between 2002 and 2014. That's a huge jump in a relatively short time.

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New Autism Findings Are Couched in "Don't Blame Parents" Rhetoric, but Critics Say Report Points Fingers

New Autism Findings Are Couched in "Don't Blame Parents" Rhetoric, but Critics Say Report Points Fingers

By Salma A.

A new report about a potential cause of autism points to clues in a baby's teeth. In children who later develop autism, researchers can see "records of what exposures occurred during fetal development, and when they occurred, in a manner similar to the rings on trees." says a New York Times column headlined; "In Baby Teeth, Links Between Chemical Exposures in Pregnancy and Autism."

Author Peri Klass, M.D., a regular contributor to NYT's Checkup column, takes pains to note that the findings should NOT in any way suggest that mothers, and parents in general, are responsible for kids' early exposure to those factors, but many readers aren't buying the sincerity of the "don't blame parents" approach. 

In the intro to her column, Klass writes that "so many different exposures have been linked to problems in the developing fetal brain that parents can sometimes feel both bewildered and, inevitably, at fault for failing or having failed to take all possible precautions" to prevent autism in their child. Her piece, which has ignited a controversy,

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Moms 40-Plus Are Outpacing Younger Parents in THIS Category, Says NYT

Moms 40-Plus Are Outpacing Younger Parents in THIS Category, Says NYT

By Salma A.

In case you missed it, this New York Times article about the declining rate of childbirth in the U.S. is fascinating for so many reasons. Here are just a few:

The only demographic in America with a rising childbirth rate nowadays is...women ages 40-44, says the NYT report. Survey participants in every other age group are having fewer babies than they thought they would. Here at Crunch Time Parents, one of the main reasons we exist is to explore—and celebrate—the fact that people have more options than ever before if they want to become parents later in life. But it's still a sobering surprise to see the childbirth rates plunging for every other age group. 

So, why are Americans having fewer babies these days?

So, why are Americans having fewer babies these days?

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