IMG_2351.JPGHere’s what I thought when Caleb patted me awake yesterday morning, Sunday: “But I was mommy yesterday – why do I have to do it again? Can’t someone else play mommy today?”

Seriously. Wouldn’t all parents do better with regular sabbaticals from parenting? Sometimes I think that divorced parents with joint custody of their children really have the right idea; or perhaps an arrangement similar to the one the novelist Fannie Hurst had with her husband, back in 1915: they maintained separate apartments, had breakfast together two or three times a week, and called each other to make dinner plans.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

I spent Sunday recovering from the birthday party we had for Liam on Saturday afternoon, which was a relatively low-key affair, for Manhattan: we used the community lounge-space in our building and had games, a movie on the big screen TV, pizza, cake, goody-bag, good-bye. Cleanup was easy and I didn’t have to try and hide the disaster area of my apartment from the parents who were dropping off their kids.

And yes, that is a picture of the cake I baked. A mommy friend insisted I document my culinary achievement, particularly because hiding under that atrociously sweet store-bought frosting is a chocolate cake with three cups of zucchini in it. It’s the only way my kids eat vegetables (I’m sure that any day now, Liam will be diagnosed with scurvy, given the lack o’leafy greens in his diet). If you want pictures of real cakes, check out – great recipes and a fabulous play on words at the same time – what a bargain!  

But as we put together this birthday party, I started to wonder…back in the days of my youth (lo those many decades ago), did I get what amounted to essentially three birthdays? It seems pretty standard now for kids to get cupcakes or something at school, then perhaps a family gathering, and then the actual party with their friends. And these parties…skating parties, bowling parties, gymnastics parties…hundreds and hundreds of dollars. In NYC, birthday parties are a lucrative industry, in part because unless you’re lucky enough to have some kind of common space in your building, none of us really has the space (or inclination) to allow large groups of rambunctious children into our apartments.

And once you’re having a party, you’re also hooked into…the goody bag. That little trophy of participation, the “thank you for coming” present…Did we used to get those? Maybe, back in the day, if you won the game of Bozo Buckets, you got a little prize, but coming home with a zippy little bag filled with plastic doodads and maybe some candy…? Where did that idea come from?

Is there some mom in a remote suburb of Westchester living under an assumed name for fear that her secret will be revealed – that she is the ground zero of goody bags?

How do we resist this seemingly endless celebration of birth? Yeah, yeah, your being born is a big deal, and we’re glad you’re here, but couldn’t we just toss you a cake and be done with it?

It’s a game of chicken, really, I think, or maybe an arms race. None of us wants to be the mean mom who doesn’t bring a treat on the birthday; none of us wants to host the party where there were no goody bags. I thought maybe I’d outgrow peer pressure once I left high-school – and for a while there, in my early thirties, I did. Then Liam started school and once again, all I want to do is hang with the cool kids (and yes, probably I would jump off a bridge if they did, what about it?)

Clearly I have no solution to this problem – all the kids who came on Saturday got decks of Kung Fu Panda Uno cards, and a small Hershey bar – and I felt a little guilty that we didn’t give the guests more. At one point, I’d thought that we wouldn’t do goody-bags at all, but my resolve melted into a puddle of imagined recriminations.

What this means, of course, is that I should start planning for Caleb’s birthday, which is in August, now.