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The Pressure of the Birthday Party

I've never been big on birthdays. For my childhood celebrations, I considered getting the latest New Kid on the Block cassette and having a few friends over for pizza a successful party.

So, a few months before my son Henry turned 2, I thought for his birthday I'd invite a few tots and their parents over, serve hot dogs and call it a day.

Then my best friend Brooke started telling me about a birthday party she attended for her cousin's son, who was turning 1. The mom had gone all out with a Polar Express theme: The invitations were real train tickets and asked kids to come in their pajamas. She had a train built out of cardboard boxes, and painted by a local artist, that the children could actually play in. She gave out conductor hats and whistles as favors. A local baker created an over-the-top cake of Santa's village. She even hired a professional photographer to snap pictures of the entire event.

I had to begrudgingly admit that my desire to crochet Pooh ears as favors for every child at the party was more about me, than Henry.

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My first thought? That woman is clinically insane. Her child is 12 months old, and won't even remember that birthday, much less be able to really enjoy it.

My second thought? A theme. I need a theme.

Winnie the Pooh was a natural choice. My son has been obsessed with the orange stuffed bear and his furry friends for months. His eyes light up when my husband sings the rumbly tummies song.

So I got on Pinterest.

There were Winnie the Pooh cake pops and a cheese ball made in the shape of the silly old bear's face and pots of "hunny" with honeycomb cereal dippers and homemade rustic signs that say "This way to [insert kid's name here] Corner" and paper mache books with Pooh quotes and Tigger costumes and Piglet cardboard cutouts and Pin-the-tail on the Eeyore and HOLY OH MY GOD I WANTED TO MAKE ALL OF IT.

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And that's when I realized how parents—the same ones I've been rolling my eyes at with disdain ever since My Sweet Sixteen debuted on MTV—can get a little carried away with birthday parties.

Take this mom in Manhattan who spent $5,000 for her 3-year-old to celebrate at a fondue restaurant with adults dressed up as Wiggles entertaining her daughter and her tiny pals.

While I would never spend thousands of dollars on a kid's birthday party, I finally understood the pressure to go all out.

But I had to wonder: who are we going all out for?

Because as much as you want to say it's to give your kids an amazing birthday, that can't be it (or at least, not all of it). The 2-, 3- and 4-year-olds aren't going to remember these parties, much less be able to appreciate all the time, effort and money you sunk into the fire-breathing clown or the live elephant rides.

I had to begrudgingly admit that my desire to crochet pooh ears as favors for every child at the party was more about me, then Henry. Maybe that infamous TIME cover got to me more than I care to admit. Maybe I wanted to prove to all the parents of Henry's tiny friends—and to myself—that I was "mom enough." That I could be nine months pregnant, working full-time from home while raising my 2-year-old and STILL have the time to throw the most amazing birthday party EVER.

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So I took a deep breath, closed my MacBook and drove to Party City where I got a Pooh balloon, a few bouncy balls as favors and then stopped by Costco to get a couple packages of hot dogs.

And the way Henry's face lit up when he saw the balloon and got to eat two of his favorite processed pork treats instead of one, was priceless.


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