Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

It's my party and I'll... sleep if I want to

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I am happy to report that not every birthday party planned and put on for the (sometimes) pampered pooches of Mt Eden need be an over-the-top extravaganza.

This weekend my daughter turned one, and a gentle family and friends BBQ was the order of the day. The birthday girl had two naps during the event. She wore pants and a top because, despite the fact she has party dresses, she simply can't crawl around with any velocity while wearing them.

The house wasn't perfectly clean. The cake was decorated, but badly, as a teddy bear. Miraculously it wasn't chewy, or as a flat as a pancake as my cakes often are, but was - incredibly - edible. And I only spent half a day on the thing.

I have learnt my lesson about birthday parties. For children as young as mine are, it is ludicrous in the extreme to go nuts with the party preparations.

My son's second birthday was the turning point for me. I worked so hard to invite all his little "friends" (who he barely recognised at that point). I spent hours and hours cleaning, making and decorating a "Thomas" cake, which neither looked good or tasted good (and which the figure-conscious women of Mt Eden didn't eat anyhow).

Unusually for me - but not for mothers planning birthdays - I burst into angry tears 20 minutes before the first guests came because my husband came home from work late and had forgotten I asked him to "please be back as soon as possible today!"

I was upset that the goodie bags weren't finished before kids started piling in the door!

It was truly daft how much effort I had gone to.

I'd hired tables and chairs, decorated the lounge for hours, cooked and baked and planned food to infinity. At the end of the party, staring at several plates of food with hardly a dent made in them, I wondered where I had gone wrong.

As one of the mothers quite rightly pointed out, my plates and plates of sweet food were perfect - for a little girl's party. "Quickly bring out the Cheerios!" she urged me.

I do think that a kids' party can be fun to plan and execute, and particularly for older children a little bit of thought goes a long way. But for the 1s, 2s and 3s? Why even bother?

I believe that a one year old's party is strictly for the parents to "celebrate" surviving that first exhausting twelve months of sleep deprivation, teething and endless nappies. This is certainly the case with my daughter, who has only this month started sleeping through the night.

For my son, who was born at 29 weeks, the party was a celebration of him actually having made it alive through his first year.

At the age of two, the party is still for the parents, really. More specifically for the mother, probably.

The child is not really old enough to appreciate the efforts. Mine didn't know what a party was yet and was annoyed that a horde of other kids had descended on the house to play with his toys. A photo of my goopy Thomas cake is his only reminder of that party's most slaved-over feature. He spent a lot of it playing by himself in my bedroom.

Three may well be different. By now he's recognising his little friends, he wants to have "special treats" and has actually asked for a Thomas cake - quel horreur!!

I'm planning a Pingu cake, figuring a penguin might be easier to pull off that anything requiring a vertical build.

And this weekend's first birthday party was done without much stress for about 40 people, despite a few hiccups.

My husband - along with every male at the party - spent the first 1.5 hours trying to light house coals, with ever increasing amounts of kerosene (apparently house coals are for ranges, not BBQs. They don't light in the open air and give food a horrible flavour! We eventually twigged.) The mosquitoes were out in force. I quickly lost track of who gave what present.

But no matter. We hope to withstand the pressure to give ever more decadent parties, although there are some horror stories pretty close to home, like one where parents of party attendees were presented with a gift registry to use.

Another I heard about charged attendees $20 a head to recoup the (considerable) costs.

If readers have local stories of excess, we'd love to read a few more!

Of course, the US is the birthplace of competitive pressure and never more so than when kids' birthday parties are being arranged. From the website (set up by a small group of parents who were sick of the birthday 'industry') comes tales of invitations requesting gift worth at least $35 (the mother explains that last year her child received some gifts worth only $10, which did not even cover her costs).

It also describes half birthday parties (like 9.5 years) so that if Johnny is unfortunate enough to have a winter birthday, he can have an outdoor summer party too.

Of course there will always be millionaires who have nothing better to do with all their dosh, like that couple which spent $250,000 on a birthday party in Florida for a seven-year-old girl, with limos, an adult party with alcohol, the grand ballroom for the kids, helicopter rides, horses, and wild animals.

It really puts the Thomas cake into perspective!

On the web:

Childrens parties out of control

- Dita De Boni

Pictured above: Half-birthday parties and gift registries - are modern-day kids' parties out of control? Photo / Rotorua Daily Post

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Business columnist, with a political twist, for NZ Herald

Dita De Boni is a columnist, commentator and TV producer/journalist. She first wrote columns for the NZ Herald in 1995, moving to daily business news in 1999 for four years, and then to TVNZ in Business, News and Current Affairs. After tiring of the parenting/blogging beat for the Herald Online she moved back to her first love, business (with a politics chaser), writing a column for Friday Business since 2012.

Read more by Dita De Boni

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