Ain't no party like a kid's over-organized party

Caleb Walsh illustration

We had a six-pack stashed in the car, but never had the chance to use it. It was a kid's birthday, and we were on the job. My son, who turned 7 on April 25, is a Minecraft fanatic — thus, the Minecraft cake; the Minecraft table spread; the green-tinged lemonade ("Creeper Juice," which goes very well with gin, as we discovered after the fact); the "gem hunt," consisting of about 5,000 plastic eggs filled with candy, plastic diamonds and lapis lazuli; the pin-the-tail-on-the-Minecraft-pig; and, of course, the larger-than-life Creeper. Built from Amazon boxes and standing about 4 feet tall, the Creeper took my wife and I three hours to build, wielding rulers and knives, a Leatherman and calculator, three rolls of tape and damn near 60 sheets of green construction paper.

It all started at about 7 am, when my wife and I sat down for a strategy session. Coffees in hand and a spiral notebook at the ready, we went through the schedule: 11 am, kids mingle and parents meet-and-greet; 11:20-11:30, "let them play"; 11:30-11:45, beat up the cardboard Creeper; 11:45-noon, "free play"; noon-12:30, pizza and etc., etc., etc. Christ, even writing this is exhausting.

I immediately thought of Max Weber's theory of bureaucracy being the most efficient method of organizing large-scale human endeavors. More accurately, I thought of the critiques of Weber's theory of bureaucracy and specifically of an article I read on the "J-Curve of Bureaucratization," which suggested that with increased resources, bureaucracies ramp up efficiency to a certain point, then the law of diminishing marginal returns kicks in and the whole thing collapses into self-perpetuating redundancy and feedback loops. That's a kid's party.

Indeed, as with most everything else in 21st-century life, kids' parties are drastically over-organized, curated, staged and contrived. As my wife rightly pointed out — waving her Montana mimosa over the half-finished superstructure of the Creeper — almost no part of a kid's party is designed for the actual kids. It's a performance for the parents. True that.

At certain points, I was literally undertaking physical feats before an audience of adults: corralling the whack-a-Creeper mayhem; snatching up errant trash as I simultaneously served pizza and told my own kids to quit whining that they didn't win the Creeper Beatdown; running like a lunatic to scatter all those eggs between the pizza and cake. The kids, who were having fun (I think) could not have cared less what I was doing, but the adults stood there like a Greek chorus — simultaneously celebrating and bemoaning my and my wife's ordeals. It was like a passion play; the Stations of the Cross. Most of all, for me, it was damn annoying.

Don't get me wrong; my wife and I have enough self-awareness to understand that we did this to ourselves. No one directly told us to go to these ludicrous lengths for a kid's birthday party, and we're both smart enough people to know that it's an enormous waste of time and money to construct a schedule and fill it with stuff that budgets all of 20 minutes for unguided play during a morning's proceedings. But there's no doubting the sense of pressure to do these silly things.

Last year, we were shamed for not opening presents during the party; someone had told us it was rude to open presents at the party because it distracted from the party-ness of the party. So, we took the unopened presents home. Well, that was super ––, so we were told. This time, by God, we opened presents during the party, but tastefully timed to coincide with the eating of the pizza, so it wasn't a lusty worship of lucre (which, of course, it was).

Pinterest and Facebook and Instagram and all the other "information platforms" are very keen to tell parents how to present their ability to throw a kid's party in such a way that it reflects well on their quality as a human being, which is a terrible way to organize a civilization.

I don't know if other people feel this way, but in case they do, here's a person who's more than happy to unplug kids' parties as a means to unplugging this whole rotten society. But bring beer. ♦

Zach Hagadone is a former co-publisher/owner of the Sandpoint Reader, former editor of Boise Weekly and current grad student at Washington State University.

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About The Author

Zach Hagadone

Zach Hagadone is a former co-publisher/owner of the Sandpoint Reader, former editor of Boise Weekly and current grad student at Washington State University.