Later, the birthday boy tears into his presents atop an inflatable throne. With at least 40 wrapped toys surrounding him, I estimate we’ll be here until the wee hours of the morning. I figured I could get off cheap on this one, dropping just 10 bucks on a Diego doll. But amid the Transformer Deluxe Action Sets and Thomas the Train Gift Packs, Diego sticks out like Nicole Kidman at Bread & Company. The kid opens my gift, sneers and tosses the doll on the ground. I look at the mom standing next to me and laugh derisively, thanking God I forgot to put the gift tag on that one.
This particular soiree is happening at Pump It Up, a place many Nashville parents have endured at least once, either chaperoning tiny guests or hosting the $250 event themselves. The childless might equate this kind of thing with buying filet mignon for a dog, but veteran parents routinely drag their kids to parties everywhere from the Grassmere Zoo, where for $350, an animal handler will alarm guests with snakes and creepy crawlies, to a double decker party bus on which a live DJ will spin tiny dancers into a $300 sugar-induced frenzy.
Facing this kind of competition, my visions of a low-key birthday party for Punky’s fourth were crushed. If I wanted people to show, I’d need to step up my game. Still, I figured with a little compromise, I could keep things under a hundred bucks. I called a small indoor play center down the road. “How much do you charge to reserve a birthday room?” I asked on the phone. “Two hundred dollars,” the woman replied.
“Heh. I don’t want to rent out the whole place,” I assured her. “I just want to reserve one of the back rooms for a little while.” “Our birthday rooms are $200 for an hour and 45 minutes,” she repeated. “And what does that include?” I asked hopefully. “The cake? And…the presents?”
“That includes cleanup, paperware and your own personal party planner.”
“Oh, joy,” I said irritatedly. “Because I will be broke. So maybe that party planner can tell me how to make a Webkinz out of popsicle sticks!” I hung up.
“We’re screwed,” I announced to my husband when he got home from work that night. “I’ve called every party place I can think of. Nothing is under $200. We’re going to have to have it here.” I put my head in my hands. “Maybe I can find a clown or something to come over,” I muttered. “Do we know any clowns? And don’t say Andy Cordan,” I cut him off as he started to answer. “This is no laughing matter.” He paused and shook his head.
In the end, I found an enthusiastic young woman to help our wee birthday guests stuff their own toy animals, at a cost of $150. Once I added in the Publix cake and decorations, though, I was right back at the amount I was trying to avoid. According to some, I was getting off cheap.
“The most I have ever spent on a child’s birthday is, drum roll please, $2,000,” a reader named Heather told me of her own daughter’s fifth birthday. “I rented a dining room from a local inn, rented miniature tables and chairs, and a chandelier…. Was it a bit much? Yes. A waste of money? Absolutely. Would I do it again? In a heartbeat.”
“Last year for our daughter, we got a bouncy thing, we got pizza, hoagies, chips, drinks, cake and ice cream, and a magician,” a neighbor of mine confided. “We probably dropped $1,000 on the party.”
But just as many parents chided me for giving into a Competiparty. “I just find it crazy that people spend these outrageous amounts of money on a birthday party for little kids,” complained Kristina, who estimates her own kids’ parties cost around $35. “I mean really. Where does it stop?” Kristina, Kristina, Kristina. It doesn’t stop. Today, it’s inflatables and magicians. Tomorrow, it’ll be rented limos and private dinner parties. Before you know it, you’ll have taken out a second mortgage on the house to secure Kings of Leon for your daughter’s sweet 16th. I mean, you do love your child, don’t you?
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