There are a bazillion ways this feels like living in an alternate universe.  Sometimes up is down and down is up or the whole blessed thing’s turned inside out.  The ground seems to shift under my feet all the time, leaving me staggering around like a drunk on New Year’s.

(Gee, there’s a flattering comparison.)

At any rate, one of the many perplexing areas of responsibility dropped in a parent’s lap is the children’s birthday party.  It’s one of those things on a deadline – the kid’s born, and you pretty much have 364 days to decide on a Party Philosophy before your munchkin hits that magic first birthday.

I’m gonna try hard – really, really hard – not to come off like a sanctimonious ass here, but I can’t make any ironclad promises because these birthday parties are an area I feel pretty strongly about.  I mean, it’s not homelessness or global warming or anything, but talking about this triggers Big Feelings for me.

I look around right now and seriously have no freaking idea what people are thinking.

I see yards overflowing with five-year-olds reveling in bouncy houses and fire trucks and catered lunches. I see seven-year-olds with twenty classmates (plus their siblings) scarfing down pizza at the bowling alley.  I see nine-year-olds opening their brand new phones, surrounded by all their pals at the local laser tag spot.

I witnessed the three year run on MTV of an obnoxious, vomit-inducing reality show called “My Super Sweet 16.”  This series epitomized everything that’s wrong with bribery parenting today.  It put the spotlight on teenagers whose wealthy parents threw egregiously over-the-top sweet sixteen birthday parties for their precious snowflakes.  Because what better way to prove your love than with cars, diamond-encrusted tiaras, a horse, or (sweet Mary mother of God) breast enhancement surgery.

The. World. Has. Gone. Mad.

Some of you are probably all Come on, Laura, these are the crazy cases.  It’s not all that bad.  Not REALLY.

Okay then.  Here are just a few of the more common birthday issues popping up these days…

**  School/district rules requiring my child to invite every classmate to her party.  Where to start?  We believe in celebrating our kid’s birthday, but we choose not to set aside a budget for thirty to do it.  My nine-year-old doesn’t need twenty-five classmates to have a happy birthday.  Also, don’t try telling me I have to welcome the class bully into my home.  It’s bad enough we have to put up with her on school days.

**  Designer birthday cakes ordered from the high priced bakery in town.  Don’t get me wrong, I love a good cake.  But we’re talking about kids here.  On what planet does an eight-year-old need a fifty dollar cake for their birthday party?

**  Party favor bags for guests.  I’m still not sure how this tradition began, let alone exploded into the crazed mom competition it’s become.  I’m busy dealing with invitations, party details, and cake preparations…I have neither the time nor the inclination to assemble small bags of dollar store crap to send home with your child.  Especially since I feel absolutely no need to thank your kid for enjoying our kid’s party.

There’s no disputing that the birth of a child is worthy of celebration, but this has reached a level of idol adoration that’s completely insane.  When I was a kid it was a huge deal if the birthday party had a clown or magician; now parties are all about being Bigger-Better-BOLDER in every single way.

Suddenly it’s not enough to let the kids play Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Twister.  Now there are bouncy houses and jungle gym inflatables and water slides all over the place.  No flashlight tag or simple backyard games; now you’ve got video games set up in the house and a band out back for dance competitions.  Pizza delivery?  Burgers and hot dogs off the grill?  More like a catered BBQ lunch with a sundae bar for dessert.

BrightSide and I were on the same page from the start, what with feeling no need to hire a skywriter to make our kids feel oh-so-special on their big day, plus we really kind of lucked out with T-man and Bear. They’ve never given us any trouble about the scaled down parties we allow them to have.  It’s pretty remarkable, really, considering almost every celebration they’ve gone to for their friends has given at least a nod to bribery parenting.

I can’t even begin to imagine how many of you I’ve offended by this point (if you even read this far).  I bite my tongue in the real world because of the whole “live and let live” concept, but this is blog world.  In blog world I get to blow off steam about what I see as bizarre, upside down, inside out parenting.  You should try it sometime, it’s pretty fun.  Got any crazy kid birthday stories to share?