It dawned on me right then that the innocence of birthday parties gets muddled as your children get older. For years my daughter was more than happy to invite friends over and play, and pass an afternoon doing whatever it is little girls do. They'd eat some cake and wash it down with a few soft drinks. And how much did that set me back? Less than the price of a pizza. But as she started to close in on the teenage years, the scope of my daughter's last few parties began to change.
She'd been to the teen birthday of a few friends. These kids - none older than 14 - were receiving cellular phones and CD players and enough designer clothing to open up a boutique. One child got a motor bike. What was going on here? Were dolls no longer sufficient? My wife - fashion magnate that she is - explained it all to me: you can't invite 20 kids over to the house for a teen birthday and then not present your child with something substantial. What would the other kids think? It could be traumatic to my daughter. How about it being traumatic to my wallet?
I realized that I better put some cash aside for this. My kid's birthday was a few months away. But wait - she was only turning 12. There was still hope. Then my wife went on to tell me that a child's 13th teen birthday was almost more important than when they turned sixteen. The coming-of-age teen birthday was a once-in-a-lifetime affair. No more dolls and stuffed bears. Hey, maybe I should call my accountant.
Conversely, as all my daughter's friends were getting older, the gifts she gave her friends for their teen birthday was proportionately more expensive as well. If she didn't spend at $15.00 I was informed, it would be embarrassing. Maybe I missed something. A ten-dollar gift is not embarrassing. Splitting your pants in public is embarrassing. A pin-hole in a condom is embarrassing. The teen birthday is becoming big business and plenty of parent just like me were turning into repeat customers.
The price of putting on a teenage party is skyrocketing. And I vowed right then and there that when it came time for my daughter's teenage birthday party, we would have it at McDonalds. I would give her a savings bond and that would be the end of it. If she wanted to attend a friend's teen birthday party and a simple card wasn't good enough, then it was coming out of her pocket not mine. I was determined. But then it dawned on me that I gave my kid an allowance. So now matter how I cut it, I was still paying for something.
This entire teenage party conversation was making me uneasy. Everyone within earshot seemed resigned to these out-of-pocket birthday expenses. I did some simple math. My daughter would have seven birthdays between age 13 and 19. And they were all going to cost me a bundle. No doubt somewhere in there I would be expected to purchase her a car as a present. And then she would attend other parties for her friends and I would give her money for those. Seemed to me all these parties weren't happening during my youth. Or maybe I just wasn't invited. I know I wasn't having them. How had money for all that stuff?
My parents were killing themselves just trying to put food on the table. In the blink of an eye I thought back to when my daughter was 5, and I cursed myself for working so much and not being around as much as I wished. And this is how I would pay for it. Literally.