Kiran is an ex journalist, features writer, The Times of India (The SundayReview), The Asian Age and Features Editor at Cosmopolitan India. She now freelances as a features writer and runs an advertising agency in partnership with her husband. You can read more of her at Karmic Kids
I grew up in prehistorical times, when birthdays meant one wore a new dress, one of the three new dresses one got in a year, the other two for Id and Christmas (me being the offspring of an inter religious union), when friends and family came over, invited or uninvited (remember, this was the era before every home even had a telephone, and those who remembered it was your birthday came across in anticipation of a party), the mother cooked the entire day and hoped she wouldn’t run short of food, and generally roped in neighbours and sisters to help her. The father played gracious host, and puffed his cigarettes happily unmindful that he was polluting little lungs, and a cake was cut, wafers and soft drinks distributed for the aam junta, while the really close family friends and relatives stayed back for dinner. No one was invited to. It was understood that they would. These were riotous parties with family bonding, cracking of insider family jokes, and us cousins raising hell, thanks to parents too busy catching up on gossip to really be bothered about us.
And then I had my son. In my innocence, in the first year of his life, I didn’t think much about birthday parties for kids. Sure, I had friends who had had kids already, and I had heard weird rumours of parents planning birthday parties for months on end, and wondered how would it need a month of planning to throw a birthday party. A wedding perhaps, yes, but a birthday party?
Thus happened the brat’s first birthday party, where I called friends and family over home, and had in my innocence, cake to be cut, wafers, cold drinks, sandwiches and the likes of a party which had gone out of fashion three decades ago. Thankfully no one except immediate family turned up.
Things have changed since. The brat began playschool and I began getting invited to “Birthday parties”. I am a quick learner. The next birthday party happened also at home, but I made sure to invite kids, have games, return gifts and a menu. I had still not got into the big league. Getting into nursery into a proper school changed all that.
I still remember my shock and amazement at one of the earliest birthday parties I attended. At a five star venue. With lifesize cartoon characters walking around in keeping with the DisneyWorld theme, chatting up the kids. The older of which were taking their chances in roughing up the poor unfortunates doomed to be hot and stuffy in those costumes. There was a stage like a Disney castle. Girlie return gifts with Minnie Mouse for the girls, and Mickey doing the honours for the boys. And the gifts, a bath towel and robe and fluffy slippers set. It was a scene straight out of Disneyland, and I was left open mouthed. It was here, that I learnt about the concept of party organizers. These were wonderful people, who for a sum ranging from the nominal to the empty your pockets out, came in and organized everything for you. The basic ones came after you had decided on a venue, and sent in their decorating guys to blow up and string up the one gadzillion balloons that make up an integral part of any birthday decoration, along with the theme based cut outs, plus the huge banner declaring Happy Birthday to tyke concerned, personalized with the name which will cost you extra. And sent in a DJ, a games host, a tattoo artist, and a magician to keep the kids entertained for an hour or two while the escorting moms gossiped over the din.
The ones higher on the food chain came in when you decided you were flush with cash and could afford to spend a kings ransom on them. They do a venue recce and charge you for it. They give you theme options with previews of how everything will look like. They will organize a customized return gift. And a customized khoi bag, from which goodies will rain to the delight of scrambling kids below. And they will ensure the cake arrives on time. The customized cake. Not to mention getting in some minor celebrities if you so desire. Basically, you attend the party as a guest. Without pulling your hair out. Give them a month of lead time to organize your venue, your invites, your customized decorations, customized return gifts, and the celebrities. A mini wedding, perhaps? Yes, the budget for some of these dos could run into lakhs and that’s excluding the venue and the food.
