Charlie had his ninth birthday party last weekend. Due to a numerous factors beyond our control, it turned out to be really disappointing and Charlie ended up sobbing at his party. Mr. Bee and I had very different reactions. He thought it wasn’t a big deal because disappointments are part of life, and in the end Charlie had an ok time. Mr. Bee had very simple family birthday parties growing up after all, and there was nothing wrong with that.

I never had any birthday parties growing up, nor any gifts either. But I had the opposite reaction to Mr. Bee: I was heartbroken for Charlie and really wanted to make it up him. Perhaps Mr. Bee is trying to recreate his childhood dynamic of the simple, family-focused birthdays of the 80’s, while I’m trying to do the opposite because I didn’t get to experience birthday parties as a kid.

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The birthday was supposed to be a relatively simple affair because we were busy hosting guests the entire month of November. It was a Harry Potter themed party with some arts and crafts, and a pinata. Charlie loves the Harry Potter series and has read it at least 10 times. To say he is obsessed would be an understatement. But pretty much everything went wrong from the get go, including a friend throwing a birthday party for her daughter the same day, with the exact same guest list. On top of that, Charlie was sick and didn’t eat a single thing the entire day.

The main thing Charlie was looking forward to was wearing a Harry Potter costume for the first time. I couldn’t buy one locally, so we rented one from a costume shop in the island capital, and it turned out to be at least 5 sizes too big.  Once he put the ill-fitting costume on, I could see the look of disappointment on his face. Shortly afterwards, he started sobbing. I told him that we’d get another costume somehow (his actual birthday was still over a week away), and he said that I didn’t understand because I didn’t love Harry Potter as much as he did and this was the single thing he was looking forward to most. He just really loves Harry Potter and doesn’t get to see his friends often since we moved, and he really wanted share that love with his friends.

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It truly broke my heart to see Charlie so sad at his birthday party. He doesn’t have many friends in our new city because he’s home-schooled, which is why our party options were limited in the first place. I had actually been pushing him towards a family day at a waterpark so that we could avoid the whole party thing, but he really wanted a party.

Mr. Bee thought a small family affair for Charlie’s birthday would be just fine. He created a Harry Potter trivia quiz for Charlie they did one and one that he really enjoyed. But I told Mr. Bee that times had changed from when we were kids, and Charlie goes to birthday parties all the time. And birthday parties here are way bigger than in the States. That doesn’t mean that we have to go all out, but it’s not unreasonable for him to want a party of his own.

I do think we are over-celebrating life events. But how do we keep things simple in an age of excess?

What were birthday parties like for you growing up, and what are they like for your kids?