By the time my two boys were in early elementary school, I felt like we were invited to a birthday party almost every weekend. That's an exaggeration, but the calls for whole-class gatherings at bowling alleys, playgrounds, gyms and houses just kept coming.
We never hosted parties for an entire class ourselves, but we did have big groups at a few of my kids' birthday gatherings. At least once that I can remember, it was all of the boys in my older son Tommy's class because we were afraid of leaving people out and hurting feelings. My younger son Sammy has a July birthday, so it was easier to only include the kids he actually considered his friends.
The parties were fun, but a bit tiresome at the same time. The idea of buying a gift (or gift card) for a kid we barely knew seemed strange enough that we turned down a bunch of invitations. I felt similarly strange accepting gifts from families who had to introduce themselves when they got to the party, or email me asking what interests my kids had. We tried the "no gifts" and "no gifts over $10" approach, but people never seemed to listen.
It even occurred to me one year, when we hosted a party at the local YMCA for $50, that people could easily profit off big birthday parties since so many presents come in the form of gift cards. I'd never do that on purpose, of course, but it's undeniably true.
So I'm not too sad about seeing this phenomenon come to an end with Tommy, now a 6th grader about to turn 12. The 5th and 6th grade seems to be when these big parties really start to dry up, making way for smaller gatherings with a few close friends. The idea that kids are too old for something like a massive chorus of "Happy Birthday" when a cutely decorated cake comes out is a little sad, but the big parties never seemed special to me in a way that the smaller ones hopefully will.
Some things I won't miss, for sure: 1) not getting RSVPs from many of the invited guests, either until a day or two before the party or at all 2) the frantic attempts to record who gave us what gift, for the purposes of thank-you notes, 3) the expense, 4) the ridiculous gift bags filled with cheap items that usually ended up in the trash, not to mention all that candy, and 5) the overall chaos.
Tommy and I have been brainstorming some ideas for how to celebrate this year, especially now that his close friends have all stopped having big parties themselves. The top two choices seem to be a sleepover with 2-3 friends, possibly with a fun outing such as laser tag or bowling built in, or tickets to some kind of sporting event, concert or amusement park with his best friend included. I lean toward the latter, possibly with an invite to a handful of other good friends to head out for ice cream another afternoon.
Sammy still wants a bigger bowling party for his 10th birthday, but again we can generally keep it to about 10 kids with the summer date. And I'm imagining he's only got one or two more of these shindigs in his future before he, too, goes the way of Tommy.
Soon enough, of course, they may want a very different kind of party -- the kind we parents have to block. I think I'll enjoy the years in between.