Lamenting the loss of childhood’s simple pleasures


Please forgive me if I sound cranky—but I am.A couple of Sundays ago, we went to a child’s birthday party. The celebrant was turning five, a delicious age of exploration and learning the world.Our presence there was because we are old friends of this little lad’s grandparents, and rushed up to a hospital nursery to greet him when he was born. So off we went to North Jersey to mark the occasion.

We expected the kind of birthday party we remember, celebrations with games and cupcakes and a certain predictable mayhem.

What we certainly did not expect, since we’ve “aged out” of little kids’ birthday parties, was this era of excess.

It began with the number of cars parked near a palatial house in a high-end Essex County suburb. “This can’t all be for ‘L,’” we reasoned. Must be another party in the neighborhood.

But it WAS all for L, a lad with a sprinkling of freckles and hair falling into his face. Yes, just another cute kid.

But this cute kid was in the midst of a crowd scene, with trappings that seemed well over the top.

In the backyard were two ponies offering rides on this brisk day to kids, I observed, who clearly are not accustomed to waiting. In this crowd, kids expected—and evidently got— pretty instant service. There were squabbles, settled by hovering parents, about whose turn it was for the next pony ride, and why one had to wait his/her turn, a lesson not keenly accepted.

Indoors, a clown awaited the five-year-olds who actually seemed just a tad frightened by this character with a personality that verged on hysteria.

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating. The simple act of growing up now comes wrapped in such overkill, and this five-year-old birthday party reflected that awful trend. Case in point that even shocked L’s grandparents: There were two, yes two, party coordinators on hand to guide things.

I would have been fine seeing the little ones’ faces smeared with cupcake icing, playing “Pin the Tail On the Donkey,” and possibly dissolving into tears just from over-excitement. For me, that’s all part of the birthday scenario. I expected that. But spare me over-managed, overdone, extravagant celebrations for kids who barely know how to tie their shoes.

Our older grandchildren have been exposed to theme parties that roam from science fiction with all the trimmings to Super Hero parties where costumed characters swoop down on the celebrations in full regalia.

In one troubling instance, reported to me a few years ago by my daughter, a seven-yearold little girl’s birthday party involved a trip to an upscale hair salon for—ahem—“the works.” Hair. Nails. And yes, some experimental makeup.

I can proudly report that our daughter, mother of the invitee, politely but firmly turned down that invitation. Granddaughter Carly was initially heartbroken, and then decided that the party would be way too “girly” anyway, and went off to play soccer.

Her mom and I rejoiced.

Enough! My tolerance for the “new normal,” with kids taking over the world and parents indulging their every whim, has reached its limits.

I want to enjoy a meal in a restaurant without some no-limits kid making a scene and getting away with it. I want to go to a public space and not be forced into an early departure by the antics of wild, undisciplined little darlings.

I thought I had seen it all with the spoiled syndrome when I read of the latest abomination: The classic Sweet Sixteen party turned spectacle.

Time was when some girls turning 16 celebrated with a few friends, generally female, at a sweet little home party. It was a quaint rite of passage that I thought had disappeared after the 1960s.

But where have I been?

The parties I hear about and read about these days involve renting ballrooms, inviting a cast of hundreds, wearing gowns that could easily pass as bridal and cost as much.

And—are you ready—the sweet sixteen mini-queens REGISTER for gifts at places that cater the whims of big spenders not yet able to drive, vote or, thankfully, drink legally.

So I am looking forward to a return of the messy, noisy birthday parties we used to know.

On with the cupcakes and the balloons. On with the noisy games. On with childhood as childhood was meant to be: Simple. Sweet. Silly.

And as enduring as we can make it.

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