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F Scott Fitzgerald famously wrote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
Stick these two in your pipe and smoke ‘em, Fitzy:
It’s wonderful that our kids can enjoy birthday parties again, after a two year hiatus.
The partaking in, and arranging of, said birthday parties is exhausting.
Last weekend my daughter attended four birthday parties. Technically five, with one being thrown for a set of twins. Here’s a Rocky-style montage of how those 72 hours went down. Feel free to play John Cafferty’s “Heart On Fire” in the background whilst reading.
🎈 PARTY #1: Saturday Morning. Her best friend from school. The parents had wisely hired two helpers: girls in their mid-teens who arranged a host of activities including a very proficient—and crowd-pleasing—face painting station. Parents at the door were all smiles too, in part due to this being a a “drop-off party.” For the newer parents amongst us unacquainted with the taxonomy of childrens’ festivities, drop-off parties start around the age of five, and require parents to deposit their kid(s) at the door of a predetermined address before quickly scarpering away. I ducked into a local coffee shop and spent a few hours writing before picking her up and heading to ...
🥳 PARTY #2: Saturday Afternoon. Other side of the city. A short bus ride in torrential rain to a smaller affair, a BBQ on a terrace, moved inside at the last minute due to sub-optimal conditions. I vividly recall this girl’s birthday party in March 2020 being the first social event cancelled due to fears about “some new virus that’s here now, the same one that was causing problems in Italy a few weeks ago.” It felt good to finally get together and celebrate her big day.
🪅 PARTY #3. Sunday Afternoon. A good set of friends who previously lived in Manchester, so their two kids have the most magnificent northern accents that make me feel like I’m home even when I’m a thousand miles away. A huge South American contingent on the guest list, which meant great food, even better vibes and a Venezuelan dad providing the most incredible manoeuvring of a horse-shaped piñata I’ve ever witnessed. This might have been the piñatas last rodeo but it clearly wasn’t his first.
🎁 PARTY #4 (and #5.) Monday Evening. A weekend schedule akin to “SXSW meets Paris Fashion Week” meant these twin boys were forced to bump their party to an after-school weekday affair. One wanted bowling, the other wanted laser tag, so they combined them into a single event at a random warehouse on the outskirts of the city. Only problem? We don’t have a car. Thankfully a fellow dad (and good friend) brought my daughter along with his son, and dropped her back before bedtime, high on sugar and high on life.
Tired reading that? Try living it. In addition to the parties themselves is the necessary pre-party admin—the parenting equivalent of pre-meeting meetings, as we sadly map our work lives onto our personal ones. My wife was spending her time across four different Whatsapp chats (that I was mercifully NFI’d to) aligning on the right present to buy, the necessary bank transfer details (because no-one carries cash anymore), and the cross-group negotiations required as parents realised that kid a was getting gift x, so kid b needed something better than gift y.
The politics around presents are tricky. Some parents will share plans to buy a large gift and ask for donations towards it. Others will leave it open, and aim for quantity over quality. Beyond the issues of “who gets what” is the arms race of the parties themselves. We’ve told our daughter she can have three friends to stay overnight for her next birthday. A friend told me that she’d just had seven(!) 9 year old girls for a birthday sleepover at her house that weekend. Another friend shared a story of party they recently attended which sounded more like a Broadway production—fully Barbie themed, with two costumed performers, a bouncy castle, all sorts of entertainment, and a tower of sweets that kids could dig into until their hearts—and bellies—were full. The mum was an events planner, so it was well within her skillset to pull off such an affair. But still: I wouldn’t want to be the parent throwing a party for their kid the following week.
It’s human nature to compare, and the mind can easily be lead down a spiral of overthinking, projecting our own insecurities onto our children. Will my child be disappointed if their party isn’t as extravagant as this one? What if they don’t get as many presents, or have as many friends in attendance? It’s clear we shouldn’t be measuring our parenting ability by the scale of the shindig we throw. But sometimes it’s hard not to.
Bodhi will be turning “BIG THREE” next month. Like many pandemic era babies, it’ll be his first birthday attended by people who aren’t related to him. He’s telling everyone who asks (and anyone who doesn’t) that he’s having a “BATMAN PARTY.” A clear brief, with enough scope for parental interpretation. My wife is already wondering whether to bake a cake in the shape of the number three with small Batman figures on the top, or go the more extravagant “the Batman logo, but make it cake” route.
I found Bandit Heeler attempting to bake a Duck Cake painfully relatable, so I’ll be doing my best to stay away from that side of the preparation. Instead I’m doing some detective work of my own, chiefly: how might The Batman join the festivities? I’ve been Googling local costume rentals to compare the quality of their Batsuits whilst I contemplate donning the mask and smudging on the smokey eyeshadow. But whilst Affleck’s portrayal came with some light stubble, the world isn’t ready for a bearded Batman, and I’m not prepared to shave for the role. So I’m now running through my mental rolodex of local friends, wondering which of them might be persuaded to spend an hour as the caped crusader, as I try to picture their jawlines and imagine what they’d look like under the iconic mask.
“It’s not who you are underneath,” I will tell one lucky friend, “but what you do for my son’s party that will define you.”
3 things to read this week
“A Passage to Parenthood” by Akhil Sharma in The New Yorker. Sharma is a Indian-American author and professor of creative writing at Duke University, and earlier this year wrote an incredibly personal essay about going through the I.V.F. process and preparing to become a father at the age of 50. “We are hurt in relationships, and we are healed in them, too.”
“Forced to Care” by Anne Helen Petersen in Culture Study. An essay that should chime with the experience of any parent struggling with the “caregiving paradigm […] that relies heavily on proximity to family and presumed willingness.” Petersen suggests new ways to think about “infrastructures of care” that might provide relief to overburdened parents.
“Dad Travel Hacks” by Michael Willams in A Continuous Lean. This was shared twice in TNF community last week, a headline three words long and catnip to many. ACL is a long-running menswear blog turned newsletter, and this list of helpful hacks will make sure you’re ready for anything when hitting the road with kids this year.
That last one reminds me of this beauty from back in the day:
Hey! Listen to this!
Wrapping up this week’s newsletter is a recent episode of This American Life. The first story is an unforgettable tale about a father’s encouragement, and where it may lead. I don’t want to say anymore because it might ruin it. Go listen.
See you later, bunnies. Let me know what you thought of this issue. Your feedback helps me make this great.
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