There is not enough Febreeze in the world to make this okay.
My sons have birthdays one month to the day apart from each other, and since they still have more-or-less the same social circle, we save ourselves and everyone we know a whole lotta headache by just throwing them one big party together. My neighbor's son's birthday falls right in the middle of my boys, so we lump him in with the group, too. It's like a bandaid; the quicker it's over, the sooner we can start pouring the drinks.
It's not just because we get away with the 2-fer that we do this, though. You know how Christmas day, your kids tear through a stack of presents and then totally sugar crash, just without the cavities? And your Jewish friends have these blissful children who've had eight days of one gift at a time, and they're all calm and serene and grateful and you start wondering if you could really give up bacon and how you'd look in a yarmulke? Yeah, it's the same thing here with the birthdays. We get to buy each boy ONE gift on his birthday, and then they each get ONE more at their party. It's spaced out,and it saves us from over-doing it. (Correction: it saves me from over-doing it. My husband isn't overcompensating for his crappy anything with our kids.)
So my neighbor and I have been "planning" this "party" and by "party" I mean we're throwing all the boys in my basement with the big tv that I just got done dragging out of my living room down to the basement, a bag of Doritos, some pillows, a Wii, a GameCube and all the National Treasure movies. And 18 air fresheners. By "planning" I mean we've sat on the phone and said, "Um....?" a lot.
It's interesting, planning a birthday party with another parent. My neighbor and I both share the view that once they hit a certain age, the pomp and circumstance can take a flying leap and be replaced with reality. She didn't bat an eye when I suggested that each kid invite only 3 friends. She agreed that the idea of just having a sleepover sounded like party enough. She asked what she should get for the goodie bags and when I told her I didn't do goodie bags, she said thank god and what would we get for a bunch of 10 year olds anyway?
I didn't have birthday parties as a kid, and I didn't go to any either, so I really have just winged the crap out of this whole thing for the past decade plus. It seems to me like the whole idea of what IS a birthday party has a lot to do with what everyone around you thinks makes a birthday party. If everyone in the class invites everyone in the class to every party, maybe you feel the pressure to do the same when your kid's birthday rolls around. If everyone does Something Grand, maybe you feel like you have to do Something Grand, too. Ever try to take 30 kids for laser tag? And then make your mortgage that month? Yeah. If every time your kid goes to a party, he comes home with a bag full of plastic toys that end up in the dog's food 2 days later, maybe you feel like you'd better have some at the ready as well. If you have to stay and make awkward conversation with a bunch of parents you don't know for 3 hours while your kids throw water balloons at each other, maybe you find yourself pricing a keg the next time you throw a birthday party at your house.
I can't keep up with my inbox, let alone The Jones'.
Do my kids need some huge party every year on their birthdays? Hell no they don't. They get the big, bright, thematically correct (and totally made from scratch; I'm so cheap) parties when they're little, when it's all still magic, and then once they hit 1st grade, we go to a movie. Or we have a sleepover. Or we have a cupcake decorating and subsequent eating extravaganza. Because when they're 9 years old? 11 years old? They don't need all that other stuff, do they?
I don't think they do. I think they want to have one day or one night when they can feel a little grown. When they don't have a bedtime, and they do have Nintendo, when vitamins don't show their ugly faces and soda pours like rain from the heavens. When their parents leave them alone and they can watch their movies and listen to their music and be dorky kids together. When they can just be and do what they want to be and do and not be scheduled or managed, just supervised.
That's what I remember wanting when I was 11, at least. So that's what I give them. I give them a lot of laughter and a little freedom and a bit of a break from the rules and the time to be themselves.
And lots of air fresheners.