Can we cancel birthdays?
Or, if not, can we at least agree to some rules? Or maybe some guidelines?
I’m not really sure where to start, but maybe an “is this going to make a kid cry?” checkpoint might be a good place to begin.
I’ve hated birthday party politics since I was a kid. Most of my friends could invite whoever they wanted to their birthday parties and they handed out the invitations at school. In our house, the rules were a bit different. I could invite whoever I wanted to invite, but I had to invite the two other girls my age who lived in our area, whether I wanted to or not. One of them was a friend of mine, so that was fine. But the other one was a popular girl and I was…well…not. Every year, I was mortified that I had to invite her to my birthday part. Not because I wanted to be mean, but because I was afraid that she would think that I thought we were friends. I was afraid that she would tell all her cool friends how boring and uncool my birthday party was. I was afraid that I might do something embarrassing at my birthday party that she would subsequently use to torment me at school. The other rule was that I couldn’t hand out the birthday invitations at school because someone might be hurt that they weren’t invited. I insisted that it wouldn’t be a problem. Everyone who would want to come to my birthday party was invited and the only ones who weren’t invited were the ones who were too cool to talk to me. But my mom insisted that we spend an evening driving all over town to hand deliver birthday party invitations to the homes of each of my friends. It seemed a bit silly to me. Even if the invitations weren’t handed out at school, people obviously talked about birthday parties at school. Although I didn't like my mom’s rules, I know why she had them. She had been left out of things as a child and didn’t want anyone else’s child to feel the same way that she did. Her rules were based on the “is this going to make a kid cry?” checkpoint.
This year for Emma’s birthday, we left things fairly wide open in terms of the number of invites. We were having the party at our house and most of the expenses were going to be the same whether there were four kids there or fifteen kids there, so we let her invite as many friends as she wanted. This seemed like the easiest way to ensure that no one was left out. Of the 10 kids or so that we invited from her school, three came to the party, one said “yes” (two days after the RSVP date) but didn’t show up (no explanation), one politely and promptly declined, and five didn’t bother to RSVP. Emma kept asking over and over again why Julia didn’t come to her party. “Maybe she was sick,” we said when she asked with her sad face, but would it have killed them to call or send an e-mail? As for the five who didn’t bother to RSVP at all, I have no words. We left a phone number and an e-mail address on the invitation. We gave people plenty of time to RSVP. Why didn’t they bother? I don’t know. To make matters worse, when Emma went to her friend Sophie’s birthday party a couple of weeks later, all of the kids who didn’t bother to RSVP for Emma’s birthday party were there.
A few weeks ago, Karen wrote about birthday party politics too:
She found me in the schoolyard, a few days after all the invitations had been handed out.
“So,” she said, smiling, “My son has had his first taste of rejection.”
Blink. “Excuse me?”
“Well, my son said that the some kids were talking about your daughter’s birthday party, and when Paulie* asked Mischa about it, she said that his invitation was in the mail.”
I didn’t track down anyone in the school yard, but I did wipe away plenty of tears. From the first day of preschool until sometime about a month ago, Julian and Josh were best friends. They were inseparable. Recently, Josh hasn’t wanted to play with Julian as much at school. Apparently Kevin told Josh that he shouldn’t play with Julian anymore. These things happen from time to time on the school yard and usually last a few days and then things are back to normal. But when Josh’s birthday party invitations came out, Julian was the only one who didn’t get one. Everyone else in their circle of friends was invited. Julian, the only one he had been friends with for four years, was not invited. He asked Josh why he hadn’t received an invitation. Josh said he just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. He asked Josh’s brother why he wasn’t invited and he said that Josh was still working on the invitations. So we waited. Julian wanted me to call Josh’s parents, but I didn’t want to be THAT mom, so I didn’t. The Friday before Josh’s birthday came around. As we were leaving the school yard, Brett’s dad waved at us and said “I guess we’ll see you tomorrow afternoon at Josh’s party!”. No, we wouldn’t. Instead, we would spend the weekend consoling a six year old boy who couldn’t understand why his best friend hadn’t invited him to his birthday party.
I don’t know what lesson to teach my kids. Do I teach them that some people are just jerks and that is the way life is? Do I teach them to have a stiff upper lip and take rejection in stride? Do I just let the tears pour out and be there to cuddle them and pass them a tissue? I don’t know. All the options seem to suck.
Real politics make my head hurt. Birthday party politics make my heart hurt.
* Names have been changed to protect the children whose parents didn’t apply the “is this going to make a kid cry?” guideline.