I missed getting this gene.
I've always loved going to a certain kind of party -- something with good friends who love being together and who are comfortable enough to be creative about creativity. One of my dearest friends used to have parties where we'd end up singing around a piano while her husband played it, like in an old-fashioned movie. Or we'd play the dumbest charades or do a reading of The Christmas Carol at holiday time.
Those readings were conducted at my friend Vay's place, which was under a gypsy fortuneteller's shop in New York City. I don't think anyone in the world could have attended anything at Vay's place without falling in love with it--and with her and the gypsy-actor-storytellers-singers who wandered through.
These days, I've had precious few parties, mostly because of time, and because generally I am petrified of cooking for people. A few years ago I read a spectacular book by Amy Sedaris about hospitality which manages to be both funny and true. I resolved to have more people over and failed miserably. (My husband, wonderful as he is, happens to be a lone wolf type, which doesn't encourage either one of us to open our doors to partiers).
That's not to say I haven't hosted a few gatherings -- though likely I could count them on both hands in the past few years. I'm still reading the book, though - but have to say it is for adults, and wouldn't be something you'd share with your children.
Which brings me to bringing up kids, and birthday parties, and teaching them to be social. (Especially if they're not old enough for Amy's book yet). We hosted our son's parties in other venues, except for the first one -- which was kind of a monster-themed party in the back yard, and one of my favorites. I hired an actor to play Dracula, though he looked like a fresh-faced choir boy from prep school, he tried his best to sound dark and told the children a Dracula story in the basement. No one got scared, which was a good thing.
In looking back on this period, I've decided children's birthday parties are in fact little lessons in hospitality and how to celebrate life with friends. For that reason, they're a lot more important than they seem. You don't need a lot of money to have a good one (and sometimes when parents spend too much, parties can turn about abysmally).
What Amy says (among many things) that I love is that a party is a chance to share a little of who you are with a group of people you like (or in some cases, love). She also says if you're not into cooking, order stuff or pick it up at your favorite deli (another reason to read her slavishly).
So if your child likes swimming, or rock climbing or reading or cooking or being a drama queen or king, it's important to let them set the tone for the day and choose everything around it whenever possible--food, decorations, activities, and whatever else is going on. Again, this can turn out to be how you decorate the back yard, so don't feel you have to pay tons of money to rent venues. In fact, DON'T do that at all.
Because in the end, I think parties are supposed to be about connections you make with friends and family--and how you want to show up for them. The best ones allow us to get closer to people and share a little more about who we are while we're on this planet.
I hope at least some of my son's birthday parties did that for him. I know the parties I've been to have done that for me. And (can I have a five year plan)??? --in the next three to five years, I hope to open up my doors again for more parties of my own.
And if you haven't read Amy's book yet, you need to ASAP - whether or not you want to have a party: