Monday, March 31, 2008

Excuse me, I’m a birthday momzilla

Kiran's Column
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


mummyjaan said...

Happy birthday to the Brat.

I must be one of the cheapest mums around. The first year, we had no party :D.

The second year, I invited 4 families , made biryani and a few side dishes and dessert, ordered the cake, had a few balloons and decorations around the place; I remember we had a nice time. Theme? Party favours? No, this went along the lines of the parties I remember in my childhood.

3rd birthday: had moved to new locale so 'friends' non-existent or too far away; baked the cake, blew up the balloons, and decorated the kitchen/dining. How many of us were there: hubby, me, the birthday girl and the baby. We enjoyed it.

Year 4, coincidentally, was like year 3.

Apya attended her best friend's birthday just before we moved house this year; that was not a lavish affair either; half a dozen friends, a simple cake, some games; after having cakes and snacks, the children spent the entire time on the 'bouncy castle' which had been set up outside. (You never need anything more for entertaining the children after that bouncy castle is set up).

I am amazed to read about the extravagant birthday bashes that you have described.

One thing I am sure of is this: I don't think anyone ever needs to fall into the trap of keeping up with the Joneses'.

indosungod said...

This is India we are talking about right? WOW! It must be a full time job if you are pulled into keeping it up.

Am I glad I live in the USofA where kids birthdays have not reached hiring a planner stage yet or What do I know!

I keep thinking only people in BG's or Warren Buffet's league hire party planners!!!

Sure we do the Chuck E Cheese, Bowling Alley, Little Gym birthdays but nothing so elaborate.

The best birthday so far atleast according to the birthday girl herslef has been the one where the planning and execution including party favors were all done by her.

Roopa Unnikrishnan said...

Wow - India sure is changing. I have to say that while NYC has it's share of crazy-expensive birthday parties, most moms tend to want to put away the cash for school fees (up to $20k for toddlers at private school.) There are loads of kids gyms and play schools that host parties for a decent cost, but then you get stuck with their offerings (specific activities, usually just pizza and cake.) I've used our building's great party room for our parties, and enjoy the goody-bag creation (call me crazy) and entertainment selection. I have loads of good pals who volunteer to man the tattoo desk, and activity center as well. I've been lucky with entertainment. The best one to date was the neighbor's 13-year old magician, who wowed all the 3-year olds and their older siblings (who needs a $500 magician, when the kid next door costs one-fifths, and is way more interesting to the tots?!) I've found that in NYC, it's about the fun, and the food... doesn't have to be pricey, just unique.

Pallavi said...

Wow.. R is 2 something now. R's first birthday, I wanted it to be a big one. We just moved into our new home too, so it was a double party. .. couldnt find any good caterer so, prepared the food myself. That was quite an ordeal for over 150 people.. But thankfully some of my friends helped and it all turned out great. Hired a clown to face-paint and make some balloon toys for all the kids and they had a lot of fun. It was fun for everyone but R. I was way too tired for words ! He was not feeling too well and all the noise and crowd frustrated him. So, for his second birthday, we decided we will do it just for him what he likes. I took him to a few the party venues I was considering. He seemed to not get enough of the Gymboree Play & Music facility close to our home and thats where we had the party. Invited 15 other toddlers and had pizza and cake for the kids and the adults. R enjoyed himself thoroughly and so did all the other kids. And no stress for me or S.

I agree with mummyjaan about not keeping up with the Jones'

Kodi's Mom said...

by these standards, Kiran, I am still living in prehistoric times. K's 2nd b'day party had one cake, four balloons, only family, and two videos to prove that he had a hell of a good time. that's what it is all about in the end, is it not? I admire you for keeping your feet on the ground and your head sane in the company of such pressure.

Dee said...

very good post Kiran. Thankfully in my circl eof friends both Desi and American, moms have managed to be sane . But I have heard stories of how far parents would go ...sometimes it becomes a competition among the parents as to whose party was better!

DotMom said...

I refuse to give in to pressure. Most parties I have attended always have had hired entertainment and useless goody bags. I threw a big party for Chip's 1st birthday in our backyard. Friends and Neigbors. This was more for them and us completeing a year than for Chip. Second year, I invited only three kids that he enjoyed playing with - our neighbors two daughters and a dear friend's son. We all went to the petting zoo where the foursome had a blast and then ate the pinic we had brought with us. It lasted under two hours and was fun. This year on Chip has been actively planning his birthday. I don't know how big the guest list is going to be, but I want no more than 4-5 kids. That's more than a 3 yr Chip can handle.

karmickids said...

Mummyjaan: I would love to be the cheapest mom around too, but it becomes a situation where your child is invited to maybe six to seven parties a month, and it is rude not to turn up, and once a year you need to return the favour. Which is why the hordes. Plus family and friends who are ever too keen to be part of the celebrations. Too much work to hold at home. I for one, am a slacker when it comes to cooking and being a good hostess, but then thats me. Keeping up with the Joneses. There's no danger of that, am nowhere within the perimeter of their budgets, far far away in fact, cant even imagine to compete. And you guys forget, its not so expensive here as it would be out there.

Indosungod: Lovely. Till the brat reaches that stage, mamma will have to do the honours.

Roopa: Thats lovely, sure thing there are the Pizza Hut and McDonald's parties too...what I find most friends (not those who have sky high budgets, but real people like me) doing is alternate a home party/ McDonalds do, with a big party. ANother thing out here is the fact that children's party doesnt necessarily mean only children, adults tag along as well, so it becomes quite a horde. An average party would have a minimum of 30 to 50 people. That becomes unmanageable in the poky flats we have, and the only option then is to go to a venue.

