Today is my birthday. I have reached the point in life when birthdays are more often celebrated with liquor than with cake. Such a shame. Cake is really good. In fact, my meticulous mother with a talent for dessert-creation made phenomenal character cakes for my birthday parties--Raggedy Ann, Sesame Street, Rainbow Brite. All the girls from my Catholic school class would be invited over for lawn games, character cake, and present opening. I loved my birthday parties.
When I started a job at Kidville in Manhattan, I was introduced to a whole new level of birthday party--the high-end kind. A Kidville birthday party includes a theme, games, gym time, pizza, party favors, and cake. A 90-minute party for ten kids with no additional frills costs almost $900. Two hours, a jumpy castle, and 20 kids would run you $2200. Parents can add on face painters, magicians, and even a kid-friendly band for an additional charge. Parents can also turn up their noses at the fancy cakes Kidville offers and bring in their own cakes that I can only describe as "fancy wedding-esque." Did I mentioned that these parties are mostly for kids who are too young to ever remember them? Once upon a time, the parents of one-year-old twins arrived with two identical two-foot high Jack-in-the-Box cakes. Only one was eaten at the party, and since the parents weren't interested in dealing with leftovers, I took the second untouched cake in a cab with me to a house party. It was a big hit.
The birthday party child would generally arrive accompanied by a parent (who looked haggard and/or uninterested) or a nanny (who looked haggard and/or uninterested). Those two types of adults seemed to fall into these two categories--those who ignored the kids and hovered by the food table, and those who ignored the food and hovered by the kids. This second category made life very difficult for me. There's nothing worse than babysitting when the parent is in the room, which is essentially what I was being paid to do. Actually, I take that back. There is something worse, and that is the parent who undermines your authority in front of the kids you are being paid to watch.
Three-year-old Jackson was a rebel. Rules were beneath him. When he started running around the gym the wrong way, I leaned in and said in my friendliest, kids-love-me voice, "Hey buddy! Don't forget--you have to go around that way so you don't get hurt!" Jackson looked up at me, smiled sweetly, threw a foam block at my face, and continued going the wrong way, practically injuring two other kids. I looked at Jackson's dad, already embarrassed by the reprimand that I was sure would ensue for little Jackson. But it didn't come. Instead, Jackson's dad leaned back and laughed unabashedly, letting me know in no uncertain terms that he admired the spunk of his son, the future ex-con.
Every single child at Kidville was dressed in an outfit. And I mean, an outfit. I had a hard time not gasping when I saw designer labels on mini jeans, little collared shirts, and fancy kicks. Especially because those labels would be covered in food within 90 minutes. The birthday child's outfit often cost more than my entire wardrobe. I can still hear a very Long Island mother screaming to her daughter: "Don't get pizza on your Juicy Couture!" Except it sounded more like this: "Dohhn git peeeetzah on ya Joooocy Ca-tooo-ahhh!" It's really fun to say. Try it sometime.
I'm not sure if the high-end birthday party is one of the differences between downstate and upstate or if it's just a sign of the changing times. After all, my parties got fancier at the years went on. I had a bowling party in seventh grade. Current party prices at that same bowling alley today run $12 to $17.50 a person.