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Can we party and not go bankrupt?

Forget swine flu. This momma has just been stricken with sticker shock.

The reason? My little buddy turns 3 this month. Recently he went to a classmate's birthday party at a local kiddie gym. When I mentioned that he would have a birthday soon, he said he wanted a party.

Easy enough, I thought. But when I started calling all the usual party venues, I was in for a rude awakening. They all cost in the hundreds, some nearly $500 for a 90-minute party.

That seemed outrageous, especially in this economy.

When I was a kid, birthday parties were simple. You had watermelon and cake and ice cream at a picnic table in the back yard and played homemade games like fishing with an old bed sheet and Pin the Tail on the Donkey. Today, such homespun fare would probably draw snickers. And I'm not talking just about from the other parents, but the kids, too.

As it turns out, I'm not alone. Some parents in the St. Paul, Minn., area got alarmed about how out of control kids' parties were becoming and resolved to do something about it. The result is a group called Birthdays Without Pressure. It has no by-laws, officers or dues, just a Web site with horror stories of parties run amok. See the tales of limo rides, rented llamas, even a filthy rich New York father who booked Aerosmith and gave out $10,000 goody bags. Not surprisingly, several stories come from Florida:

• A $250,000 birthday party for a 7-year old girl, with limos, an adult party with alcohol, the grand ballroom for the kids, helicopter rides, horses, and wild animals.

• Another Florida family rented a cougar, which mauled a 4-year-old.

Of course, these don't even compare with the bashes thrown by celebs. According to the Web site OMG!, soirees for Hollywood tots run about $25,000. The one for little Suri Cruise totaled $100,000 and produced a $45,000 catering bill and a $5,000 cake. Wonder how many Warrick Dunn Foundation homes that cash could have furnished?

What's even sadder are the stories on about the kids who are turned into spoiled brats by such lavish parties: The 6-year-old who declared a nice gift he had requested "a piece of junk"; the boy who wouldn't accept a party invitation until he found out the contents of the goody bags; a girl who proclaimed her goody bag "a ripoff." One 9-year-old told her mother, who worked hard to organize a home party, that it "just wasn't magic enough."

Why have parties become like this? The site offers a host of reasons. Pressure to make everything for our kids enriching and over the top, competition among parents, a me-first culture, smaller families so more money can be spent on parties.

I don't know about you, but I don't want my son to be like those kids in the horror stories.

The Web site has some good ideas on how to rein in parties. I may start by telling parents not to bring gifts. My son has plenty of toys and will no doubt get more from doting grandparents, aunts and uncles. I like the suggestion of asking everyone to bring a new or gently used book and donating them to a library or homeless shelter. I'm also considering skipping the goody bags. That would eliminate a major headache in one fell swoop.

This way, maybe my son and his friends will learn that the world doesn't revolve around them and that other less fortunate people are human beings with needs that matter, and it's more important to make the world a better place. I hope so. Because this generation will be running the world when you and I are old and vulnerable. Let's start teaching them to be governed by compassion rather than greed.

Lisa Buie is a regular contributor to the "Whoa, Momma!" parenting blog at

Can we party and not go bankrupt? 06/03/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 3, 2009 4:25pm]
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