Birthday Parties For Kids = Stress and More Stress

January 11, 2013 in Parenting,Teenagers

Middle Dude is turning 13 today which means I’ll have two teenagers in the house now. I know I should be concerned about moodiness, acne, out-of-control hormones and all that other teen stuff, but I’m not. I’m relieved. Because my two teenage boys are so done with the birthday party madness. They seem perfectly content to go out for a nice dinner as a family and receive the birthday gift or gifts that they REALLY want, rather than an assortment of plastic crap they will never play with. Of course, it wasn’t always that way.

My boys used to have big birthday bashes where they invited the entire class, or else just the boys, which is what my 9-year old just did for his party back in November. This past year we had a basketball party at an indoor facility. Those are my favorite kinds of parties — completely turnkey — all we have to do is show up with a cake and the rest is handled by the very capable staff. Now that’s my kind of party: Stress-free. When we lived in Manhattan, it was a whole different story, however.

NYC birthday parties are a scene that I am so glad to have left behind, along with the obscene parking garage fees and competitive preschool applications. I am about to list for you some of the locations where I had birthday parties for my boys when we lived in the city during their toddler and preschool years. Please please promise to still like me after you read this list. Please do not judge. I was under the influence of NYC mommy-mania.

Central Park Zoo. I kid you not. That was the location for Big Dude’s 1-Year birthday party. My dude was not even walking yet and here I was hosting a party at the friggin’ zoo?! Did I also mention that was the most expensive birthday party ever? I’m talking 4-digits people. Absolute insanity. I think we might still be paying off that party. I rationalized the expense by saying I was a huge animal lover and wouldn’t it be great to have a party at the zoo? I’d like to point out here that of my three children, Big Dude is the least interested in animals. The irony is not lost on me.

Central Park Carousel. As if I didn’t learn my lesson from Birthday Party #1, I had to hold Big Dude’s 2-year party in Central Park again? This time, the carousel. Cool, right? Well, at least he was now walking, but no, not cool. Because if you’re going to have a party at the carousel, you need MORE than just the carousel. You have to have an Elmo character walking around in 90 degree heat scaring away all the other 2-year olds. Another outrageously priced party for what? A few spins on a wooden horse.

DTUT. I have no idea if this place is still around on the Upper East side, but it is/was one of those cool coffee bar type places that had couches, music, and good food. I believe I served things like paninis and mini pizzas and all types of fabulous grown-up food (because who cares what the kids want, right?). And, I ordered a giant Elmo cake, made by the famous Buffy. Isn’t this cake fabulous?

An Elmo Cake Made By Buffy

Buffy made all the Upper East side birthday party cakes for the bargain price of $100 (I bet it’s up to $200 these days and Buffy has probably traded up to a full floor, pre-war apartment overlooking Central Park). Buffy’s cakes looked and tasted delicious. Rumor on the street was she used Duncan Hines though. As I proudly displayed my “Buffy cake” at DTUT, Big Dude accidentally sneezed all over it.  The parents who witnessed it politely declined a slice and hosed off their children with Purell. We were eating leftover Elmo cake for a week straight. Still, I knew the party was a success when one of the NYC moms came up to me after and said, “This was great — it’s going to be hard to top this party.” Nothing like good old-fashioned competition when it comes to a kid’s birthday party! I should have insisted right then that we start house hunting in the ‘burbs to escape this craziness, but instead her comment fueled my inner social climbing self. I was already plotting where I could have next year’s party that might impress even more.

Skipping a few years ahead…

The Intrepid. Yes, you read that correctly. I had Big Dude’s 6th birthday party on The Intrepid, docked at Pier 86 on Manhattan’s west side, which is pictured here in case you’ve never been there:

The Intrepid – Site of Big Dude’s 6th Birthday Party

How could I not? I mean, Big Dude loved airplanes and ships and well, shouldn’t every 6-year old who loves airplanes and ships have their birthday party on a famous aircraft carrier/museum? I’ll admit, this WAS a really cool party. And, quite the bargain compared to the zoo party. As an added bonus, my child actually understood what was going on, rather than when he was toted around at the age of 1 and forced to look at monkeys and polar bears. One of the highlights was when the party-goers made their own space suits and then small groups of them went inside a space simulator. What could be cooler for a 6-year old boy? Before you go patting me on the back for planning that party, keep in mind that it may have been fun for the kids but for me, um, not so much.

The one common denominator for all of these parties, besides causing us to go broke, was the great mound of stress I became before and during the party. The planning wasn’t too bad as all it took was a couple of phone calls, but right before each of these parties, I’d turn into this anxious, tense party planner, as if I was throwing a wedding. Not only did I worry about pleasing the kids, but pleasing those NYC parents brought my stress to a whole new level. After the Intrepid party, we finally came to our senses and left the high-strung, one-upping NYC birthday party circuit behind. We moved to the suburbs, where birthday parties are at normal places like rec rooms, bowling alleys and backyards and where cakes are made by Stop & Shop, rather than by a woman with a preppy name and where the food served is pizza, rather than over-priced finger sandwiches and where the parents dress down, rather than up. I’ve been blissfully loving the laid-back suburban approach to birthday parties and estimate I’m about one or two years away from not needing to plan anymore birthday parties, ever. But then, my soon-to-be 13-year old approached me the other day and said the following:

“Mom, guess what? I’ve got it all figured out. I’ve decided I want a birthday party this year. I want to invite a bunch of kids to a movie and then we’ll come back to the house and we’ll have pizza and cake, okay?”

