What do you do if a birthday invitation card for your toddler is a DVD disc? Or, when the card arrives in a foot-long, pink satin jewellery box written on a silk scroll? Or, if the return present for a four-year-old is a glass bowl with two real goldfishes?
Throw the invites into the dustbin and learn to live with the goldfish!
As a parent, I no longer feel a sense of guilt or anger when I see these birthday leftovers. Only an overriding thought bothers me —what will these kids do when they throw their 21st birthday parties? Hire a jet plane and send a real boarding card as the invite? By then, surely they (and their parents) would have run out of ideas (but sadly, not money).
There is a growing breed of parents out there now who plan birthdays for their tots on a scale that resembles a carnival or, worse still, a dress rehearsal for a wedding. For starters, the menu will be an endless list of multi-cuisine food, and it’s mostly catered. You will find liveried waiters serving the drinks (cold drinks, what did you think?). The games and activities planned offer a staggering choice and they even have entertainers, or a set of youngsters who coordinate the games, and cajole the children to play.
The children display an unusually keen interest in their return presents. The options are discussed, debated and mulled over throughout the duration of the party. The khoi bag or piñata is like a treasure trove and is eagerly awaited. Kids, egged on by their maids and mothers, clamour on all fours, scrambling on the ground, snatching titbits and stuffing them in small bags and bragging about how much loot they got. The whole affair is a spectacle.
A while back, I attended a workshop on birthday parties organized at the Shriram School, New Delhi, and an overwhelming majority of mothers voiced concerns similar to mine: too many kids, too much emphasis on return presents, parties that displayed too much wealth.
That workshop, and the lessons learnt the hard way set me thinking why it was so important for us to go back to the good old simple birthday parties for young children.
It was my younger son’s third birthday when we called his entire class and lots of our own friends’ kids. We ended up with around 50 children. And, my little one just couldn’t cope with the crowd. He retreated quietly to his room. I noticed much later that the birthday boy was not around because I was so busy looking after other children and could hardly focus on him. That’s when I knew we had lost the plot—that the party was a huge mistake.
Since then, I have made it a practice that my children choose some friends from their class and some friends from the colony—not the whole neighbourhood or class. That way the numbers stay in control, and I interact with most of the kids. The kids don’t feel lost and everyone is happy.
I am not saying that all birthday bashes must be low-key, home-drawn affairs. If you have a huge place and cannot get away with calling fewer kids, then coordinators may not be a bad idea. For working moms, sometimes there is no choice. But, do try and work some of things out yourself, like thinking up creative yet inexpensive ideas for birthday themes. Your kids are more likely to come up with suggestions, like a jungle theme, or a spy theme with a magnifying glass as an invite.
The type of food you organize is entirely dependent on the numbers. No one can cook at home for more than 50 kids and moms and maids! I have used a caterer a few times, and finally decided they are, by and large, rip-offs. The pizzas they give have hardly have cheese and it’s certainly not mozzarella. The burgers are too bready, and the sandwiches are no match for the wholesome chicken or cheese sandwiches you can muster up at home. The cake is the only thing that is truly worth getting from outside (especially since the little ones demand fantasies that would be next to impossible to duplicate). If you’re hard-pressed for time and help, order idlis and vadas from outside—cooked stuff that you can be sure about—rather than getting the party catered.
As far as return gifts go, try a variation that kids may enjoy. Blindfold them, and let them grab a handful of things from a sack! As children, we had no khoi bags—and were none the worse for it.
This year, sadly, the Shriram School workshop on birthday parties was cancelled due to the lack of enough interested parents! That, for me, was bad news. It seems like the newer crop of parents think they have no lessons to learn. If more parents don’t think about the good old-fashioned birthday party, it will never make a comeback!
Seema Chandra is food editor, NDTV Lifestyle.
Write to email@example.com