BY MICHAEL JOHNSON
There are plans for annual occasions and events that park themselves at the roadside of every parent’s brain. Vacations, journeys to Grandma’s house for Thanksgiving, holiday gifts, athletic seasons, and the inevitable birthday party are all on the radar of every parent as the years roll along.
The first birthday party for a child always seems to be about having a few friends and acquaintances over to celebrate how resilient the parents are and how adorable the child is in that first year of life. The parents of the newly born all gather, perhaps in a living room or playroom, to swap stories of nighttime routines and feedings. They console, encourage, and wearily support each other, as if to say, “Oh, isn’t it the truth?” to myriad parenting topics. Meanwhile, all the parents work to keep the young attendees vertical and happy. The candles are blown out by the host’s parents and there are invariably two cakes—one for the honored guest to grab and smear and fling, and another more pristine dessert for the adults.
The birthday celebration for the preschooler is more centered on who is arriving at the party to dazzle and delight the little ones. Perhaps a magician will confuse and entertain everyone. Perhaps a Disney character will saunter in at just the right moment to send a shudder of electricity through the gathering. The preschooler’s birthday party is a chance to turn over the entertainment to another. It is a chance for the parents to seem like proverbial heroes because they were able to secure the amusement for the guest of honor and their like-minded friends. It might even be said that it allows the parents to take some peer pride in setting the bar for what constitutes a great party, replete with imported entertainment.
Shifting into the elementary school years for birthday parties, it becomes all about the featured activity. So many possibilities abound for the birthday-
party-goers now that their sense receptors and eye-hand coordination have to have evolved. One can plan parties for the bowling alley, at the riding stables, at the arcade, and every place in-between. You can even have the activity come to your house, with elaborate mobile arcades, where the attendees can wildly compete while donning protruding virtual-reality goggles, thereby transporting everyone to far away make-believe kingdoms and battlefields. What kid doesn’t enjoy jousting with another noble soldier, all without a single trip to the emergency room?
As a parent for this age, one is always just trying to create an experience that will put the child on a pedestal with friends. You want the attendees to leave the party saying, “That was the most rad party ever!” or whatever your typical 4th grader might say these days to express delight.
Once the middle school and ʼtween years arrive, the birthday party becomes a new entity altogether. Parents now shift into cajoling their child into committing to an answer to the question, “What shall we do for your birthday party this year?!” In-between YouTube videos, your child might glance up long enough to say, “Oh, I don’t know.” The parents toss verbal suggestions over the opened laptop, hoping something will land that is enticing. It is now that any parent yearns for the day when a colorful cake and a rock-climbing wall was all it took to make the day easily memorable. Like so much else at this age, parents are proud of the people their children have become and simultaneously wish just a little for the days of yore. There are moments now at the ʼtween age where it is bittersweet and so very tempting to keep them young at heart.
And so it goes. We, as parents, carry valiantly on to keep our children entertained, safe and grateful. Parents from every walk of life all strive to spin unforgettable memories for the annual celebration of the child whom we have created. Each year, a celebration commences to commemorate the ignition of memories and experiences both joyful and heartbreaking. Birthdays, however celebrated, are a savored and revered time.
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