Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Two Sure Things: Taxes and Birthday Parties

I have been asking my husband for a few weeks now, when he’s going to bring the filing cabinet to the man who does our taxes. He’s busy and our Taxman’s office is a few towns away so I’ll wait for him to do it, since I’m unwilling to schlep the baby on a 40 minute ride to deliver papers. I’m unwilling mind you, but I am happy to keep harping about it. That’s one of the beautiful things about being married to me.

I’m always amazed at those people who file their taxes by February 1st, and are already happily spending (or saving) their refunds by the time I have only finished gathering all the documentation. I haven’t met many people who have big tabs owed to the IRS, mainly I think, because all the people I know are probably in my income bracket and the government is sending us our money back as their way of saying, “No really. Keep your kids. Go buy groceries.” The last few tax years have been good to us; being a) a student or b) unemployed or c) a part-time worker or d) parents of yet another baby seems to keep our exemptions relatively high, while our income is relatively low. That equation equals a nice little refund check, oh say, come May. And this year I think we will spend all that cash on….birthday parties.

Yes. Not only is it tax season but also birthday party season, when in a span of 5 months every child in my family and every child in my children’s class will have a birthday. (Seriously, was noone having sex December thru April?) Not only does that mean we will have to host birthday parties, but we will be invited to them as well. This kind of funding can only be relieved with the tax return, because it seems to me that birthdays have gotten a bit out of hand. These days you need to:

Find a Second Job to Purchase Birthday Presents
I used to have a $10 limit on birthday presents for kids. That seemed like a good amount to spend on a child’s birthday present, especially given that the Christmas limit is $25. Today ten bucks will buy you two packs of gum and a card. When I was a kid we always brought a new coloring book (or two) and a new big box of crayons to every party. My mom said it was nice to get new crayons and coloring books get old. When is the last time you saw a kid open crayons and a coloring book during their birthday party extravaganza? Toys these days either have one million little pieces or run on solar power or batteries, making crayons and a coloring book seem Amish. I upped my limit to $15-20, and figured that should be sufficient. But I’m still croaking, “No honey, we can’t buy that, it’s more than fifteen dollars,” every 30 seconds down the toy isle.

Invite every child your son/daughter has ever looked at twice
or briefly mentioned.
There is nothing like trying to welcome kids to a party, whispering to your child, “Okay honey, who is that coming in the door now?” Only to have your child shrug and say “I don’t know. Someone in my class.” At the risk of sounding cliché, Back When I Was A Kid…we only invited our closest friends. I remember very clearly being able to invite maybe 8 or 9 people to my birthday parties. It was unheard of to invite kids in your class that you didn’t play with. Now it seems you must invite the entire class so nobody’s feelings get hurt. Boys, girls, kids your own kids hate, the boy that bullies your son and the girls that sneer and call your daughter names. Yes, invited one and all. It is a birthday after all; a time to engender good feelings for everyone and spread good cheer (or is that Christmas…I keep forgetting). I try to limit my children to no more than 10 kids at their parties. For one thing, they really don’t know the difference in the end. There is no way that they can possibly play with or pay attention to 22 friends. At that point I’m just hosting a play date with food and a place for parents to leave their kid for two hours. I might as well post a sign on the road, “Let me pay you to watch your child! They’ll even leave with a gift!”

Take out a second mortgage to hire Bobo the Clown.
Birthday parties hosted at the house are apparently unheard of anymore. It’s all about the venue. Gone are the days of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, make your own birthday hats, and cake and ice cream. We rent hotel pools, jumpy houses, sports arenas, indoor play spaces, magicians, balloon bending clowns and traveling zoos to entertain the three-thousand children we’ve invited. Let’s face it, when you have that many kids, I suppose bells and whistles are a necessity just to keep the children from organizing a coup d’état. These events are not cheap to plan and make my wedding budget look paltry. The going rate for parties at these venues run between $150-$300. What happens as they get older? No doubt we’ll be renting planes for a “Skydiving Party,” or maybe flying in the Jonas Brothers for a backyard concert.

Buy a present for each child at the party.
I’m sorry. I need to what?
Yes. It’s not enough to simply invite your child’s friend, feed them pizza, cake and juice boxes, and professionally entertain them for two hours. You must also provide them a present. Something to take home as a memento of the party they were invited to (originally) celebrating the birthday of your son or daughter. Candy from a piñata no longer cuts it. The happy memories they have of laughing and chasing each other will not do. This gift must be tangible. It must be cute. And you need three-thousand of them. A party is not a party, until you leave with a gift for yourself.

You knew it was coming. The anecdote.

For my daughter’s fourth birthday we invited 7 or eight of her preschool friends over to the house for a birthday party. The parents stayed. My house was small. There were bodies hugging every wall and hallway. We played a couple games. Made newspaper hats and painted them. Had cake and ice cream. Played music and danced in the living room. The moms had a great time. The kids had a great time. The gifts they took home were the projects they had made. My daughter actually opened her presents in their presence and got to say ‘thank you’ to each child. The party was an hour and a half long and cost about $80 bucks.

