I celebrated my child’s 6th birthday over the weekend with a small party for a few kids. Like all children’s parties, expectations were running high. As the day approaches, I feel the pressure that President Obama must have felt when he was trying to push through his deeply unpopular healthcare bill.
After a year in the United States, where children’s parties are bigger and better, I fear I might be deemed a failure if I don’t produce a helicopter landing on our tiny patch of grass, a magician who can make children disappear into a hat, or a cake that wouldn’t look out of place at a wedding reception.
The entertainment is one 41-year-old English husband, whose future as an event organizer I now seriously call into question. The entire party’s success seems to hinge on a game called ‘Pass the Parcel’ in the UK.
For those unfamiliar with the rules, here they are: children pass a gift wrapped in several layers of paper with music playing in the background; when the music stops, the child holding the parcel unwraps as much as they can before the music starts again (unwritten rules decree that it should be no more than a layer); the child who unwraps the final layer with the gift is the winner.
‘Modern Pass the Parcel’ has a slight twist: a treat or small gift is wrapped in each layer of paper so that every child who participates wins something – no one is left out. (As an aside, I’ve never seen anyone play the first version.)
The English Husband, being older than modern times, has only played the ancient version and hadn’t noticed the game had evolved. We argue about the rules the night before, while trying to assemble a toy kitchen, and settle on a gift in every other layer. It seems like the worst of both versions to me: some kids get gifts and others don’t. In the end, we decide to play the game twice and give everyone something.
As I replay the events in my head, I realize there is something wrong with the message we are sending to modern-day children. The message is clear, no one is a loser. Well, guess what, sometimes you are. Tough. Everyone has to learn this lesson at some stage and you might as well learn it while you’re three when there’s less at stake.
I’m not entirely sure why parents shy away from this. Heaven forbid your child attend a party and not get something. That’s a cardinal sin in parenting etiquette. If you veer from this commandment, you might as well accept that you will no longer be invited to people’s houses for play dates. Your child will become unpopular through association.
I don’t think it was like this when I was growing up. There were always winners and losers, at parties and at school. I was generally on the losing side, but I got over the crushing disappointment. I also got over never being much good at sports. Have I been scarred for life? I doubt it, although I avoid bikes, soccer balls, volleyballs, golf balls, basketballs, softballs, baseballs, footballs and hopscotch. I know my limits.
I think it’s important for children to understand that you won’t win at everything. Only robots and ridiculous overachievers do. But it seems that, in the 21st century, this is just a bit too much of real life for children to handle. We sell kids short. Most of them would accept it and move on, if we weren’t always there to cushion their fall. Why are we afraid to let children lose? Why do we sanitize things for them all the time?
As an adult I’ve come to understand that most of us aren’t winners or losers, we are both at one time or another. Sometimes you get the promotion and the job, sometimes you don’t. Sometimes you get ‘let go’. There is no shame in this if you did your best – and it’s a lesson I intend to teach my children.
The Chatterbox loved her party, even without all the fancy games and big cakes. She was happy with what she got. On that day she was a winner and so was I.