Monday, January 31, 2011

Party Pooped

I sweat the details. More precisely, I sweat completely arbitrary details. The most recent example of honing in on the most inconsequential of particulars, while ignoring the bigger picture, occurred quite recently. It was my daughter's birthday party. Not her actual birthday, mind you. That had occurred weeks before. Though this year not as many weeks before as last year. Let me explain: My daughter's birthday is in January. January is after December. December is the month where my control freaking revs into high gear. I have concocted an extremely intricate system for selecting, wrapping and distributing holiday gifts. It is, in fact, so complicated that I cannot even explain it to my husband. Microsoft has yet to develop software that could come close to depicting the gift-giving flow chart I keep track of in my head. For much of the month of December, if my husband slips and forgets to refer to Santa, I shoot him glares across the table meant to change the subject. This year I was off my game for several hours and inadvertently wrapped one set of personalized gifts in the "Santa" wrapping paper, and another set in the "Mommy and Daddy gift" wrapping paper. Boy, was I nervous wreck Christmas morning hoping no one was the wiser for this gaffe. Fortunately, part of my complete obsessiveness means that I am very thorough in covering all my children's gift needs (and even some wants), so there are ample presents for them to unwrap. Truthfully, I think one would have to be a veteran police detective to find a hole in my system.

From August until mid December, I am squirreling away presents, packages, wrapping paper. I skulk around to ensure that there is not even a suspicion by anyone under 40 that this is being done. I buy and return items several times over. I compare prices and features, even once the item has already been purchased  and socked away. There is no "final sale" for me. Even if I find an imagined fault with an item (the box is ripped, the stuffed unicorn's right eye is slightly askew), and the receipt has been long lost, the item will be readied for charity donation or, most likely, stuck in a bag at the bottom of the closet until we next move.

After months of meticulous planning, by mid December I am Done. And I don't mean done with shopping and planning, I mean I am physically and emotionally spent. By the time Christmas morning comes around, I am ready to huddle in the corner in a fetal position until next year. And with my son's and husband's spring birthdays, I used to have a good three months to recuperate. By mid-March, I was ready to shop and plan parties again. And since I am such an over-shopper, I usually had piles of extra ungiven presents from Christmas that were ready to present for birthdays. The flow from holiday to holiday was just about perfect.

However, with the arrival of my daughter in January 2006, the natural ebb and flow of my holiday planning got all out of whack. Now I had pressure to keep the adrenaline of the holiday celebrations going through the next month. My son's birthday weekend often coincides with Easter or Passover, so I learned early on to let my party perfectionism go a little and not feel compelled to throw his parties on the weekend that was mathematically closest to the date of his actual birthday. Trust me, this took some soul searching. The bigger problem with my son was that, purely by chance (or so I like to think), he ended up being sick for something like the first four out of seven birthday parties. Pink eye caught from a neighbor child, stomach flu, fever. By the second incident, we learned to just prop him up and encourage him not to eat or drink until after the guests left. There are only so many times one can reschedule a party, especially when the enormous $75 custom cake has already been purchased and picked up and sitting on the kitchen counter.

The thought of having to decide on a party venue and theme in advance of my daughter's January birthday was just too overwhelming to deal with. In order to be ready to send the evites out in time for her mid-January birthday, I would have to have made all the major decisions by mid-December, when my attentions are focused elsewhere. Because the invitation process alone is a multistep one that requires spreadsheets and follow-up. Evites go out approximately one month before the event. If another child in the class has a birthday in the same month, either coordinating discussions need to be had to ensure the parties are not on the same day, or you have to be quick enough with your evites to trump the other party. However, with the abundance of spam and the distractibility of parents, there is no sure-fire way to know if parents received the evite or are ignoring the email. So follow-up emails, from my familiar email address, go out, under the auspices of "updating" some information, or out of concern that the evite system might have malfunctioned. Then hard copies of the invitation need to be left in preschool cubbies, positioned in a way where they cannot be missed by parents, but also not made into paper airplanes by children. Finally, there is no choice but to hover at preschool pick-up and hope for a chance encounter with the last few parents. By the way, I also have a full-time job.

In order to plan for a party within a reasonable window of my daughter's actual birthday, I would have to overcome both my emotional burnout and the possibility that parents, in mid-December, might not yet have their new calendar in order to post the date of my daughter's party. So I pick a date where I can be fairly certain some semblance of my pre-holiday functioning will have returned. That date tends to be so far after my daughter's actual birthday it has even stretched into the next month. Each year my poor daughter struggles to understand why it takes so long to turn the next age. Last year, she refused to acknowledge she was four until after her actual party (three weeks later). This year, she knew when she turned five, but after so much time had passed (12 days) until her actual party, she told some parents at the party that she thought she was turning six that day.

Each year, there is at least one completely inconsequential issue that I harp on. In past years, this detail has included hours of searching to find 3-inch Backyardigan figurines, rather than 5-inch; a blue Power Ranger pinata that had the most up-to-date emblem on its chest; and princess napkins that featured Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty more prominently than Ariel and Jasmine. This year, it was personalized coloring books. As a parting gift, each invited child received a coloring book with his or her name featured on it. And these books were not ordered on a whim. I clicked and re-clicked on sample books and studied the pages to determine which coloring books were age-appropriate. I cannot tell you how long I spent on the coloring book company's website deliberating over which kid should get the "fairy" book versus the "princess" book. When the cheerful books arrived, I bemoaned the fact that the font on the fairy coloring books was not as readable as it had appeared on the website. I considered it a personal victory over my obsessiveness that I did not send back the fairy books with a description of how the company could alter its fairy font. After the party, each child received a coloring book and a push out the door. I only worried for a minute that siblings of kids whose parents did not even RSVP seemed to expect a personalized book (hey, these were ordered weeks in advance). One child was crying as she left, but I attributed that to the post-party energy crash. The next day, however, with no prompting at all, the same girl informed me that she had been crying because she had wanted a princess book, not the fairy one that she had received. That was, as they say, Too Much Information. I had actually gone back and forth several dozen times on whether to get this particular girl a fairy or princess book (she swings both ways), and obviously made the wrong choice. Darn! I debated taking her aside and showing her the Excel coloring book choice lists, cross referenced with the evite replies. But I didn't. Because I couldn't remember where I had put them.

Alas, biggest downside of having my daughter's party so long after her actual birthday is it gives me less time to plan my son's birthday party. Sixty days and counting....


  1. I so identify with you on this...but thankfully my kids are grown and I don't have to do the 10 stuffed animals made by hand (for my kids, nieces and nephew), the custom made gingerbread house, handmade ornaments, bean bag felt animals for all the kids in my kids classes for the Christmas party, and all the other exhaustive stuff I did. Funny but when you ask my kids now what the best Christmas was, they will tell you it was when we gave them each $100 and let them pick the place to spend it (Wal Mart) and then went out for a nice meal. They were teens or preteens by then and LOVED it...I must have been inspired by Christmas burnout. Thanks for the laughs Karen, that was great!

  2. Hi, Cath! I sensed you were a kindred spirit in Over-the-Top-Mom land! One of these days I swear I will get so immersed in the party details that I will inadvertently leave my kid at home and spend the half the party wondering what I forgot to do! Last year, for my son's 9th, I took him and a few friends to a Dodgers game--it was easy and required no tidying up of the house! This year he is thinking he wants a party... No No No!!!! :) Best, Karen