What you need is a manager.
That’s what a lot of parents seem to think these days. They want to be Mick to their child Rocky. Manage their baseball team. Manage their soccer team. Manage their schedules. If you want to see my child, you have to make an appointment. God bless ’em in their Hollywood rush to keep their kids part of the neighborhood buzz. I can’t keep up with it financially, nor can I find the time. But I realized there might be something terribly wrong with our collective over-indulgence, after stumbling onto The Learning Channel’s latest docu-drama Outrageous Kids Parties.
These parents want to manage their child’s fantasies. And apparently one way to do it is spending a cool $30,000 to rent out the Cincinnati Circus for a day.
Kids love birthdays. And birthdays today are becoming larger than Christmas. My daughters have been talking about their birthdays since their last birthday party ended. We had friends over that time. It was organized play. We had a scavenger hunt that took me about four hours to organize. We sang happy birthday, ate Carvel ice cream cake and drank milk. We had a water balloon fight afterwards. I lost. They had fun. One year, we hired a magician. But renting out baseball stadiums or an entire circus is where I draw the line.
I have to draw it there because the magic markers I can afford can’t draw the line anywhere else. Yet, I wonder if I had that kind of money, would I spend so outlandishly on a themed birthday party like that? What can you really give to a kid that’s already got everything and really doesn’t need a Shetland pony? Then, how do you top that next year?
Maybe going overboard is just a way to create a memory. Yet I find myself sorely annoyed by the birthday extremities more than I would like to admit. It’s a conversation I’ve started many times. These are Joneses I cannot keep up with.
That the Joneses in American life have long since moved from next door onto our television sets—usually somewhere in a mansion in Orange County or another mansion on MTV—has been discussed in the popular culture for some time. My Joneses next door are jonesin’ for cash, with holes in their attic vents perfect for squirrels to nest in their roof rafters. Another neighbor has a collection of used tires, a Ford Escort, a rusted lawn mower and canoes in their backyard. I don’t want to keep up with those Joneses next door. I want to keep up with the ones on Outrageous Kids Parties.
Within my social circle, my daughters’ friends are having spa parties. They get manis and pedis for their birthdays with their girlfriends. It’s surprisingly affordable, I hear. My blue collar friends hang with the normals at Chuck E. Cheese, yet they still need two cars in order to return home with all the presents from the friends and family they invited.
My cousin and I spoke about all these gifts once. She whispered to me during the summer party for her then-8-year-old girl, “I regift.” And that very year, my daughter was the recipient of a birthday present her cousin never got around to opening.
My most outrageous birthday experience was in Brazil. The middle and upper classes in our home city of São Paulo often rented out thematic buffet houses for around $3,000 for a couple of hours. There were indoor amusement park rides, video games and a room set up for towering birthday cakes decked out in the cartoon character of choice for the birthday boy.
Gabriel was turning 7. When it was time to sing Happy Birthday, his parents—Gabriel’s managers—rushed him into a back room. Music started to play. It sounded like the soundtrack tune announcing a grand entrance. On cue, smoke from dry ice filled the room. I kid you not. The music got louder like a drum roll and then, from out of the smoky dining room came…a little red Power Ranger.
A 32 inch flat screen TV flipped on. The Oscar music stopped and in its place played something more resembling a music box chime. There on the screen was a montage of Gabriel from birth to Power Ranger. But Gabriel, off-screen, was clutching his parents like they were a life raft. His face mask was off. This was clearly too much for the boy. None of it was his idea. He probably just wanted some cake. Now he’ll have two of every Power Ranger toy he already has, and when he is older, just might want to rent out a circus so his child will have a better birthday than the one his parents gave to him.
Being outrageous now and then is healthy enough. The Kentucky woman on TLC’s latest jab at the three ring circus of extreme parents did it for the memories. I would wager her children, Jasmine and Carson, don’t get a party like that again for a long time. And that’s because it’s not realistic. You can’t possibly manage a steady dose of fantasy in the real world. Life is messy. It gets in the way.
So what can you give to the kid who has everything?
My last two birthday parties showed me the light. At my daughter’s friend Sophia’s birthday party in October, the children entertained themselves outside running through a large inflatable maze. They were running around in the cold grass in their stocking feet. Sophia’s father owns a jewelry store. I had never met him before, but I know he can afford many large inflatable mazes for his daughter. He can buy her a pony and pay for its food and veterinary bills. Along the back of his home were bags of presents; at least 20 of them. They weren’t for Sophia, though. These were donations for the local Joneses with holes in their homes who, as much as they might love to fork out a mini-fortune for a childhood fantasy, cannot. But it’s not about the altruism. It’s about having more than enough and not using a birthday as an excuse to get way more.
Next birthday party gift for my girls? Donations to Save Japan Dolphins. Who needs the circus? Pin the tail on the donkey, anyone?