Last week I attended a slew of parties which ranged the gamut from a terrace held birthday party (for children??? I was terrified through the entire do), a party held in a mall’s gaming area, which had the hosting mother almost tearing her hair out as kids ran anywhich way to their games of choice rather than going in line from one game to next as she had, in her naivete, imagined when she booked the place, a Pizza Place party, which was crowded, noisy and fun. And probably the least expensive of the lot. The terrace party was the most lavish, with jumping castles, and crawl in tents for the kids, popcorn, candyfloss and coke vending machines, tattoo artist, a magic show, a great spread of food, a DJ spinning tracks for the kids to dance to and a games host to keep them occupied. Hair braiding for the girls, handkerchief making, clay pottery tables, where children can paint on raw mugs which they then take home, a bead corner, where the mother and the child can select the beads and the look they want for a necklace or a bracelet made on the spot. Face painting. Mehndi artists. Theme parties, where hats to the theme or masques are handed out to every child as they enter. Parties where moms are treated to manicures and pedicures in a corner while their kids play. (I loved this one).
Puppet shows. The cartoon characters walking around amiably through the venue, interacting with the children. Name the cartoon character—from the Disney classics Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse to the more contemporary Power Rangers, and the new fangled Ben 10, they’re all available to spice up your party. At a cost of course. I find the children crowd them up and take sadistic pleasure in pummeling them, little rascals, so I’ve never hired them. Plus I find the cost unjustifiable. Hiring so many men and costumes to walk around for a kings ransom seems ludicrous to me.
I have heard of Ipods as return gifts, customized Tshirts, made on the spot with the child choosing the cartoon character he wants on it, and how he wants his name written on it, towels and bedlinen with the guest child’s name on it, and other extravaganzas that make my own humble peak cap and crayons pale in comparison. I insist on return gifts that are age appropriate and not such high value that they break the bank. Call me cheap. One of the nicest, and not too expensive return gifts the brat has received is a handpainted nameplate to his room (unfortunately since he doesn’t have a room to his name, it stays on his cupboard) and a placemat with a PowerRanger and his name on it. One of the worst return gifts was a tshirt that proclaimed "I attended ______'s birthday party." Thankfully, the maid's son had no qualms about wearing it.
I have wisened to the art of throwing a birthday party now. But, I am lazy. I dont do a home party anymore. The first two years have taught me a lesson. Its too much time and effort, and is always never appreciated. Having said that, one of the best birthday parties I have attended had a mother empty out her living room of all furniture, call in a games host and a tattoo artist, and order in burgers and french fries and Coke from the neighbourhood McDonalds. The kids loved it. I book a venue, with snacks rather than dinner. The party is always evening, five to seven thirty. Too early for dinner. And the children are generally too worked up running up a storm to have any dinner. I refuse to have the party in the house if more than five children are involved, I know I will throw my back out cleaning up before and after the party. I call a birthday party organizer. I tell him what my theme is for the decorations. Last year, I did a Noddy theme, in keeping with the current favourite character the brat swore allegiance to, and this year, Spongebob was my theme du jour. I order a birthday cake make in the likeness of said cartoon character. I scour the umpteen birthday shops for decorations and khoi bags made with said character as motif. I also select a return gift, which is within a fixed budget. Nothing anywhere percentage wise even near ipods and such like. The party organizer is told what colours the balloons need to be, and what cartoon character needs to go up on the walls of the venue, he can be relied on to arrive an hour before the party starts and get everything done and spanking spiffy, before the hordes trickle in. The cake is delivered at the venue, always, which, except for some minor glitches like this time round when the venue manager decided to keep the cake in the refrigerator and not inform us that it had arrived, leading to increasingly panic striken calls being made to cake place, which kept insisting that the cake had been delivered. I don’t have a DJ. They insist on playing music at ear threatening levels, and switching off all the lights, which scares me, given the brat’s penchant for disappearing into the darkness. And I am sure, all mothers feel the same. I have a tattoo artist. And a games host. No magic show yet. The brat didn’t appreciate it until this year, when I find he is now sitting through them, so maybe I will have a magician next year. I donot have candyfloss vending machines, since the candyfloss ends up in everyone’s hair and on their clothes.
I try to keep it as simple as I can. I wonder how long before the pressure to up the ante sets in. What are your experiences with birthday parties?
This post by Kiran of www.karmickids.blogspot.com