By Tanya Ruckstuhl-Valenti LICSW
It all started out so simple in theory. I never went to Disneyland as a kid, so naturally I wanted the experience of a wildly overpriced amusement park that required four plane tickets, a hotel suite, and twice daily restaurant meals to be part of their childhood.
I explained to my kids that this year we would forgo their birthday party and fly to California instead and go to the most exciting place on earth. They looked at me with alarm and superstition as if I had just announced, “Now we shall stir fry the cat and eat him for dinner.”
“How about we skip Disney and just have the birthday party?” Benji proposed.
“No, no!” I said, “This is for YOU, much more special than a mere party.” I stopped myself from saying: This is an iconic childhood experience!
“But we would rather have a party,” said Jonah.
“That’s because you don’t know how special Disneyland is!” I said. Never mind that I don’t know either, never having gone…
They dug in and I relented.
“Okay, we can have a party too, but only at our house, just a play date with cake. And you can only invite eight children each. This will be just a simple, nothing fancy birthday party.”
Oh, my naivety!
What followed were vigorous negotiations involving a stunning number of details and politics of small child parenthood: So now in addition to Disneyland, there is the party at our house which at its most basic level requires snacks, cake, beverage, candy and getting plastic junk for those infernal goodie bags that are the demise of eco-footprints everywhere (I tried to suggest just putting cash in a bag and again got the “my mom wants to cook and eat the cat” look). There are family friends whose children must be invited because, frankly, I love the moms, but those kids unfortunately are not the “cool” (read: future truant) boys that my own wee ones favor. Okay, and separate from Disneyland and the birthday party, there are the treats that must be procured for the classroom, cleared with the teacher, and food-allergies that must be considered. And the pre-birthday party school treats must be different: One of the boys favors cupcakes and the other chocolate chip cookies. And this list doesn’t even touch birthday gift shopping and wrapping.
In short, this business of birthday celebration stresses me out. In my mind’s eye it looks like a walk in the park on a sunny day. In reality it is a snarl of to-do lists; endless errand-running, cleaning, preparing and party-disaster-averting.
All this is to say that even semi-self-aware psychotherapists can fail to learn from their experience. I’m just hoping that Disney offers us all the fun we crave with none of the responsibility.