Birthday parties are so much better nowadays.

I don’t know about you, but I always thought birthday parties of the childhood variety were kind of lame. For one, I was never a fan of the games we were conscripted into playing. As a kid I could get a bit competitive and usually was indignant if everyone received a prize regardless of whether they had won or lost. What was the point of that scavenger hunt then? I wouldn’t have killed myself roaming your house and backyard for bits and pieces of junk had I known we all would receive the same cheap plastic butterfly ring for our disparate efforts. Thank you for wasting my time. Glad to know we’re all winners.

Second, I’m not above admitting that I pretty much hated the gift-opening segment of the party. Why? Because I wanted those toys. Didn’t even matter if the birthday girl received a game or doll I already had; I wanted hers because it was newer and nicer. My poor father. No matter how hard he tried to change the subject during the ride home, nothing could dissuade me from pleading my case that I needed to have the dozen other toys I saw that afternoon. If persuasive enough, I most often could secure a verbal promise for a future trip to Toys “R” Us by the time we pulled into the driveway.

Though despite my kiddie profiteering, I much prefer birthday parties today. The consumption of food and alcohol now generally substitutes for both the gift-opening and game-playing portions of the festivities; however, not much else has changed since childhood. We still have birthday BBQs. Birthday roller-skating parties. Birthday pool parties.

Yet these gatherings easily overshadow those of yesteryear because I actually care about the individuals we’re celebrating. As a kid, everybody and nobody is your friend. Alliances are created and destroyed on a daily basis. Susie, your BBF yesterday, suddenly won’t talk to you today. Likewise, Molly, who once let you borrow her Barbie, is now getting on your nerves so you start ignoring her. Then you’re all best friends again the following week. It’s exhausting.

Thankfully that’s no longer the case. The people whom I call my friends really are my friends. No longer do I worry if so-and-so likes me anymore… Or if I still like her. Most of these relationships have been built upon years of trust and love, so each time we gather to celebrate a birthday, it’s also an affirmation of our continuing friendship. (Is that not so hokey you just wanna gag? True, though.)

The details of the party don’t matter so much anymore either. Over the last several years, birthdays have been celebrated both near and far with backyard potlucks and weekend getaways out of LA. Sometimes we get dressed to the nines. Sometimes we’re decked out merely in our finest pajamas. Regardless of where we are or how we look, it’s always a good time.

In contrast, putting together a birthday bash was always stressful as a child. Nobody wanted to be that kid known for throwing a lame party. A simple gathering at your house was fine were you were five, but the bar was raised higher and higher each consecutive year. First it was the local pizza joint with animatronic dragons and skee ball. Then it became even more of an event; you had to do something super unique and fun like laser tag or WhirlyBall. Come junior high, it was on to birthday slumber parties thrown at luxury hotels. Again, my poor dad. No wonder he mandated that I could have a party only every other year.

Granted, until now I’ve ignored the elephant in the room; birthday parties necessarily acknowledge that you’re getting older. As a kid, this was great. We couldn’t wait to grow up. Turning ten or thirteen or sixteen actually was cause for celebration. Not so much anymore. Turning twenty-nine or thirty or thirty again isn’t the highlight of the evening. In fact, the whole getting older aspect of these occasions is typically ignored. Is that then the trade off? I can live with that. Time may be creeping up on us, but if I can at least celebrate with those I truly love around me, then bring it. I can’t wait to have that roller-skating party for my eightieth.

Image: Salvatore Vuono / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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4 Responses to “Party Like It’s 1999”

Anna, you would never be accused of throwing a “lame” birthday party. Yours were legendary– some of my best childhood memories are thanks to you turning another year!

March 3rd, 2011

Aww, thank you! I enjoy those memories, too, but absolutely love the celebrations of today. The fact that you’ve been in my life for all of them, though, makes me so happy! Here’s to many more! 🙂

March 3rd, 2011

Whirlyball!!! I totally had one of those parties. Also I am currenty sitting waiting at jury duty and every time I see some strangers strike up a conversation and become friends, I think of you. xo

March 3rd, 2011

YES!!! I love that you know what WhirlyBall is! But dang, you’re on jury duty? I’m sorry, love. Had I known, I would have told you to bring some headphones, but hopefully you’re getting some amusement from those around you. I hope you’re one and done! xo

March 3rd, 2011