I am never doing this again, and I mean it. Ruby turns 7 in eight days, her birthday party is tomorrow, and it has completely consumed me. It has crushed me. It has buried me, devoured me, chewed me up and spit me out. You win, birthday party. You win.
On one of my many trips to Office Depot (hole punch, craft punch, card stock, stickers), I purchased a 2014 calendar. As soon as this party is over, I am going to open it, turn it to October, and write in huge black letters: “You are starting to think about Ruby’s birthday party. STOP. DO NOT HAVE A PARTY. Nothing but stress lies ahead.”
It started innocently enough. Ruby mentioned on a casual car ride to Target to buy Halloween candy that she had picked her birthday party theme. “Oh?” I said. “And?”
“Hulk,” she said, “and candy. Hulk and candy.”
I laughed and said something vague like, “Oh, that sounds like a fun combination.”
Ruby changes her mind constantly, but after two weeks of discussing this theme, she seemed pretty solid on it, and I started to get worried about how … unique it was. Knowing I couldn’t just run down to Party City and pick up some Hulk-and-candy invitations, I asked my extremely talented designer friend, Renaissance Publishing’s very own Tiffani Reding Amedeo, if she would design one for me. What she came up with was incredible, and suddenly, Ruby and I were both Hulk-and-candy crazy.
Now, on the eve of the party, I have a huge Hulk balloon and pink-striped candy balloons (both special-ordered online) floating around my living room. I have 5 pounds of Jolly Ranchers, more than 70 mini-bags of gummy bears, 100 individually wrapped Sour Patch Kids, 3 pounds of M&Ms, and a pair of foam Hulk smash hands on my dining room table. I also have Hershey Kisses, Pixie Stix, Fun Dip, marshmallows, Skittles, Starburst, Laffy Taffy, and several other kinds of candy that I have forgotten right now. (I feel so guilty about the staggering amount of candy at this party that I am giving out toothbrushes as party favors.) I have Hulk cartoons on DVD. I have 35 bags of custom-made cotton candy with Hulk seals that say “Thanks for making my party a SMASHING success!” and I am fighting with the U.S. Postal Service over the whereabouts of the other 15 bags I ordered. I am making something I have named “Hulked Out Spinach Dip,” and Ruby is helping me decorate her birthday cake with candy. I have scalloped-edge “Hulk-and-candy party circles” all over my house, and a banner that says “Ruby’s Sweet Shoppe” hanging over the dining room window. There is Pixie Stix dust on my sofa, and I just found a peanut butter cup in my shoe. I finally realized how insane I was getting when I found myself wondering if there was a way to decorate the CrockPot, either with more party circles (I actually haven’t 100 percent ruled that out yet) or by wrapping it or fashioning some kind of skirt for it (I have ruled those options out).
I never used to be like this. I am not a crafty person by nature, nor am I a big party fanatic. It’s not like I am making up for some kind of deprivation in my own childhood – with the exception of the year that I had to cancel my party due to the threat of Hurricane Hugo, I had great parties. I had a few pool parties, a few sleepovers, and a few parties at that fantastically dangerous and long-closed (almost certainly due to lawsuits) trampoline place on Bonnabel and Vets. They were low-key affairs, with a handful of friends, fast food pizza, pink streamers, and ice cream cakes from Baskin-Robbins, and they were perfect. But they certainly didn’t feature scalloped-edge party circles keyed in to a custom theme or cotton candy ordered from freaking Provo, Utah.
I don’t know if this madness is a sign of the times (most of Ruby’s friends have pretty intense parties, too) or if it can be laid at the collective feet of Etsy and Pinterest, but I do know this much: I am never doing this again.
I always find myself here, stressed and overwhelmed and completely sweating the small stuff. All I have eaten today is a huge peppermint mocha and a bag of gummy bears from the candy stash, and my hand is cramped from cutting out custom personalized water bottle labels, and why am I completely insane?!
It’s the same thing with bake sales or class parties. I can’t just be satisfied with baking a batch of brownies; I have to make Nutter Butter reindeer or witches hat cupcakes, and I find myself late in the night covered with peanut butter and frosting dye, cursing my stupid stubborn streak that makes me attempt these ridiculous projects that first graders don’t even care about.
The (very) few times I have said, “Ah, to hell with it,” and just sent cookies from Panera to the teacher appreciation dinner or Rouses cupcakes to the open house, the world hasn’t stopped. No one has pulled me aside and said, “Wow, store-bought cookies – it’s a shame you don’t love your kid enough to make them from scratch.” And conversely, last year, I made gourmet strawberry cupcakes for Ruby’s class party, and half the kids just licked off the frosting and the other half dropped them on the floor by accident.
But no more. I am done with this craziness. I mean it.
Until May. When Georgia turns 2.