My Son's Big Fat Fourth Birthday Party

I wanted to give him one, but would it be worth it?
- Carrie Vining Spanier,

Last year, for my son's third birthday, we had a simple party at a public playground. This year, for some reason I don't entirely understand, I became a sucker. Period. I'd sworn up and down that I would never fall into the parent-guilt trap. I promised I would always maintain my own identity and never, ever try to keep up with the Joneses.

However, when it came down to planning his fourth birthday party, well, let's just say I cracked like Humpty Dumpty falling off his wall. I felt a strong urge to show my son how much my husband and I really love him. And worse, I wanted to do what everyone else has done for their children! Whether we could afford it or not, why not? How would he ever know the magnitude of our love if I didn't throw him a kick-ass party? Maybe it would make up for all the times I yelled at him, or when I (gasp) left him with a sitter for an afternoon of rare and oh so cherished "me time."

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Yep, mommy guilt was in full effect and had taken over every logical thought in my brain. I mentally beat myself up, replaying in my mind every time I yelled, sneered or even thought bad things about my son. I wanted, no, needed to make it all right. I had to! And a super cool bounce-house party with all the fixin's would help me do it. Yummy pizza, fabulous cake, whimsical party favors--and fourteen of his closest friends.

Every once in a while, my reasonable side broke through: Ok, calm down, mama, this is just a party for a four-year-old, not a wedding! I managed to keep reminding myself that every time I wanted to add something to the party (for a price, of course!) or when I would stress out. He is only turning four, repeat, he is only turning four!

I can't help but wonder if he didn't have this party, would he have been devastated beyond belief, unable to recover and require therapy at a staggering cost of $200 an hour until his mid-forties? After all was said and done, do you think he really cared? As it turned out…Ahhh, not really.

While he was understandably excited about the possibility of bouncing till he could barely stand, it didn't seem to matter to my son that it was all for him. He didn't care that I stressed about the money, about the guest list and about how much extra food to order for the parents. He didn't know that I could have bought a sweet pair of Manolo Blahniks (or two pair, if they were on sale) for what this two-hour event cost.

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He was also, thankfully, unaware of how my anxiety ratcheted up, just as we arrived at the party site, to the point that I practically needed a sedative. He didn't know (and it probably wouldn't matter to him) that I had written the wrong time on the invitations or that his cake originally said "Happy Birthday, Jack" when his name is Jake. (Believe me, I got that problem fixed fast.) I was the one who cared, and yes, I was silly.

At the end of the day, even I realized that my son's party was a bit much. It was expensive and a little over-the-top (in my world, anyway). But I didn't mind. Why? When all was said and done, thanks to the party people who waited on us hand and foot, we were escorted to our car with a big bag of gifts, leftover cake and-most of all a smiling and adorably exhausted four-year-old. That alone is worth the price of a pair of Manolos.

Carrie Vining Spanier is a freelance writer based in New York City, is a mother of two and has a Master's Degree in Early Childhood Education.

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