Party is such sweet sorrow by Chris Broquetphoto courtesy of Chris Broquet Author Chris Broquet and her son, Remy.
When I was one, I had just begun. When I was two, I was nearly new. When I was three, I was barely me. When I was four, I was not much more. When I was five, I was just alive. But now I am six and I'm clever as clever, So I think I'll stay six now forever and ever! A.A. Milne, Now We Are Six
I used to read that poem to my son when he was a few years old. As he held the well-read book in his pudgy hands, I would hold him on my lap and imagine his sixth birthday party. The invitations with the verse printed on the front, the decorations with Christopher Robin, Kanga and Roo. The poem was such a celebration of the age of 6-it would be perfect!
Unfortunately, the year he turned 6 coincided with the premiere of "Space Jam" and the 20th anniversary re-release of "Star Wars." The words of a long dead English poet were no match for the marketing budgets of Michael Jordan and Luke Skywalker. I think we sang "I believe I can fly" instead of "Happy Birthday."
Rule No. 1 in giving children's parties: Do not get your heart set on your vision of the perfect party, for no matter how much you lower your expectations, they will never be as low as what your children want. You may be imagining rosy-cheeked cherubs giggling as they spoon in ice cream around a table laden with balloons and party favors. But they are looking forward to smashing cake into each other's hair and getting everything from aisles three through seven at Toys "R" Us.
My son starts planning for his next birthday party about a half-hour after the current one ends. He likes to take that 30 minutes or so to really appreciate the one he just had, then move on. The guest lists are magneted to the refrigerator for easy access in case certain names have to be added or axed, depending upon who the current best friends are. This happens on a daily basis. Themes are explored and discarded faster than sitcoms on CBS, with any current blockbuster logo printed on a paper plate eligible for consideration.
Once we're within three months of the actual date, the real excitement begins. Gift lists are drawn up, complete with page numbers from catalogs where certain items can be ordered and advertisement with the best sale prices circled. I vetoed putting copies of this list in the invitations, and then saw a report that said Toys "R" Us actually has a system that allows you to register kids for birthdays the same way you would for a wedding. Apparently, my son has been taking marketing classes without my knowledge-he came up with this concept months before they did.
And finally the Big Day arrives. The crepe paper has been hung and immediately fallen, with the exception of one tiny piece that will be stuck to the ceiling for the next six months. The balloons have been blown up and then literally blown up. Little rubber pieces scatter the floor.
I am temporarily dismayed by the way the decorations have turned out because I pride myself on my theme parties. Then I remember the guest list is composed of 6- and 7-year-old boys whose main goal is to destroy everything in their path. I realize that by starting in shambles, I've made the children feel comfortable. And isn't that what entertaining is all about?
By the time the gifts have been ripped open and most of the parts lost because I had a headache and thought that playing with them would keep them quiet for a while, I realize that they have played all the games and done all the crafts and we still have an hour to go before everybody gets picked up. I guess that time management course didn't work. Of course you can never be certain that they will be picked up. One time we had two children dropped off at my daughter's fourth birthday party and the parents went out to buy a car. They picked up the kids six hours later. They said there was a lot of paperwork involved.
By the time the party is over and it's time to call it a day, I'm ready to call the paramedics. Yet I know that before we even get the ground-up cake out of the rug and the ringing out of my ears, my son will already be dreaming about the next one.
Friedrich Nietzsche says: "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Well, I've got three words for you, Freddie, old boy: Chuck E. Cheese.illustration by Marc Stopeck
Reader essays What could be better for summer than a little light reading about adventures in parenting-especially if the adventures and the problems have to do with other people's kids? Chicago Parent is lucky to have a wealth of talented parents who are not only readers of the magazine but are willing to take a moment and write for us as well. Each month, we receive a number of great essays and until now, we were limiting ourselves to printing but one of those essays a month. No more; we have decided to take a little more space and try to get our readers voices into the magazine more often. After all, this is your magazine. Why shouldn't it be filled with your voices? This month, we offer three great essays about: throwing the not-so-perfect birthday party; Hailley, the amazing entrepreneur, and her lemonade stand, and one man's battle with giving into the dreaded minivan.