“Birthday Parties,” Aug. 22, 2017

Kids’ birthday parties have come a long way.

On my seventh birthday, I invited all my classmates to a party. I meant to tell my mother but I forgot. Two kids showed up: A boy who gave me a candy bar, and a girl, who ate it.

When I turned 16, my mother meant to give me a “sweet 16” party but she forgot. The next year she gave me a surprise “sweet 17” party. The day of the party, my friend Jane was supposed to keep me busy at her house. We got bored, so I let her trim my bangs “just a hair.” They ended up three inches too short. When I walked into the surprise party, my guests looked more surprised than I did.

My boys’ birthday parties were simple. They’d invite as many kids as we could fit in our VW van. I’d drive them to an indoor pool, let them swim until they were exhausted, then take them home, feed them pizza and they’d pass out on the floor.

My daughter’s parties were a bit more sophisticated because she always planned them. Her themes ran from “Fancy Tea Party,” to “Holly Hobbie” to “Cabbage Patch Kids.” Then came “sleep-overs” where no one slept, least of all, me.

My kid-party-hosting ended when the kids hit their teen years and decided partying was a lot more fun without parents.

One of the perks of being a grandparent is getting to go to your grandchild’s birthday party without lifting a finger, except to lick the frosting off your hands.

My grandson Randy recently turned 7. His parents hosted his party at a park with all the usual playground structures designed for climbing and swinging and breaking bones. They added a bounce house, bubble machine, face painter, pizza and chocolate cake. I’ve been to county fairs that weren’t half as much fun.

Randy invited his whole class just as I did at his age. But unlike my classmates, most of his actually showed up. Randy’s parents had it all under control. And the other parents pitched in to help.

With no official duties, the grandparents _ my daughter-in-law’s parents (Ro-ro and Papa Piney) and I and my husband (Nana and Papa Mark) were free to mill about, visiting with the adults and laughing at the kids. But after a bit, we started refereeing the bounce house, picking up trash, chasing the toddlers, bouncing the babies and watching every kid who would beg, “Watch me!”

We couldn’t resist. If you’ve been a parent most of your life, it’s hard to be a bystander.

I was fascinated by the face painter. With just a few strokes of a brush, she could turn the sweet, sweaty face of a 5-year-old into a great white shark. Or the Incredible Hulk. Or, oh my, a rainbow butterfly.

I wanted to ask her to paint my face (“Can you make me look like Charlize Theron?”) but the line was too long.

Here’s a confession. I love to watch children. All children. Even when they’re being little toads. But I especially love to watch my grandchildren. I can’t begin to tell you how it made me feel to see them light up and shout “Nana!” each time they saw me watching them.

It’s a fine thing _ worth gray hair and bad knees _ to see a child light up like that. Even if they’re high as kites from bouncing in a bounce house. I think that’s why teachers teach: To watch children light up at learning and life.

As the party wound down, the face painter outdid herself with two final masterpieces. She painted “tattoos” on the biceps of Papa Mark and Papa Piney: A red rose personalized with the name of each one’s wife.

I wish you could’ve seen them.

It’s a fine thing for a man to put your name on his arm. Even if it washes off in the shower.

My last birthday party was a long time ago. I might throw myself a wingding next year. Or get my grandkids to throw one for me. If I do, I’ll let you know.

Maybe I’ll hire a face painter.


  1. Kate Sciacca says

    A face painter…. AND a bounce house at your party! My kids always get a bounce house for the grands when we have big family parties… but I think my favorite spot is Kids Gone Wild in Vacaville CA. We’ve had several birthdays (it’s become somewhat of a traditional “go to” venue when a grand turns five ?) @ KGW and the kids love seeing granny climb to the top of the fifteen foot slide and go bouncing down. Yes, I’m bathed in Flexall for the next week (that’s AFTER I’m able to move again) but hearing them squel with laughter as they watch…. and then yell “do it AGAIN granny!!!” makes it all quite worthwhile ?

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