A few weeks later I’m with my daughter at a birthday party for another kid in her preschool class. Every child from her class is there. Every parent is there with their child. It’s in an inflatable jumper room, comes with pizza, cake, ice cream, and three “Personal Party People,” who play (in the non-creepy sense) with your son/daughter. After having the Jumpy Room for 45 minutes, we are escorted down the hall to the party room, where we eat. With all children and adults, there are easily 100 people in the room. The presents for this child were stacked Dr. Seuss high, teetering on each other and looming largely over the child’s head. The Personal Party People each had a job. One would hand the child a present. Child rips open present and passes it to Party Person #2, who tells Party Person #3 what it is and who it’s from. And this is the way the birthday boy received his gifts, opening, passing, opening, passing. The child opened presents for 30 minutes.

Now, while watching and trying not to barf during this obscene display of avarice, (what better lesson to teach to a 4 year old), a mom in front of me—whose daughter was at my daughter’s party—leans back and says, “I just have to tell you, XXX had such a good time at your daughter’s party. It was soo simple, and the kids had soo much fun! Isn’t this party crazy? I think the party you gave was so nice. No one gives old-fashioned birthday’s anymore. We just really had a good time. We can’t wait for your daughter to come to XXX’s birthday in a couple weeks.”

I’ll admit, my heart soared. Yeah for me! I planned a simple, fun birthday and no children’s psyches were damaged due to lack of bells and whistles! Maybe my daughter won’t be labeled PWT (poor white trash) after all! Maybe everyone will think she’s cool! We throw old-fashioned birthdays!

Two weeks later, this same girl had her own birthday party. My husband had to take our daughter. Can’t remember what I was doing, but I couldn’t go. She’ll probably throw an old-fashioned party herself. Isn’t that just what she loved about mine? Finally, another mom who’s on the same page as me!

“How’d the party go?” I asked my husband upon return.
“Fine.” He replied.
“Well, what was the theme? Was it simple and old-fashioned?”
“It was a Western theme. They had ponies.”
“What do you mean? Like, they have their own horses? Did the kids get to ride them?”
“No, I mean they brought in ponies. Little ponies like they have at the fair. There were three of them. The kids got to ride them around in a circle.”
Up walks my daughter with a new cowboy hat, new red bandana around her neck and a huge (well made) stuffed horse.
“Where did you get these?” I ask.
“At the party,” she replied. “We got to ride ponies.”

Now a couple things went through my mind at the same time.
  1. That my four-year-old daughter has now compared her paint-some-newspaper-hats and seven-gift birthday, to a birthday in Toyland and another one straight from Barnum and Bailey, and that she feels slighted, neglected and poor. And,
  2. “THAT STINKING LYING WITCH!” How DARE she placate me with ‘Cute Old-Fashioned Party’ and ‘No one Throws Them Anymore,’ crap! Ponies? PONIES?? SHE BROUGHT IN PONIES???? And what’s with the HAT? And the STUFFED ANIMAL? Everyone got a FULL WESTERN COSTUME for CRYSE SAKE??

It has taken some time for me to get over this event and forgive the woman who not only lied to me, but tried to make me feel like we were on the same page. I think I would rather she had just said to me, “You know, you threw a great party with such a limited budget. I’m really impressed that the party was so nice, seeing as how small your house was and how few children you invited. Your daughter seemed happy too, even though she clearly goes without. Good for you, for making it work.”

I only need a few minutes of daily self-talk now (You are a great mom. You throw your kids good parties. They are not damaged, not damaged, not damaged...) and the wound is healing and scar tissue starting to form. Yeah for me indeed.

Don’t get me wrong. I want my children to love me and think I’m cool, just like the next mom. I want them to think back on their childhood with tears in their eyes as they remember the ball-juggling clown, the limo ride to Papa Gino’s, and the 12 story birthday cake they had all to themselves. But I also don’t want them to be greedy, selfish kids. Their behavior sometimes borders that and (apparently) I don’t even provide them with a lot. My son’s birthday is at the end of this month. He wants to invite friends over for a game of baseball and then have a tailgate party, where we grill hotdogs and hamburgers. I like the simplicity of that idea. He’s happy just spending time with friends.

Of course, Big Pappi and Varitek will be there to sign balls at the end. Our tax refund at work.
Shhh. He doesn’t know yet.


Megan said...

I am one of the people that had my tax return back the second week of Feb. :) Good luck!

XOXO- Megan

Rachel said...

I know. You're the one I reference in my blog. You'll br proud to learn that the papers are one and ready to be faxed back! It's not even the 13th yet!

brandie said...

I will admit that I have no idea of the status of our tax forms. I can't be bothered. Mitchell said something about needing help the other day. I suppose that means it's not going well?

Anonymous said...

We are also happily spending our tax refund already!
BTW, I obviously was having sex between Dec and April as I have 3 children with birthdays in the Fall.
Leave it to me to cover the sex gap for you!!!