Pallavi: Thats so true, the huge dos have the kids exhausted. Another point I didnt make in the post, which I feel is relevant here is that you have so many people to invite, you have school friends, building friends, relatives, cousins, friends from the various classes you go to, and you keep getting invited does end up becoming a vicious circle.

Kodis Mom: If I invite only family, I will be blacklisted, and so will my son. LOL. That would be ideal. No stress, no sweat.

Dee: One of the parties we attended last week, has just come in todays issue of the newspapers. Thats the level of pressure. Thankfully I am non celebrity so cannot even hope or try to compete. That keeps me sane.

Dotmom: I wish we could do something like that know the zoos here, can you imagine the scene if I do that in Mumbai zoo? LOL.

Sandeepa said...

Now you make me think I will never ever be able to return to India...wyaaaaaaaaaahhhhh or maybe if I do I will have to choose a remote hamlet to live in peace.
Kudos to you for keeping sane and maintaining a balance.

If the kids have so much at this age what will they live for, maybe they will all want to attain "nirvana" and go and live in the Himalayas by the time they are adults.

I do like shopping for return gifts though ad here it is always within a limited budget, so I can pick up tiny things and kiddie stationary, and I like that

scribblermom said...

Genie's first birthday party was thrown by her Nana as per our tradition, and it was a huge one... we just had few games, but no entertainer/clown, etc was hired for the occasion. Two months down the line, her 2nd birthday is approaching. we still undecided about throwing a party for her. Shopping for return gift is fun and challenging as it has to be within a limited budget and it should be useful to the kid... so hunting for the right gift is fun

bird's eye view said...

I'm actually pretty determined not to succumb to peer pressure on this. My folks threw a big party for Chubbocks first in order to compensate ( methinks) for not having a big wedding for me.

The next 2 years, when I didn't think Chubbocks would appreciate it, I just had a high tea at home for family and very close friends with home made food et al, which was great fun. Last year was with his friends at a Pizza hut which I didn't enjoy.

So this year, as I posted on my blog, we went back to home-based parties, and I'm planning to keep it that way until he becomes a pre-teen.

SJ said...

Wow Kiran, all this in Bombay??? My husband and I keep thinking we should return to India for good to get back to the "simple life", but looks like things are much simpler in the USA.

the mad momma said...

LOL! @ the shock.

Yeah - Kiran and I live in India where this is the norm. We're the cheap moms who still throw small parties at home!!!

Please invite me to watch your faces if you guys move back to India and have to attend this kinda drama. that should be fun :)

kbpm said...

I feel like my exam is coming up on wednesday when the monster turns 4. I am planning to have the neighbour girl home for the cake cutting; and planning to blow up some ten balloons myself. god my kid is going to hate me :-( :-(

Nisha said...

I think I'm from stone age or something. The brat's b'day fell on your brat's. I didn't even host a party, because I was lazy. Of course, the routine of giving chocolates and gifts to his classmates did happen, but nothing more than that.

Belated b'day wishes to your brat:)

Nisha said...

Post thought: Hubby dear and I decided that we'll throw parties when the kids are old enough and want one for their birthday. Otherwise we're not joining the herd. But it helps to live in boring Chennai to make such decisions:)

Lucky said...

May be a long post. But I cannot stop writing after reading this.
You wont believe what I am saying. My collegue who's 75 yrs old , american told me how he's teaching the kids about the value of money. If they ask for something , he'll tell he's not earning great to get that immediately, But if he works harder he can get it and they have to help them. They'll help him in doing all the work.This will continue for 4-1 week depends on the price of the item. After a week , he'll get the item telling that , it came out of their hard work and they need to use it properly and keep it safely.He also teaches them how kids in Africa are standing in line to play with the slide and how poverty is spread around the other parts of the world. His 7 year old grand daughter has prepared a collage for this one .

Last time when my neighbour hosted a birthday party with moonbounce , all of us discussed how kids does not know what is luxury and what is basic ....

Kids are still surviving in orphanage .. Kids are still suffering without the basics everywhere in the world. In India there's a drastic change in the economic level of 2/3 of the people. Those kids know only cell phones , ipods , costly books, costly toys .... But in the other side there are people who does not even know what these items are. What they know and what they need is the milk, food and they have to struggle even to get that. So many kids are doing well in Education but financially not capable of doing it.

As far as I have seen people in US[whether indian, chinese , American] , we are thinking the same way...We want our kids to know the value of money , how it's important in some other's lives ...

I believe that Kids does not expect a big birthday party. What they need is some entertainment , some balloons , some games ... In a paper or in a chart paper ask them to do craft work and write thank you notes. Make simple goody bags [small craft items]. Make it a evening party ....

If you are capable of doing it , please take them to an orphanage , show how kids need things , ask them to celebrate one more birhday with them. Get them notebooks , pens, pencils,snaks .... or even provide food.

I am not saying Just because thye are suffering , your kids should not enjoy. I am not saying things in that way. They slowly understand the value of life and how much luxury they are enjoying.

In a magazine , Radhika [actress cum director of Raddan] told that if her son spill the food or refuse to eat , shell not scold him. Instead take him for a drive where kids are sleeping in the roads , crying for food . He slowly changed also.

We want to introduce the kids to the luxury world as much as possible and does not want to let them know how much we suffered and suffering , not knowing that we are missing the chance to understand the values of life and value of money .

I am sure when they are growing , they'll get used to only high society friends and they never know that life has other side too..

MOMS , please think ...If you cannot teach this this , no one can teach things to your kid.