My son turned 8 this past January. But this year, unlike the seven that came before, we didn’t have a party.
No worry about finding an indoor place that could hold enough kids–and their energy–in the midst of a harsh New England winter. No worrying about whether or not the party would even happen on account of a snowstorm. No juggling five or six different food allergies for fear of leaving any kid out. No buying a bunch of junk that most likely breaks or gets tossed out soon after for goody bags. No drooling over Pinterest, only to lament over a complete lack of any creative capability.
None of that. Because we didn’t have a party.
The idea came to us after my son heard about a friend of a friend who traded a party in exchange for going to an aquarium.
“I’d like to do that!” he told me, but I wasn’t convinced. My son–the definition of “life of the party–was willing to give up an afternoon where he would be the center of attention, surrounded by all his friends, doing a fun activity, and receive a ton of presents? We still had a couple of months before his birthday, so we spent a lot of time mulling over the idea together.
My son thought about it some more, and realized that an afternoon at an aquarium probably wasn’t enough to give up a party, but he was intrigued with the idea of a fun birthday experience.
“What about going to a fancy hotel with a friend for a sleepover?” he asked one day. And that was all I needed. No party planning and I’d get to stay over in a hotel? Seemed like a total win all around.
I headed online and punched in the requested requirements my son had made: room service and indoor pool. I found a hotel in Boston, about an hour and a half from us. We decided to make a little trip of it. He invited his best friend, and the two of them couldn’t have been more excited. They looked up the hotel online and were amazed that not only did it offer a “pillow library” but the bathroom mirrors were fog free. The bliss of being eight and marveling in such things.
As his birthday drew closer I got a little nervous. What if this all fell flat and he regretted not having a party? But when I saw how much less a weekend away would cost than throwing an actual party, I told myself to stop fretting. I did have to explain to some folks about what we were doing. Some were surprised that we weren’t throwing a party and cautioned that my son might be unhappy with his choice. Others were inspired, and were eager to see how it all played out, in hopes of convincing their own children to eschew a party.
A couple days before his birthday weekend, I asked my son if he was excited to celebrate. He admitted that he was nervous that he wouldn’t get any presents, but otherwise he was pretty stoked. I reassured him he would still get some presents, which he did, but definitely not as many as with a party. But I have to say, he totally didn’t miss the overload of presents, and I know that neither my husband or I did either.
The birthday experience ended up being amazing. The kids had a blast on the car ride to Boston, excited about this special adventure. The hotel found out it was my son’s birthday and treated him like a king. The kids went swimming and had room service, got to wear comfy robes and revel in fog free mirrors and the softest of pillows. It was like a sleepover on steroids, and one that the parents enjoyed as well. Because not only did I not have to stress about party planning, but I got comfy robes and room service and a happy kid who didn’t melt down from too much partying.
I recently read a piece by Helaine Olen on the increased extravagance of birthday parties. I can see how easily some folks can get pulled into the trap of making things bigger and better. And while I’m all about celebrating big milestones, I don’t think we always need the pomp and circumstance to do so. Olen’s article made me feel like our birthday experience experiment was at least worth it in its attempt.
The big test came after the weekend was over, when I asked my newly minted 8-year-old if he’d do it again. His eyes lit up as he excitedly shook his head yes. It’s been over a month since his birthday and he has only had good things to say as well as ideas for future possible birthday experiences.
Is this the end of birthday parties for us? It very well may be, and both my son and I are more than OK with that.