Jewish World Review July 20, 2004 / 2 Menachem-Av, 5764

Felice Cohen

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Consumer Reports

An ideal birthday: One year older | Gabriella, a friend's daughter, didn't want Scooby-Do at her birthday party this year. Nor did she want SpongeBob SquarePants or Dora the Explorer. She was turning 6 and — a big girl now — she wanted a science party. Why? "Because I really like science," she said.

Gathered in her family's Upper West Side kitchen, Gabriella and a dozen intent boys and girls her age listened to as "Science Teacher Sarah," a hired party planner, taught them how to make volcanoes. "But they were not real volcanoes," Gabriella added matter-of-factly, "You can't make those in your kitchen." So much for the days of "Pin the Tail on the Donkey."

Kids today know exactly what type of party they want for their birthdays. Gabriella has even started planning next year's fete. From private nail salon visits to merry-go-round rides in Central Park to specially made ice cream cakes (many kids have wheat allergies) children's birthdays are not to be taken lightly.

I was no exception growing up. The beginning of every July would fill my stomach with butterflies as each day brought me closer to my special day. The year I turned 10 I had a camping party. Crammed into our family's tent, 10 girls slept in sleeping bags armed with candy and flashlights telling ghost stories on the front lawn. That was followed by a Smurf party and even a surprise 14th with a Michael Jackson cake.

But at some point along the way the planning stopped. Milestone birthdays became the only ones worthy of making a fuss over. But who is to say one birthday is more special than another? Every birthday is worth celebrating. Our Name is Mud, a fun and colorful place here in Manhattan where people can paint their own pottery, does just that. When you go on your birthday, you and a friend get to paint for free. To them, all birthdays are special.

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For Hallmark, which dictates today dictates which birthdays are deemed special occasions — and by special occasions I mean, "Card Worthy" — a birthday is not a big deal unless it falls under one of their categories. Ages 1-10. All birthdays at those ages are a big deal. Sweet 16 — License! Eighteen — Rated R movies! Twenty-one — Legal! Then the significance wanes. Thirty is about being happy you're not 40. Forty and 50 joke about being "Over the Hill." Sixty and 70 look back on the good ol' days, while 80, 90 and 100 focus on being happy just to still be alive.

Why only highlight those? I just turned 34. At first this was no big deal. Then I read a recent survey by The National Consumers League that asked middle-aged men and women to pick their "ideal age." Men chose 36, while women picked 34. How exciting, I thought, this year is going to rock. Then I realized after 365 days of being this "ideal age," according to older women everywhere, it was all downhill from there. Suddenly 34 was not looking so ideal.

Maybe Gabriella was right. I should have planned a birthday party. Maybe having a [party and being surrounded with friends makes turning a year older not so bad. I guess it doesn't take a (rocket) scientist to figure that out.

Comment on JWR contributor Felice Cohen's column by clicking here.


07/12/04: Presents of the past
07/02/04: Chained or changed?
06/10/04: Waiting game
06/01/04: Sticks and stones
05/19/04: Psychic seekings: The gift
04/21/04: The latest job fad: China dolls for hire may be
04/16/04: Stories to be told
03/31/04: Shades of gray
03/23/04: Rejoice, ‘preppy’ is back
03/16/04: Taking a bad shot

© 2004, Felice Cohen