My son Hank, who is in transitional kindergarten now, likes to ride his scooter to his new school. With our toddler, Leo, in tow, my wife, Kate, and I rush to keep up.
On a recent morning, hot coffee spurted out of our mugs and onto our wrists as we raced after the 5-year-old. Hank nearly crashed into fellow students and panicked parents, but still made it to class unscathed. Meanwhile, harried and still coffee- deprived, Kate and I attempted to mingle with some of the other parents.
Are you going to the birthday party on Saturday?
What birthday party?
Oh, the twins in the class, they’re having a birthday at the Sky Zone … I think that’s what it’s called.
We’ll try to make it.
Kate and I sighed inwardly as we mentally saved the date. This felt like the 87th birthday invite since school began – and it was only October.
No one warns you that when your kid starts school, you and their classmates’ parents are going to school, too, stuck in a classroom with each other, competing for grades and year-end superlatives. I’m not competitive, but Kate certainly is, and the burden of having to outshine other parents is starting to rear its ugly head.
I want to protest: I’m just here trying to rear children! But we millennials work hard for “likes,” and you can get plenty of them, even if you struggle to be yourself, if you are successful in pulling off The Birthday Party.
I know. You are a busy, overworked parent. We all are. So, realistically, there’s no time to plan a big birthday party for your child. But FOMO (and, OK, an attempt to be fair) causes you to invite every single child in your kiddo’s classroom, even the kids of parents with whom you have absolutely nothing in common, whose politics and values run completely counter to yours.
Don’t worry, not everyone is going to make it. In addition to that good news, here are some tips to make the party you didn’t have time to plan or throw work out in your favor:
Setting: Reserve space at a convenient park, somewhere relatively central for parents coming from all directions. Try Coldwater Canyon Park in Beverly Hills or Johnny Carson Park in Burbank (you can faintly see Disney and Warner Bros. studios’ water towers from Carson Park).
Don’t have a birthday party near an estuary, construction site or dog park – the flies and ants get out of hand.
Safety: Whatever you do, don’t pick a place where parents will be constantly
concerned for their children’s lives. For this reason, avoid trampoline parks – no matter how popular they are. Also avoid amusement parks and elaborate recreational areas, such as equestrian parks.
Refreshments: Once you settle on the setting, fill up a couple of coolers with La Croix water and Honest Kids juice boxes. Don’t be too fussy about the food – it’s actually hipper not to care. Make it pizza. Or, if you must, call ahead and order plenty of In-N-Out burgers. Your spouse can go pick them up.
Let your mother-in-law take care of the birthday cake. It’s her pleasure.
Gifts: Be sure to open presents after everyone leaves. No one wants to see a child disappointed by their gift, even if it is likely re-gifted.
If you follow my plan, there’s not much left to do. No need for activities. Anything planned with 5-year-olds will last five minutes (if you’re lucky). Just sit back (maybe you’ve hidden an IPA or a hard seltzer in the cooler) and let the kids run around. But don’t forget to pretend you’re busy every now and then. You are the party planner, after all, and you don’t want to get stuck in a circular conversation about traffic with Fred’s dad.
If you must venture outside my stress- free birthday party plan, consider Griffith Park’s Travel Town, with its vintage train museum. It’s a relatively low-stress option. Or, celebrate at home. Or, ignore my advice completely.
I’m just here to help. Not in it for the “likes.”
Isaac Parfrey is a writer, composer and L.A. native who enjoys roaming Southern California with his wife, Kate, and sons, Hank and Leo. Follow him on Twitter @IsaacParfrey.