I thought I was going to experience post-traumatic stress disorder after my son said the word “party,” but I think I can handle what he described. Just keep me away from any zoos or large ships and I’ll be just fine.


{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

Janine Huldie January 11, 2013 at 8:58 am

Wow, those parties sounded amazing, but am with you on the price tag. Thought we did bad with the kids’ first birthday parties, but hearing that I think we did so little comparatively speaking. That said, I am with you and they now get just family parties. I still make the cake (whatever cartoon character they are into at the moment) and pizza for everyone, lol!!


ohboymom January 11, 2013 at 1:53 pm

I’ve seen those photos of your cakes — amazing! I should have hired you instead of that rip-off Buffy lady I used to use!


Amy January 11, 2013 at 9:12 am

The Intrepid sounds like a really cool party! I know what you mean though – looking back, I turned into a stress monster over every single party we’ve given our kids. Even Build-A-Bear parties stress me out. This year my girls have all asked for parties at home – but not simple parties! And my youngest is turning 6 in two weeks (and the party isn’t totally planned). So, lucky you! Two teens in the house cannot possibly be as bad as throwing huge parties. And a movie and pizza sounds perfect!


ohboymom January 11, 2013 at 1:52 pm

Those Build-A-Bear parties stressed me out too – we’ve had a few of those. And I agree — parties at home are not simple at all AND a lot of work…you’re very brave!


Cyndi January 11, 2013 at 10:47 am

Now I’m getting a little glimpse of what my mom went through planning parties. My birthday is in the summer, but I once had a party at the waterslide, Water World, Chucky Cheese’s…my mom went through so much. As I got older, I told her I preferred the low-key party, lol. :)


ohboymom January 11, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I’m a summer birthday too and whenever my mom tried to throw a party, I always remember hardly anyone came because it was during the summer and everyone was away. To this day, I don’t like to make a big deal about my birthday — maybe because I’m afraid no one will show up!


Kelly January 11, 2013 at 12:04 pm

Laughing with you! I’ve had some crazy birthday parties for the girls:) I finally realized it was better to take my party on the road (not IN my house) and our new tradition is to pick a fabulous hotel and book two rooms (one quiet one for me:) lol. The kids swim or shop, head to the riverfront and maybe do a horse and carriage ride…(25 bucks for 30 minutes!) and take them out to eat somewhere really cool. Each child gets to bring a couple friends and leave the mess at the hotel! It’s the best so far!


ohboymom January 11, 2013 at 1:48 pm

Oh, I LOVE that hotel idea — I never would have thought of that! Definitely going to suggest that for next time…


Stephanie.Sprenger January 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm

OMG that is so funny! I think this is one of my favorites of all your posts. I loved the part when he sneezed on his cake! What hilarious memories!


ohboymom January 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm

Thanks Stephanie, the were funny times, despite the competitive city atmosphere…glad to have left that part behind.


Roshni January 11, 2013 at 3:57 pm

You really put in a lot of effort to host those parties! We usually just call people to our house and let the kids loose! This year we just had Little a’s party at his preschool and Big A’s birthday happened while we were on vacation. Next year, I seriously will invite a few friends over to go to a movie or something and serve pizza and cake!!


Julia January 11, 2013 at 8:49 pm

We’re so done with the blow-out parties, too. I can’t believe the year we hired the juggler for multiple hundreds of dollars – I think his usual gigs were Goldman Sachs conferences.

As for big dudes party, how may kids is he allowed to invite? And are girls coming??


ohboymom January 11, 2013 at 9:29 pm

It’s Middle, not Big dude who’s having the party…6 boys, no girls. Instead of a movie, now he wants to go to Bounce Trampoline sports up in Rockland county…so what if it’s an hour away?! What did I agree to?


Melanie Chisnall January 13, 2013 at 12:33 am

We never had parties like this, always at home and simple with a few friends and cake and what not. Nowadays though, it seems everyone has to try and outdo each other. I cringe thinking about it, and future parties. At least you got some good memories from those parties, and glad you’re able to plan stress-free ones from now :)


ohboymom January 13, 2013 at 5:31 pm

Yes, I highly recommend the stress-free approach to kid’s birthday parties…much easier AND cheaper!


kids party places brooklyn ny September 11, 2013 at 9:05 am

The lengths parents will go to and through for their kids. Glad you survived… financially and mentally :)


Juan Carlo February 12, 2015 at 3:58 am

That was an awesome party ideas! I’m not going to judge you that you celebrated the 1st year birthday of your dude in Central Park at the friggin’ zoo. If I have a budget for that, I’ll definitely try that out.
Juan Carlo recently posted…5 Delectable Hors d’oeuvres to Serve your Debut GuestsMy Profile


Cm June 25, 2016 at 6:59 pm

You were running in the wrong birthday party circuit. I’ve been to plenty of “playground” parties in Manhattan, not to mention the numerous ones in the social halls of various houses of worship who rent them very reasonably.
You can follow the 1-kid-per-age rule to some extent, if you let the kid choose who they would like to celebrate with.
You can also say “no gifts” on the invite, and focus on the one or two great things you are giving.
Making cupcakes and ordering pizza is not hard. My children help with that and planning the activities.
Parties are for the kids (and possibly parents) to socialize and have fun. It’s the company that counts!
Just sayin.


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