My middle son turned 10 this week, so I took him and a pack of his friends to the new skate park in Rockwood, a village not far from our home city.
I’m not a birthday party lover, not the way that people tend to do them these days. I find them a whole lot of stress and money for not much fun. I think they’re often too extravagant and mostly just end up encouraging kids to be self-centred. I hate how much stuff kids end up bringing home with them. And, as I’ve written before, I feel like there are better ways to celebrate a birthday.
This skateboarding birthday worked really well though. The venue cost us nothing, because the skate park is free. The kids were occupied and having fun with each other, actually playing rather than sitting around demanding to be entertained. It was relaxing and laid back, with the kids coming to grab food and water whenever they felt the need. We didn’t go home with a pile of things we didn’t need, because we told kids just to bring my son a few stickers for his helmet and board.
Even a sudden (and fortunately brief) rainstorm didn’t dampen the festivities. The boys just took off their shoes and ran around in the rain, then started sliding down the ramps on their bellies. They goofed off, chased each other, got into a disagreement with an older kid, slipped and fell, laughed hysterically, scootered barefoot, slipped and fell again, laughed again. It was great.
The thing that made it a success, I realized as I was driving some of the partiers home, was that it was less a birthday party than just a bunch of kids having fun doing something they all like to do anyway. It was an average day at the skate park, only all his friends were there at the same time, and there were a few treats to top it off.
It’s the sort of thing I prefer even as an adult. I’d much rather go grab pints with some friends at the pub than have some “party” where everybody stands around and sings Happy Birthday and then hands out presents that I don’t really need, all just so I can be the centre of attention for a day. One is about people getting together to celebrate with each other doing the things they like to do. The other is holding a more or less artificial event doing things that nobody likes to do.
So why, I thought, if as an adult I’d rather just hang out and do the things I love with the people I love, why don’t we let kids do that too? If they’re into soccer, go play soccer. If they’re into swimming, go to the beach. If they’re into fishing, go throw a line in the water. Make the celebration about doing fun things with fun people, not about running through a bunch of activities and getting a bunch of stuff. Make the party something that’s fun and relaxing for everyone.
It won’t always turn out perfectly, of course, but I can tell you that I’ve never enjoyed a kids’ birthday party so much.