If I have to rank the various aspects of my parenting on a scale – I’d put my throwing of birthday parties at the bottom. I never seem to have the enthusiasm to throw a theme party or anything of the sort. So if my kids want to hold something against me, it’s going to have to be that I didn’t throw them parties in McDonalds and didn’t have a tattoo artist. I think it’s the person I am.
I didn’t go through the whole ‘I have to lose weight to look good for my wedding pictures’ thing that most girls go through. Dude – they’re only pictures and sooner or later you gain back the weight you lost and you never fit into any of the clothes made during that time. Also, if its a love marriage, the man has already seen you and loved you for what you are. Are you really fussing so much to impress a bunch of strangers who are only going to go home and say the food was crap and the bride was over made up? I spent more time fretting over whether I was choosing the right man than what colour my lehenga should be. The man has served me longer than the lehenga and I am not in touch with 99% of the people who attended the wedding and neither do I open the wedding album so I don’t really think I made the wrong decision!
Anyway – my point is, I take a lot more pleasure in planning their weekend outings than I do in planning the annual birthday party and I often wonder if they’ll grow up and find it lacking. Frankly I don’t think fussing over my kid just for that one day is good enough. I know parents who spend weeks planning and lots of money too – but I have limited time and money so I’d just much rather spend the weeks running up to the party, also, partying! Plus I do hope they’ll be able to look back in the years ahead and say they had fun every week, rather than just big bash birthday parties. Sometimes I feel we put too much emphasis on the celebration and not what it stands for or means. I’d like the kids to think about celebrating life on a daily basis – not just on certain days.
There is no judgment involved here and hats off to those who can do it, but I am just not that parent. Someday they will be old enough to ask for their parties to be held in certain ways and if I can afford it and approve of it, I will do it, because its their choice to make. In my head, the guidelines for my children’s birthday parties are –
– I want the parties to be thrown at home. No matter how small my home, it is my home and my children’s home and we’re not ashamed of it and neither do we mind the mess and the chaos. We welcome it. Plus – there is a certain similarity and anonymity to throwing McDonald’s and Pizza Hut parties. Its so much nicer to eat the different food that each home prepares, the different games organised, the different atmosphere each time. Not the same damn bouncy castles and the need to be constantly entertained. I recall so many birthday parties from my childhood simply because each was so different. Different aunties, different food… each distinctive. No need to keep up with the Joneses and do exactly what the other person did which is what the kids are sadly geared to. My kids sometimes ask when we leave for a party – will there be a train when we get there. And I tell them, no, its going to be absolutely different. And it is, and they have a blast and I’m glad we still have a few good old fashioned friends to keep our kids grounded.
– I might cater if I am really short of time, else I don’t believe in catering for kids because they’re so busy playing that they barely eat anything. So I keep it simple home made food – sandwiches, popcorn, alphabet pasta salad, chhole and puris, sausages, kebabs, juice and cake. The food might vary but it’s home made and simple and will not upset a child’s stomach. I do wish I were a better cook, but this is the best I can do and I haven’t got complaints, neither have people dropped out 😉
– I try to entertain them within my means. The way we did as kids. You put 10 kids together and you let them loose in the nursery and you don’t need a tattoo artist or a magician. They are always happy to have a new set of toys to play with. Stuff that they don’t own. In a year or so when they’re old enough to play by the rules its going to be passing the parcel and musical chairs or pinning the tail on the donkey. As for themes – I thoroughly appreciate them when we do them as adults – but for kids of this age, it just ends up being one more headache for all the parents and once the kids reach the venue, they get busy playing and forget all about the theme. I’d think the early teens are a good time to start, when they can take responsibility for their own costumes and decorations etc.
