I’ve been thinking a lot about my child’s birthday. Hard not to, since she has been talking about her 6th birthday since 5 minutes after her 5th birthday. I discovered why that is, why kids are so focused on birthdays: they are a kid’s only source of power. L says frequently, “I am NOT inviting so-and-so to my birthday!” Sorry, kid, everyone in class gets to come if they want.
Last year, we had a princess party. Friends came and dressed up, got their hair, nails and make-up done. Then, the guests played games and had cake. It was sweet and silly and pretty easy. I was pleased.
Over the summer and into Fall, L was invited to three girl birthdays and all were Princess Parties/Fashion Parties, or a combination. The first one was small – even the boys had knight costumes and, of course, fought with the plastic swords. Mostly the girls ran around the house playing with toys and trying to get the birthday girl to be with them. It was quite low key.
The next party was similar to Lillian’s own with a twist. The girls dressed up in costumes, got their hair, nail and make-up done, learned a dance and then did a fashion show. The place was tiny with chairs for the parents facing a small runway. L picked a Snow White dress, and I was relieved she didn’t pick the rockstar mid-driff bearing t-shirt. Girls who were done being primped stood in a mirror and sang to themselves – they weren’t even playing together! The dance was okay and the fashion show was, well, disturbing. As I watched this display of “confidence” with all the parents cheering and laughing at the adorable kids (and some were really adorable), I had a sinking feeling. I mean, I spend all this time worrying about my child’s self-image while she is drenched in a culture that is set to destroy that self-image. It just seemed…wrong. This is a child’s fantasy? To play out being a model? What are we doing?
The next birthday party my husband attended because I was out of town. Apparently, it was a princess party (girls wore their own costumes) with Cinderella reading as story about manners, and then the girls took a CARRIAGE RIDE WITH A REAL HORSE around the neighborhood. According to J, the house and the party were quite over the top (pictures show a stage with a movie marquee with the kid’s name on it), which isn’t surprising given the location. It’s a suburb that basically wrote the book on McMansions. At least the party dealt with being a Lady and not a model.
Why are we allowing our children, no, encouraging our children to engage in celebrity culture fantasy play? I have no issue with the general dress-up play, but having a bunch of parents “ooh” and “aah” over glittery eye shadow and an exposed belly is just wrong. What’s next? Fake papparazzi? A fake film premier with fake fans? Fake cocaine in the bathroom stalls?
Even though I told L I won’t discuss her birthday until March (actual birthday end of May), I have been thinking about it. And I’ve decided it is going to be a very athletic birthday. Something where the kids run around and get sweaty. Where they use their bodies in ways that helps their growth. Where they get to laugh and have fun being kids. Thankfully, my child is completely into the idea of having her party at our gym, which could include rock climbing or swimming if we choose.
I’m done pretending that a child’s most special day of the whole year is time to act like a prissy adult. As we know so well, getting to act like a kid is special enough.