We know what we’re buying Ella for her birthday. She’s made it easy on us by salivating over every other kid’s bike.

We’ve slowly been nailing down the other details, and it’s been quite a learning experience for me.

When I think “party” I imagine beer, grilled meat, mingling in the yard in the afternoon with neighbors and friends. This is how clueless I am about kids’ birthday parties.

I remember MY third birthday party. It was at my grandmother’s house. My cousins and my brother were there. We gathered around the dining table and my dad brought in a cake from the local Weingarten’s grocery store, in Houston. It was a chocolate cake decorated like a football field with plastic football players. I remember these specifics because a.) I didn’t like chocolate, it reminded me of dirt and I didn’t know why anyone would want to eat sugary dirt; and b.) I didn’t know much about football but I was already a huge baseball fan and could name several Astros (including the one who shared my dentist’s name, Bob Watson). Disappointment fuels recollection.

The only other kid birthday party that sticks in my head is the one Tommy Lee threw for $30,000 several years ago. I remember reading about it in People, and how it was a bone of contention between he and Heather Locklear (or Pamela Anderson, who can keep up?).

So, I’ve told a few of my friends, “hey, Ella’s birthday’s coming up, why don’t you guys come over,” and bring kids of varying ages, from 1 year to 12. I told Trish we could have the neighbors and just cook hamburgers to make it easy. She gave me a look.

When it came down to the nitty gritty, though, I was just being ridiculous. And the very words that made that apparent were, “you plan the party.”

Hmmm. Trish had much better ideas. The number of guests at a kid’s party should match said kid’s age.

We asked Ella who she wanted at her party. “Maya and Me-ya and Chase.”


She’s said all along that she wants a blue cake and blue balloons. Easy enough.

But what about the date, the time? Ella’s birthday is Nov. 1, a perfect post-Halloween date! But Maya’s birthday is Oct. 31. (For a time there was this tension — do we have a joint party? No. But how do we tell Maya’s parents we don’t want to? And if we have a separate party will they even come to two consecutive parties? And if they don’t come, do we need back-up guests?)

It was starting to be more about guest attendance than about Ella’s birthday. “You shouldn’t be planning this around who can come and who can’t,” I told Trish. I was slightly enraged. I had already forgotten whose job it was to plan the event. “Her birthday should not be defined by how many guests show up.”

You know “Fiddler on the Roof,” and how Tevya seems wise but it’s really Golda who runs things?

Trish said, “You know, I’m not the one who wanted to invite the neighbors and everyone else.”

So, on Nov. 1, a Thursday evening, we’re having a blue cake and balloons for Ella’s birthday, and we hope three people come.

Now, do we give Ella her gifts that night, in the morning, when her grandparents come the week before, do we give her more presents now than at Christmas …