And so it was that this year the Bean’s party came at me out of the blue. Caught up in running for admissions for the two of them, I wasn’t even thinking of a birthday party. I knew it was coming up – I just didn’t realise how close it was. So a week in advance I remembered and quickly invited some good friends and their children. As a working mother I have very little time to spare and I racked my brains to see what others had done – Most of them throw parties in malls – so I thought I’d have to go that route this year. At the last moment however pride kicked in and I swore I’d throw it at home even if it killed me. I didn’t want to give up what I felt was a principle, just because I am a working mom now and take the easy way out. Pride will kill me soon. Trust me. And maybe I’ll cave next year, but this year I’m clinging on by my fingernails.
A few days ago the kids and I had planted chana and rajma in jam jars and they’d loved watching them sprout and grow. Some days the two of them have sat for an hour arguing about whether they’d just seen the plant shoot up a bit or not. When I asked the Bean what she wanted to give her friends, she said she wanted to give them chana in a jar. And so I spent one night cleaning out my kitchen, hunting for 13 small jars. Switching masalas to other bottles and soaking them in a tub of water to get the labels off. Then I let the Bean line each one with cotton wool and throw in some chana and rajma. And then I had to remember to water it everyday.
The return gifts were books from Pratham. The proceeds go entirely to charity. Everything was packed in brown paper bags. We picked up a pinata of course because the excitement is insane. And the beauty is that all the little kids, except for two older kids, chased the confetti. The older ones took almost all the goodies home and the little ones didn’t mind so it worked out well. The loot bags too, were just recycled newspaper bags. I asked all the maids to leave – I hate those parties where the damn maids jump in and start pushing to get the goodies for their wards. Damn mothers also stand around and allow it instead of telling them to let the kids just have fun.
My 19 year old cousin was quite open about his disapproval of my choice of return gifts. “You and the kids like planting and reading – others may not… ” I had a simple answer – we only give gifts that we believe in. If you believe in Ben 10 and Hannah Montana – then you give those as return gifts, and we are happy to accept what you think is an appropriate gift… Similarly, I believe in this, I think its awesome for kids to learn to nurture plants, to read.. and so I will give those. He didn’t argue it and I really do hope that people appreciated the effort that went into what I did. Because I spent a week with my kitchen counter cluttered up with jars and jars of seeds!
We spent the entire afternoon blowing up balloons till we were breathless, making sandwiches, setting up a circus tent that the kids have, putting out a trampoline and some more stuff until our little balcony was swamped. (I forgot to move the cactus but I remembered soon enough after the kids began to push each other around right next to it!)
I also got tubs of playdough, skittles and a few other new toys and laid them out. The party began by 5 and we wrapped up at 7.30. And those 2.5 hours were a blast. Whistles being blown, children driving a motorised bike around the house over our toes, swinging, screaming, eating cake, dropping juice….
And the Bean got a whole bunch of elephants. Her birthday cake was – what else, a Heffalump. By the time the party ended, the house was a mess, the Bean and the Brat were exhausted, the other kids were refusing to go home and the OA and I were satisfied and happy to have had the party go off smoothly.
The best part of the party was a friend’s 4 month old. She was crying nonstop and driving her mother nuts. I took her and rocked her and she fell asleep in my arms, giving her mother a break. I think children sense your growing annoyance which is why often the OA would succeed in rocking our kids to sleep when I couldn’t. I spent a large part of the evening running around organising things with this baby in the crook of one arm, forgetting that she was there.. so tiny and quiet was she.
Made me realise how completely easy it is to have a third kid when you’ve already brought up two and love kids. Specially tempting now that my ‘little’ one is three years old! Aneela’s visit drove the same point home. Oh well – it isn’t meant to be but there’s always the joy of snatching these little moments. The Bean fell in love with her and I sat on the floor in a corner while the Bean patted her, stroked her and kissed her while she slept on. I always assumed that the Brat accepted the Bean into his life because she came so early. But I realise now that it is more to do with temperament. Both my children are free from jealousy and love having little babies over. “Can we keep her, mama? I want her to stay here so that I can keep playing with her nose..” said the birthday baby Bean.
Anyhow folks. Thats what the party was like – 3 days later we’re still getting confetti out from under the couch. I think that pretty much says it all.