Does anyone but me freak out about their children's birthdays? My mother used to make birthday cakes in the shapes of animals: horses, elephants, rabbits. The neighborhood kids would be invited, along with local family members: aunts, uncles, cousins. We would all wear those cardboard birthday hats with the slightly painful elastic string under our chins, sing "Happy Birthday to you!" and watch the birthday kid blow out candles and open presents. It was fairly simple. Nowadays, the parents host their birthday parties at children's gyms, amusement parks, bowling alleys, fire stations. They hire magicians or clowns or storytellers. They invited not three or four but twenty kids. I have taken my kid to these parties. The birthday kid is often looking a little shy, holding back. The whole scene looks like a class on a field trip, rather than an individual kid's party. That would make more sense for an eight-, or even six-year-old. But three-going-on-four? Too young, I think.
Last year, I invited the entirety of Little Man's playgroup from my pre-back-to-work days, all of whom he saw regularly for a year or so. It was maybe six kids and their siblings and moms (and, in one case, a palpably bored dad). Not so big, right? And yet, Little Man was overwhelmed, and mostly sat anxiously in my lap while I chatted with one or two of the moms. Granted, we have a tiny house, and it felt very cramped, but I was still surprised, since he had known these kids most of his life. It was only after the cake part was over, when many of them left, and it was only two kids and their moms in the backyard, that he started having a good time, running around and giggling with the two kids who were still there.
So I was thinking, this year for my kid's birthday (in two weeks), No. How about, instead, inviting two of his closest friends, and some (adult) family friends that he adores, letting the kids play in the local playground and them bringing them home to the house for pizza and cake? I did look into other options: a local indoor kid's gym, etc., but they seem to expect a big party, and I wanted to avoid that. So I'm planning this very low-key event, pleased with myself for staying so sane, when Little Man starts telling me in no uncertain terms, "I don't want my birthday to be at home! I want it to be somewhere special!" Did I mention his birthday is in two weeks? Well, I planned the party a week early, because his dad has to go out of town the weekend of his actual birthday. So, one week.
So, what I do now is, well, what? Keep the small event, and plan something bigger for sometime next month? And who would I invite to a bigger party, in a more fun place than our little cramped cave of a house? His entire preschool class? He's only been at his new school for a month and doesn't seem yet to have made individual friends. There are 25 kids in his class. He barely remembers his playgroup friends, and we've only stayed in contact with one kid from his old school.
Now that I'm writing about it, I realize that the problem is really numbers. I don't want a party of 20 kids, because I know my kid, and it's too much. He wouldn't like it. He does want it to be in a special place. So, maybe I call the local firehouse and see if they'll host a 3-kid party? In a week?