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Slices of Life... Confessions of a birthday party failure

I am a birthday party failure. Who am I kidding? I am a total birthday failure - no party about it.

I just got off the phone with a friend who spray-painted her lawn with big psychedelic purple letters wishing her daughter a happy birthday.

"It'll be the first thing she sees when she gets off the school bus," she said with the confidence of a mother who employs hoopla when remembering the day her children were born.

The psychedelic message was only the tip of my friend's birthday celebration iceberg.

"I cut out the number 13 and hung it all over the house," she told me as though spending hours creating poster-sized prime numbers from construction paper is a common thing to do for birthdays. Maybe it is. At her house.

I didn't have much time to ponder that thought because my friend started describing the cake. She baked pan after pan, creating many thin layers and carefully cut them to form the number 13. I bet you can't guess how old her daughter is. She assembled the multi-layered masterpiece and then topped it with an oozing glaze of marshmallow cream.

My kids would kill for oozing marshmallow cream. Heck, they'd be thankful for just any old run-of-the-mill one-layer sheet cake baked out of the box. I figure I'm doing well if I get a cake done within a month of their birthdays. I have even been known to bake one cake and use it for two birthdays that occur within close calendar proximity of one another. Failure is too kind a word for me.

In my defense, there are reasons why birthdays get tossed by the wayside at our house. One of them has to do with the calendar. We have four kids; three of them have birthdays within six weeks of Christmas. I don't know what my husband and I were thinking when we planned that one.

Our youngest son has a birthday within a day or two after Thanksgiving each year.

How many of you feel like baking a cake the day after Thanksgiving? I thought so. Last year I tried giving him a leftover piece of pumpkin pie with a candle in it. He wasn't buying that.

As bad as I am at birthdays, there are some people who fail just as terribly as me, but in the opposite direction. I'm not talking about my friend. She makes her kids feel special on their birthday by cutting out numbers and spray painting lawns. That's creative and fun.

I'm talking about a whole different breed of over-the-top birthday mothers who were recently profiled on one of the morning news shows. These moms rent amusement park rides, hire actors dressed as super heroes, buy ponies, outfit their yard with petting zoos and lease moon walks - all for a one-year-old - and pretend it's all in the name of birthday fun. They spend thousands of dollars, just because they can, and make sure the party they put on is bigger and better than the one that was held down the street a week ago.

Who are they kidding?

I've heard of living vicariously through your kids; Lord knows I do it all the time. But this is way too over the top to be healthy in any birthday sense.

Like most things in life, the mantra for birthdays should be "everything in moderation." The point is to let kids feel special, and that can be done in many ways that don't incorporate moonwalks or ponies. At my house, that typically involves a cake, often delivered fashionably late, but with lots of love. As hokey as it sounds, I believe love is the most important ingredient you can add to a birthday cake. Well, besides marshmallow cream.

Jill Pertler is a syndicated columnist and award winning freelance writer working with graphic designer Nikki Willgohs to provide writing and design and other marketing services to businesses and individuals. You can check out their Web site at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/ or e-mail Jill at pertmn@qwest.net.

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