Birthday Invitations

28 02 2011

In one of the Gr. 3 classrooms I was in last week, a mom came in near the end of the day with a stack of coloured envelopes. “My daughter’s birthday is next week” she said, “How would you like me to hand out these invitations without making the other kids feel bad that they didn’t get invited?”

I really didn’t want to get involved, partly because it was the end of the day and there was a scramble of things yet to do before dismissal. Also, even though I knew the name, I also knew that I wouldn’t be able to pick her daughter out of a line-up. Us T.O.C.’s get to know a lot of names and faces, but putting them together can be quite a challenge on most days (see a previous post). “Why don’t we call your daughter over and the two of you can put them in the kid’s backpacks in the hallway?” I responded. Whew! For an on-the-spot decision, I thought this was quite a good one. And that’s exactly what they did. The dozen or so who made the cut had the goods in their bags and the ones left off the invite list didn’t even know (at the time) that they were overlooked.

Teachers in Primary grades have rules for all kinds of things and I agree that routines and structure bring order to a class and that student anxiety about the day’s events can be greatly reduced when kids know what is coming next. What I still struggle with though, is that I’m finding that the line between being the teacher to kids and being a parent to the same kids is a thin, grey one at best. Seasoned Primary teachers know that a good chunk of their days end up being parenting anyways with the amount of shoes they tie, noses they wipe, jacket sleeves they turn outside in and arguments they adjudicate.

As I reflected on my day in this class, I wondered why the teacher must be the one to solve the “someone’s feelings are going to get hurt if they know that they weren’t invited to the birthday party” dilemma – something that has nothing to do with the school day. The planners that all students have seem to be a good communication tool and a great mail delivery system to parents, but why aren’t there guidelines as to what makes it into the plastic folders at the front of them? Should Birthday Invitations make it in?

I’m aware that the birthday party circuit has become a big and booming business. Forget the cakes, candles, hats & horns – birthday cards alone have become a $1.5 billion industry. As a dad whose kids have attended more than a few parties, the festive celebrations start to teeter on the one-upmanship of the last party the child attended. Birthdays can cost parents hundreds of dollars. Gone are the days when pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and pinatas were the focal point. I’ve read stories where parents almost need to take out second mortgages to pay for birthday parties that feature “the Reptile Man” (he brings live snakes to your living room) or “Cartoon Cuts” (girls get manicures and new hairdoos: boys get spiked hair and pretend shaves). You name the party – bowling party, pool party, gym party, magic party, horse party, laser-tag party, rocket building and launch ’em party – each year the parties seem to get larger and more lavish. I’ve also heard a professional party person tell war stories of the difficulties parents have in trying to bring sanity back to their home after one of their outlandish bashes.

Researchers who are interested in these things tell us that 93% of Canadians and Americans hear the words, “Happy Birthday” on their birthdays and 71% have the song sung to them – you know the one. As you think about your last big day, were you among the 71%?

Our celebrations speak volumes about the desires and drives of our lives. Acknowledging birthdays and planning celebrations are good things to do, but at what cost? Sadly, I’ve found myself being one of the parents who looks around and wonders if we’ll ever be able to compete with the other parties that are thrown. I think I need to give my head a shake, since hosting parties are not designed to be a competition (are they?)

Isn’t it interesting that we live in a culture that likes to celebrate birthdays – getting older – while at the same time we are obsessed with how “young” we are and how much “younger” we can make ourselves?

Things are a lot less complicated when you’re in Grade three.




3 responses

2 03 2011


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