My Super Sweet Six

Don't you wish your birthday party was hot like mine?

Sarah Donnelly isn't having a great day. It's her seventh birthday, and she's surrounded by all her best friends. And a clown. And a pony. And a magician and a guy dressed like a cowboy and two women in suspenders with bright red yarn for hair and big hearts drawn around their eyes, who keep handing people balloons and asking who they like best, Hannah Montana or Dora the Explorer.

Everyone's here to make sure that Sarah has the best birthday in the world, but she's kind of having a shitty time. What Sarah really wants to do is take off her scratchy party dress and go out front and watch the guy who's blowing up the balloons that the raggedy girls are handing out. But her mommy says she has to stay in her seat and eat birthday cake and stop whining, because she's the guest of honor and leaving wouldn't be nice, would it?

Sarah is tired of being nice. She sets her white plastic fork down on the frilly pink vinyl tablecloth and whispers to her mother, "Mom, when is it not going to be my birthday any more?"

Giulio Sciorio
This is your birthday. This is your birthday on Final Net.
Jackie Mercandetti
This is your birthday. This is your birthday on Final Net.

A friend gives Sarah's mother, Sherry, a reassuring, it's-almost-over pat on the shoulder. "I know," Mom hisses through clenched teeth. "But her brother's turning four in six weeks. I have to go through this all over again!"


Poor Sarah. Poor Sarah's mom. Today, in their giant backyard, draped in 40 pounds of streamers and encircled by thousands of dollars worth of merriment, neither is taking much pleasure in knowing that they're at the best birthday party in the great, big gated Paradise Valley community where they live. It seems unlikely that either would care at this point — as the merry-go-round starts up for the hundredth time and the pony takes an unexpected dump on Raggedy Andy's shoe — that they're merely the latest in a long line of mother-daughter duos who are feeding the current trend in over-the-top, over-produced kiddy birthday parties. Neither Sarah (because she's too young) nor her mom (because she's too, well, frazzled at the moment) has given any thought to how they've been feeding the multimillion-dollar industry that's sprung up around Sarah's desire for everything she sees on TV and, just maybe, Mom's inability to "connect intimately" with her daughter.

It's no surprise that experts are horrified by this burgeoning business in ridiculously opulent birthday parties, this newish industry that's busting at the seams with more and more lavish ways to acknowledge the first day of Little Johnny's fourth year. It's a trend forwarded not just by maniacal moms with disposable incomes and no extra time, but by moms in every income bracket who feel guilty because their busy lives keep them away from their kids. It's a trend that the super-est Super Moms support, even though many of them would like to give a permanent time-out to the guy who invented the chains of "grown-up" (some say downright sleazy) party places they're hiring for the day, places that pour their tiny daughters into glittery cat suits and glop them with enough eyeliner and blush to choke a birthday clown.

Nutso birthday bashes for little kids aren't just a local trend, but they certainly are thriving in the Valley. Phoenix is home to both a monthly magazine and an annual guide devoted to planning prepubescent parties, and to both chain shops like the Lolita-esque Club Libby Lu (where your daughter goes in a kid and comes out a Pussycat Doll) and locally owned companies that are busily preparing to franchise.

There are: Valley-based Frills to Fairytales and its sister company, Cuddle Bear Creations, both about to launch as national chains; A Child's Joy, which can provide everything from a petting zoo to inflatable "bouncy houses" and carnival-size mechanical rides; Star of My Party, which will send a film crew to your home and pop out a special-effects-laden, scripted movie featuring your wee thespian; and Girly Girlz, another local business that's about to franchise its ersatz tea parties, where the tarts being served are 4-year-old girls.

Michelle Hoffman, who's lived in Fountain Hills for the past seven years, says that the parties where she takes her kids — 9-year-old Paige and 6-year-old Drew — are more opulent than any she's seen. "We've lived in San Francisco and London," she says, "and still I haven't seen anything like the parties moms put on here. It took me a while to get used to catered playdates, too. With me, it's crackers and juice boxes, not finger sandwiches and Libby Lu."

There's nothing wrong with a catered playdate, says stay-at-home mom Donna Kurtz. She spent most of February planning her daughter Daphne's fourth birthday party. She supervised the assembly of 18 handmade invitations, ordered a designer cake shaped like a trio of balloons, and has already started stuffing the gift bags that each party guest will take home with them a week from Saturday. Headquartered at the kitchen island of her Fountain Hills home, she's making a list of finger foods for the separate party she'll throw for the parents of her guests that same day. Each hors d'oeuvres option is lobbed to Daphne, who's seated nearby, coloring.

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11 comments
Belinda
Belinda

Your article is totally disgusting! To take photo's of these precious little faces, when these girls are having the time of their life - and distorting it into something so vile and disgusting is a disgrace!!! Apparently the writer doesn't have, and will never have children! I do understand that there can be extreme - at any age - but to have a nice party and invite 8-12 friends is a normal part of growing up. Did this writer not get to have birthday parties as a child? Is this where all of this anger about other children having nice parties is coming from? I'm so sorry for your childhood, but that's no excuse for going after precious, innocent little girls!

