Friday, October 2, 2009

Only (but not lonely)

With Little Green's first anniversary coming up next week, I thought I would touch upon the mania that is THE FIRST BIRTHDAY PARTY. Mania is no exaggeration. Where there are entire websites devoted to cake decorating -- from superheroes to teddy bears to the cartoon sensation of the moment -- there should also be sites devoted to post-birthday counselling for the moms who labour over said iced masterpieces.

Of course the occasionally ultra sensible Mr Green doesn't get this phenomenon. 'What's the point,' he says, 'the kid isn't even going to remember any of it?' True enough, but there will be photos, there will be full-length feature films, there will be documentary evidence of that first magical occasion. And if it isn't quite magical enough... Well, therein the problem lies. Much of the birthday party craze is down to other mothers, to other, preceding parties. A keeping-up-with-the-Joneses sickness that starts way too early in the mite's life. Birthday parties dominate the social scene for both the child and the parent, who must dutifully drive and chaperone the festivities at any given house on nearly every given weekend. And then there's the present to buy. I hear that once kids are in school, the phenomenon turns pandemic. After all, it's rude not to invite the WHOLE class, least anyone be 'left out', right? And while it is great to receive 20-something gifts at your own child's party, reciprocation is very much expected. That's 20-something parties to survive, 20-something gifts to search out and buy at a Walmart near you, 20-something gifts to wrap with a pretty bow. I'm not one for maths, but in this case the numbers are loud and clear.

Today's Parent recently reported that the cost of putting on a party for your child can run anywhere from CD$50-$500, with the average being $20 per tiny head. Our Little Green's party, though it falls (cover your ears, Pipsqueak) in the 'el cheapo' bracket, will be a weekend-long affair, with cake and Little Green Family on Saturday, followed by pizza, toys, and my own top-secret cake concoction, attended by all manner of Little Green Friends on Sunday. There will be loot bags and decorations to think of. In addition to making 'practice' cakes (trust me, a common occurrence since the gateaux in question are worthy of Ms M Stewart herself), I have been slaving away at a birthday banner, too.

Needless to say, the time and money involved are a shameful reflection of the age we live in. We all want the best for our little princes and princesses, no question. But it seems to me that in this quest to give them the very best of the best --and in an (un)conscious attempt to compensate for what our own childhoods may have lacked-- we have taken the birthday party to new, utterly senseless levels. Anyone about to quibble the point needs only watch that show documenting Sweet Sixteen parties in the U.S..

For my part, I am already feeling the heat of the social crunch, and my almost toddler hasn't even reached school age yet. Most week days are filled with his extra-curricular activities: from swimming lessons, to music classes, and now storytime. Already I worry about his sociability. As Little Green is an only child (and foreseeably staying that way), I understandably want to do my utmost to mitigate against The Only Child Syndrome otherwise known as loneliness and spoiled-ness. Being an only child myself, I know all too well that a lack of siblings can often foster a greater closeness to your parents, as well as a heightened imagination (cue: imaginary playmates) and creativity. But on the flipside, I have also known the loneliness, acutely and intimately at times. Teachers were quick to pin the 'shy' label on me growing up and as a result I often struggled to make friends. However, the few friendships I have developed over the years are of the close and long-term variety, friendships which I wouldn't trade for the world. Wouldn't even trade, all this time and hindsight later, for a sibling.

With any luck, Little Green will cultivate the same kinds of friendships, even if it means several years of birthday mania for his parents.

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