By Salma Abdelnour Gilman
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 my son’s classmate, 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.
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?
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.