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Birthday party meltdowns

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

An unhappy birthday?

A real mom speaks about her daughter's birthday party meltdown.

When we first received the invitation I thought, no, they cannot be serious. I looked again, and yes, they were. A birthday party for a to-be-three year old on the Saturday before Christmas at 2pm. An overstimulating event during an overstimulating season during prime nap time.

I considered declining it, and not mentioning it to Sunshine, but then decided I was being too negative. Perhaps this is just the thing to distract from the season. Maybe the parents know something I don't. Sunshine really likes this little boy, and most of her friends from school would be invited, so it seemed selfish and unfair for me to decline it. We'd be in town, so I didn't really have an excuse not to take her.

The day of the party, I tried to settle Sunshine down for an early nap, to no avail. 12:30 is just a tad too early for her to nap. And she knew the party was happening and was excited for it. Adrenaline was pumping. Leaving for the party, Sunshine clutched the gift and had a big grin on her face. I congratulated myself for not being too rigid about her napping schedule and going with the flow. Ha!

When we arrived at the party, I took one look around and steeled myself for a long hour and a half. The family had rented a room in small building owned by the town and it was far too small for all the kids and all the parents. There were at least 16 children which means at least 16 adults. There were some extra adults and kids there, too: some invitees had both parents, an aunt here and there, a grandmother, siblings. Sunshine instantly was overwhelmed. She clung to my leg and hid her face. I managed to drag her over to where her little girlfriends from school were gathered, and she wouldn't even look at them.

The family had hired a woman to run some activities in the middle of the room. After about 15 minutes of kids arriving and playing freely, she started, but never really announced she was doing so and didn't make any effort to actually gather the kids. For half an hour she worked the kids into a frenzy (Sunshine only joined in for the last 10 minutes, and only as long as I held her hand), then when they were all good and crazy, she was done and left. No wind down period at all.

Then it was time to add sugar to the mix. The parents, unfortunately, hadn't thought this part out, and there was about 10 minutes of confusion while they tried to figure out what to do to get the cake lit, blown out, cut and so on. Again, Sunshine clung to me, almost in tears. She didn't want to go near the gaggle of kids attempting to sing. It was just too much for her.

And it was too much for the birthday boy, too. By the time the candles were lit, he was a teary, tantrumy mess. Poor guy. When we left – early! – we found the birthday boy's mom trying to manage her overtired son. We said we had to go and thank you, and she said, "Sure you don't want to take one more?" while looking down at her boy. She wasn't joking. I smiled, hoping to give off understanding but not pity, and said, "Maybe next time."

At home, after some Tylenol for my pounding head, Sunshine and I vegged in front of Dora for a while. We enjoyed the (relative) quiet. Sunshine was clearly tired.

I've been in the same position that mom was in. I've tried to do something fun for a birthday party that turned into a complete zoo. I've had teary birthday honorees and not enough space and too much going on. I can't say I can offer advice, though, because this is the kind of thing every mom has to learn about for herself, and often the hard way.

Sunshine's birthday is in a few months. She's already talking about it. She's going to have her first party. I wouldn't say I'm dreading it, but I'm not sure I am looking forward to it either. I must sit down and think about it soon. However, I do know it won't be during nap time.

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