Rick Dyer
Rick Dyer

Eat the rich. The time really has arrived.

realthinker
realthinker

I was disgusted by your slant on these birthday parties. You basically made any birthday bash sound like a parent was spoiling their child. It's not. I find your distortion of these parties as misleading to the public. Just another example of people printing what they believe in their own minds rather than truly investigating a topic and presenting a wide variety of opinions and facts. Something all to common in the media today.

Also, girls dressing up and putting on makeup is a rite of passage. I did it when I was little, and it didn't make me "grow up too fast." Why not have these little boutiques for girls? It's better than them going with mom to an "adult" spa and being treated with products that are not designed for a child.

I wish I had parties at places like Girly Girlz or Libby Lu when I was little. Sure, I think parent need to stop and think what their children want, but I think many girls have these parties because they want them, not because their parents are trying to live vicariously. It also makes party planning easier on busy parents. We are in a time where both parents work. Planning a party is hard, and many of these specialty boutiques help with all the semantics like invitations, games, and favors.

I think that this piece is an example of one person's opinion and a distortion of the truth.

Mr. Frip
Mr. Frip

Ms. Fishy, Scottsdalians don't read the New Times. :)

Ms.Fishy
Ms.Fishy

Utterly disgusting. This is why the incoming generation will be full of nothing but spineless, whinny, out of control BRATS. I feel sorry for these kids as they will have completely unrealistic views as to how the world works. This is a form of abuse in my opinion.

These parents are the reason why restaurants are banning kids (rightfully so in many cases) for bad behavior. They ruin things for EVERYBODY. I feel badly for the good parents who try to raise their kids to NOT be this way.

Now I am waiting for one of these so called hip moms to come on here and tell all of us naysayers we are jealous of what they are able to give their kids, and accuse the parents that posted of not loving their kids enough.

Michael Setzer
Michael Setzer

I read with interest your column on ultra-elaborate birthday parties (My Super Sweet Six page 17 of your March 29th-April 4th edition). I just was wondering a few things about it. Are the parties being held for the benefit of the child or for the parents living their lives vicariously through their children (as they often do in sports? I'm inclined to think the latter. Also how will a child be inclined to remember these uber-parties 10,20 years or so down the road? Will the child remember them with fondness or (as I suspect) will the child either not remember them at all or remember them as some of the most uncomfortable times of his or her life? In my mind, this is too much too soon for such a young child.

Michelle
Michelle

I always just invite family and friends over our house, usually held indoors since mysons birthday is in January. We eat good homeade food my mother in law and husband usually prepare, an uncle will bring the cake, an aunt will bring the pinata and candy. I'll take my son to the party store and he gets to pick out what theme he wants and what we should put in the goodie bags. That's it. And everyone has a good time. The kids are able to entertain themselves, running around and catching up with cousins they haven't seen in several weeks. As the party dies down, i'll even put a DVD on for them while the parents relax and chat in the dining area. I never realized how much stress some people are willing to go through to plan these extravegant parties, taking away all the fun for the parents and the child. What's the point, for everyone else to talk about your party for a week, until the next one is thrown? And the talk is not always good, as we've read for ourselves.

zonumb
zonumb

sickening...purely sickening. The parents need to grow up.

Happy Mom
Happy Mom

This story makes me grateful for my small house and older car, but especially my children. We have raised 8 wonderful kids who are excited when they get a surprise bag of clothes from some generous friends, thank me for taking them out to eat, and right now, busily making homemade gifts for their brother's upcoming 7th birthday. I feel sad for these parents because their children will never be satisfied and they will eventually blame them for never giving them "enough". My financial stress is looking less stressful now!

Jay
Jay

Hahahaha!

Poor little rich people, trying so hard to show off how they are better than their peers. My daughters birthday parties are at our house, we invent the games, and for an hour, the kids just get to play with each other away from the school environment. And they always love it.

These shams of a birthday party are strictly for the parents. None of that materialistic claptrap is for the children. Of course, in my opinion, most of the pressure to excel that rich parents put on their children these days is due to their keeping up with the Joneses mentality, not any desire to raise a compassionate, thoughtful, loving human being.

I am so glad I no longer live in PV.

Mr. Frip
Mr. Frip

I think I just threw up in my mouth a little. Words escape me when trying to describe my disgust. This is a prime example of how excess money spoils people, both parents and children, creates greed and competition, and raises the next generation with a foul sense of values. Kids grow up with a sense of entitlement and don't understand the value of hard work. People who make enough to pay their bills and have a modest entertainment budget seem to be more humble and take more pleasure in the simple things in life. We secretly wish we made more money, but when we read storries like these we remember the scary, paltry, annoying trappings of wealth. Take some time to build some meaningful social relationships that aren't built on the transparent, empty status symbols or else you'll find yourselves consumed by consumerism.

 
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