On Saturday, my kids got excited for the afternoon birthday party to which they were invited. Then, they got excited for the other afternoon birthday party they were invited to. And they were even more excited for Sunday’s birthday party.
That’s right: three birthday parties this weekend. But that’s just the beginning.
Now, you may think I’m bragging that my kids have all sorts of friends who are dying to have them at their parties — as if my son were a six-year-old George Clooney. But he isn’t. Our weekend calendars were booked solid because of a rule at my kids’ school: If a kid brings birthday-party invitations to disseminate in class, every kid must be invited.
This is, of course, to make sure kids don’t feel left out. But much to my consternation, my kids are now being left in. Both my son’s kindergarten class and my daughter’s second-grade class have about 18 kids, all of which have the temerity to celebrate birthdays. And that doesn’t count kids they meet at summer camp, kids who live in our neighborhood, and kids they knew from pre-school.
As such, my kids are now pawns in a costly self-esteem experiment. Because the school won’t recognize that my kids might be better friends with some kids than others, they treat all the kids as if they’re best friends. (This is further reflected in their compulsory Valentine rule: If you bring Valentines to school, everyone must get one — even the kids who eat glue. But if everyone is your Valentine, isn’t no one your Valentine?)
This is beginning to stretch both my schedule and my wallet. My two kids could easily end up attending 25 birthday parties this year — apiece. They should name a wing of the local Toys “R” Us after me once I spend a month’s salary on gifts for kids I barely know. (Although one parent said in lieu of a gift, we could make a donation to buy a goat in an impoverished nation. I said no once I found out I don’t actually get the goat.)
Of course, there is a caveat — a parent can invite a select few kids if he does so outside the classroom. But it seems few parents are willing to address all the envelopes or make all the cold calls necessary to do so — it’s just easier to send their kids to class with a stack of invites. Plus, I’m not so sure a lot of parents don’t like running up the numbers on their kids’ parties, to make their children feel as if they have more friends.
Naturally, having all these kids at a birthday party changes where these parties are held. Nobody has birthday parties at home anymore. They’re all held at these warehouse-sized snot palaces where kids dive around in ball pits and wipe their noses on gymnastics mats. Gone are the days when your house was populated by a few kids from the neighborhood, your grandma, and a couple tank-top-wearing, beer-drinking uncles. Now every birthday has to be a destitute man’s “Super Sweet 16” style event. (And I have it on good authority that Corey Hart will show up and sing “Sunglasses at Night” to your daughter for a pitcher of High Life and a carton of Marlboros.)
We should stop pretending all friends are created equally. From now on, for birthday-party purposes, my kids get five friends apiece. Those kids that don’t make the cut? Well, they better step up and learn to be better friends. (Unless they buy me a goat, in which case they make the list automatically.)
— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.