Originally created 02/08/98

Children spoiled on birthdays



Thursday's child works hard for a living.

-- B.L. Farjeon

It's taken me four years as a parent to figure out that children's birthdays have evolved.

My son turned 4 on Groundhog Day, so I speak from experience.

First, you don't get the standard birthday cake and a present that I remember from my own childhood.

No, today the typical child's birthday has become an event -- a birthday dinner that became a birthday party has now become more of a birthday week filled with trips and cakes and presents and cards and more cakes and balloons and more presents.

It's sort of like Mardi Gras sponsored by Toys 'R' Us.

I blame grandparents.

In the old days I might go a whole year without seeing those older folks who doted on me.

But now the world is a small place, travel is simple. And grandparents (through what I suspect is heavy lobbying by AARP) have carved out a pretty impressive expectation that they will be allowed spoiling rights on their children's offspring.

Fine.

I won't complain.

And I say for the record there is not the slightest bit of jealousy for all those years that they told me they couldn't afford the toys I wanted.

I'm not bitter now that they suddently seem to have loosened up on the old wallet. Not at all. It's just that it doesn't stop there.

For children today there are all these little parties. Some at school or day care, some at home, some at pizza joints and some at the homes of other children.

When it was over, my son got so much loot that we actually had to create an inventory manifest to keep it all straight.

I feel guilty about such excess.

"There are children starving in China because their parents can't make these toys fast enough," I said to an uncle while watching the growing pile of unwrapped gifts.

"If it makes you feel bad, you can buy more so they'll get a raise," said a cynic behind me.

When it was finished, my son spent three nights slowly signing his name to a small stack of thank-you note cards, while his mother supervised.

"Are 4-year-olds expected to send thank-you notes?" I asked.

"It's good manners," she answered.

I shook my head and she asked why I was so grumpy.

"Didn't you ever have a really grand birthday party when you were little?" she asked.

"Sure," I said, "one year my grandmother rented a pony and hired a small merry-go-round. The yard filled up with kids. There was cake, ice cream, and everyone had a memorable time."

"That's what I mean," my wife said. "Didn't that effort go a long way in teaching you about childhood and the value of giving?"

"I guess," I answered. "She charged admission for the both the pony ride and merry-goround and, picked up a nickel for each ice cream cone."

A disapproving frown covered her face. "What in the world did that teach you?"

"Well," I said, "that it's sometimes possible to have your cake and eat it, too."