Tuesday, November 6, 2012


Here we are.  7 of the Totem wives, gathered at a children's birthday party this afternoon.  While there are some missing faces in this group, this photo certainly does show a lot of the women I spend my time with these days.

Though I am happy with this circle of friends, I have to say a word here about parties.

I came from Philadelphia, in a fairly low-income part of the city, and kids' parties were not lavish affairs.  When my kids were very young, I did a bunch of at-home themed parties (Firetrucks.  Mermaids.  Pirates), and when I burned out on that, we started a tradition of going somewhere special on a birthday, and bringing a friend.  To an aquarium, or a museum, for example.  (Oh, for the days when going to an aquarium or a museum was an unusual event.)  Gifts exchanged between friends were small, thoughtful, and occasionally handmade or hand-me-down.

Children's birthday parties, since we started touring with Totem, have been out of control.
First of all, there are 20 children on tour now.  Which makes for a lot of birthdays.  Second, the scope of these parties, and the scope of gift-giving, has a maniacal quality to it, and in 2 1/2 years I haven't been able to figure out why, or how to reverse the trend.

Today's party was a typical example.  The mother of a 3-year-old rented out a room and decorated it, then brought everyone together for a full 4 hours of organized activities.  There was cookie-decorating and a blindfolded drawing game and dancing.  There were hors d'oeuvres and snacks and pizza and ice cream and cake and candy.  The gifts were all from Toys R Us, large, plastic, expensive things.

The duration of these parties exhausts me.  The need to keep my three children behaving decently and not making themselves ill with sweets for that amount of time exhausts me.  (not exaggerating here... two days ago was another birthday, and Isa got sick from too much candy and threw up in the hallway.)  The expense of buying so many presents exhausts me.  And on the receiving end - feeling the need to organize, myself, three similar events each year, and collecting so many tons of plastic junk, and finding some way to discreetly pass things to Goodwill, because we can't carry it all in our luggage - all of that exhausts me too.  Today's party was our third birthday party in one week.

I tried, last month, to set a new precedent.  For Ayla's birthday, I organized an arts-and-crafts party that I clearly stated would be two hours long, and I requested, in the invitation, for people to only bring small, inexpensive gifts. (less than $10).  I wanted to say no gifts, but other members of my family thought that would be too harsh.

The party went fine, I think, and people respected my request somewhat.  Most of them came up with craft project packages - a considered strategy, since you can spend under $10 and still look like you're giving a somewhat sizeable gift.  Only one parent gave a really tiny gift - a small package of nice hairbands and barrettes - which I appreciated immensely.

However, no one else seems to have taken this suggestion for their own kids' parties.  So a couple of weeks ago we tramped off to Toys R Us to fill a cart full of big plastic toys, for the next round of gift-giving.  And I have long since learned to let go of my expectations for party lengths.  Parties will run until they burn themselves out.

I like to think that I've contributed to a good community on tour and to families who connect with each other.  Occasionally I've even been able to effect change (exhibit A - circus classes!).  But this is one area in which I seem to have no influence whatsoever.

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