Kathleen Wrigley

I'm not a party-pooper.

Birthdays are important; meant to single us out and make us feel special. And while I prefer a quiet celebration, it's unrealistic to expect a child to embrace a tranquil observance. But nor should they expect the Mardi Gras-like events they've turned into. Kids' birthday parties have changed. Quaint shindigs of cake and ice cream at home are rare today. Even my daughter calls these get-togethers "olden day parties."

Marketers have created lofty social standards and capitalize on our quest to make every birthday a milestone, tempting us to spend fistfuls of cash for a great party. Parents are trying to follow these new guidelines, regardless of whether they proportionately reflect their resources, mental preparedness, time-commitments or sleep requirements.

I am a traditionalist. I try to be progressive. But for Pete's sake, there's only so much a 40-(something)-year-old can take!

The truth is ... I'm a Recovering Birthday Party Fanatic. I've done it. In my pursuit to subscribe to the new rules, I've gone overboard.

I've pulled all-nighters screen-printing personalized tees for a bowling-themed festival ... for a 4-year-old. Hand-made invites. Pizza, pop, popcorn, piñata: check, check, check and check.

Even our little guy was in on the party rage. Patrick wanted all his "fwends" to come. And they did; balancing generous and colorfully wrapped presents.

I puffed-out my chest -- tired, but proud -- and tried to disguise my droopy eyes framed with dark circles, as each pint-sized guest slipped into my "Team-Patrick" tee. I gave an "ah shucks" and a hand wave to every mom who threw me a compliment, "No biggie. Just a little something I threw together." Ah, yes, I was very proud of "my" party.

I could barely fit the gifts into the back of my SUV when it hit me: this is ridiculous! Our car was packed, but I felt empty. I was over-stimulated. How must my 4-year-old feel? Do these lavish events add measureable value to our children's lives? Many families are ready to get back to those "olden day parties." Is the tide turning? It is for us.

Our revised plan: Have a party. Celebrate life. Invite all our "fwends." But keep it simple. Gifts are excessive for friend parties. So we save gift-exchanging for family.

Many parents are pulling the plug on these over-done kid parties and getting back to the basics -- even foregoing gifts for charitable donations or service projects.

Instead of cramming our closets with more toys, let's fill these tiny tikes' hearts with the joy that comes from helping others or giving to causes bigger than themselves -- for more tangible, enduring memories.

Come on, give it a whirl. It's super swanky and actually quite progressive, if I do say so myself.

Kathleen Wrigley is a freelance writer; is active in the community, her church, and her kids' school; and is a long-distance runner, which helps to maintain her mental health. She and her husband, Drew, have three young children and live in Bismarck.