Bad Birthday Etiquette – the Store Bought Birthday Cake

BaThis past weekend, we had a birthday party to celebrate our middle son’s 5th birthday. It was a simple occasion with some family and a couple of friends. No party favors. No decorations lining the street up to our house. No streamers, banners or balloons. Just cake, chocolate chip cookies (at the birthday boy’s request), presents, and thank-you’s for coming.

We’re crazy, right?! How the heck could we possibly keep it this simple and expect it to be socially acceptable?!

Here’s the thing: When my husband and I were growing up, our birthday parties went pretty much the same. Friends and family. Cake. Ice cream. Presents. The end. Everybody go home. Thanks for coming!

There wasn’t some elaborate event planned complete with caterers and whole-house decorations. There wasn’t a schedule to the event mapping out allotted time for eating, games, gifts, etc. Our parents most certainly didn’t pay to give the other children gifts to go home with so that ‘everyone gets something’. In fact, I do remember one or two birthday parties for my brother and myself that involved the one of us (whoever’s birthday it was not) wanting something since the birthday boy/girl was getting something (aka their birthday gifts). What did my parents do? How did they react? “Suck it up, Buttercup. Today is not your day.” By today’s Pinterest standards, apparently, we got the shaft.

I noticed the shift in birthday party etiquette when our daughter was invited to her first non-family member party. She came home with loads of goodies from a party that was held in a rented out pool facility complete with decorations and professional cake shop treats. I remember thinking to myself that very day, If this is what birthday parties have become now, my kids will never get to have one with their friends! Plain and simple, we just couldn’t afford it.

Fast forward to a few years later when that very same daughter started Kindergarten. It was evident I had completely forgotten anything resembling sanity when I started planning the party two months in advance. She was having her first sleepover with all of the girls from her class. The classroom theme that year was owls, so I hand sewed almost two dozen owl pillows as what? You guessed it. Party favors. Countless hours alone went into that daunting task – especially when the last thing I had sewn before that was over a decade ago in Home Ec class. There were decorations. Special dishes bought to display goodies in. I spent hours making teeny tiny bacon-wrapped pork loin and chicken appetizers. There were also dipped marshmallows, cheese cubes, and pinwheel appetizers. I didn’t buy a fancy cake but made homemade cupcakes instead. However, the real time came into play when I had four different colors of frosting to incorporate – that was also homemade – and being made the day of the party.

Bad Birthday Etiquette - Owl Birthday Party
The birthday party that set the too-high standard – and did me in – all at the same time.

The party was a success. But I was totally and utterly spent. In all reality, the party would have been successful with none of the frill. But because I had now set a standard, I felt the need to continue it with each of the children. I had officially set myself up for hated of birthday parties. Thus began the constant flow of fancy cakes (I would spend a month planning out the perfect cake and spend hours decorating – and always at the last minute), deep cleaning the house up until the last second before the first guest arrived, stressing out over every little detail, and taking out my stress and bad mood on everyone around me. I finished every party exhausted and wiped out.

Can you tell I wasn't blogging then? Just look at the photo quality! Yikes!
Can you tell I wasn’t blogging then? Just look at the photo quality! Yikes!

I think so many of us have been swept up in this world of a Pinterest lifestyle. It’s so easy to find those picture-perfect parties planned by bloggers who do an amazing job putting everything together and photographing it so that it looks like it should be in its own book. I’m not knocking anyone that plans these kinds of parties. If that’s your thing, Go For It!

However, I am learning that for me, in this season of life, everything else is so chaotic and busy that, to take the time to go to these lengths, is just something I cannot do anymore. Recognizing that fact, I didn’t even attempt to go all out this time.

When we were in our local Dillons, the birthday boy picked out the cupcake pictured above. He wanted a cookie cake to go along with it, but I suggested making cookies instead so there would be more to go around. That worked for him (and it gave me something to do so that I didn’t feel like I was totally flaking off for his party). On the morning of the party, I realized that having a cake would probably be a good idea since there was essentially only cookies for the adults and other children. So, we headed to Wal-Mart, he picked out a cake already made and ready to go, and we went home. I did get plates, napkins and a vinyl table cloth because, quite simply, we don’t keep paper plates around the house, and I didn’t want to do dishes after the party. That was it. Bada bing. Bada boom. I didn’t even try to deep clean the house! And let me tell you, it felt great!

I know the simple birthday party might not be deemed high enough standards for some. And that’s okay. But the fact that I could be happy all day, my son was happy, and my husband didn’t want to ring my neck for the mile-long honey-do list needing to be done before the party – those things made it all worth it. One of these days I’ll go back to at least decorating the cakes. But do I want to do the whole kit-and-caboodle? Nah. I think I leave that up to the pros.

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