Birthday Dread

It took a mojito and 2 episodes of House of Cards to recover from the birthday party I went to with Sam after school yesterday. I’ve been feeling pretty good about my Spanish lately. told me I can read 95.1% of all Spanish articles. I am amazing! Of course, as things progress, it becomes pretty clear how important those last few percent are, especially when you’re at a birthday party, sitting around a table with a group of moms doing your best to follow the rapid-fire conversation. I understood maybe 90% of what was being said, but the brainpower and focus that required left me with no mental energy to add to the conversation.

When you do manage to get a word in, it gets awkward quickly. The banter comes to a screeching halt. Everyone leans in to focus, to make sure they understand. They look slightly pained, and then relieved because they understand what you’re saying! And then super supportive and so appreciative of whatever mundane thing you just shared! Really, they couldn’t be nicer. And then they go back to their conversation and you sit back and try to maintain your focus while admiring the silky down-to-the-waist hair (everyone has long hair here) and the amazing outfits and the massive heels and the perfectly manicured nails… and your own slobiness, as you look longingly to the maids’ area. The nannies and maids wear hospital uniforms and crocs and make small talk (probably about the moms) and I think I might fit in better over there.

The reason the moms are sitting around chatting and looking fabulous is that there is no helicopter parenting going on. There are no parents wiping noses or organizing games or handing out snacks or being harassed by their children, because a company has been hired to take care of everything. Very smart, assuming you have several million pesos to spend. In these moments I feel like I’m living the Real Housewives of Medellin.

Here is what to expect at a kid’s birthday party in Medellin (assuming that the kid goes to one of the many private schools here): entertainers, a hot dog stand, an ice cream or cotton candy stand, a large party room with professionally installed TV-show-themed decorations, and party favors that are better than the gift you brought. (A few of the party favors we have received: legos, a set of hot wheels, a digital watch, a child’s armchair, and a plasma car.)  Bring a gift, there is none of this ‘no gifts please’ trend that has taken over some parts of North America. A party is just as likely to take place after school on a weekday as on a weekend. There is no child drop-off, you are sticking around. The party will go on forever. There is no real end time. Happy birthday will be sung in English and is pronounced “Appy bearth-day to jew.”

Sam’s birthday is coming up next month and unfortunately he is inspired. If you invite one kid from your K-4 class, you have to invite them all, that’s the official class rule. He wants to give each boy 2 Nerf guns. Sadly, I don’t have $5,000 to spend on the party he has planned. Last year his birthday coincided with Easter week and our trip to the coast, and we had a family party on the beach with a blue cake. I brought a few gifts with us and he was genuinely surprised.  He looked at me with wide eyes and said, “You brought these? For me?” It was really sweet and probably the last time he won’t be sad and disappointed on his birthday, and demand to know where the rest of the presents are. This year we have to leave the country to get our visas renewed- a trip which will probably coincide with Sam’s birthday.  What kid doesn’t want a weekend in Ecuador for his 5th birthday?!

Here are a few photos from the Medellin parties we’ve attended, for the 5 and under set…


From left: nanny, mom, 3 year old attendee, party staff. My kids didn’t actually enter this party- they ran screaming from the people inside dressed as Mickey and Minnie Mouse.


This one was really terrifying


My children were hiding behind the cotton candy machine.


Andrew, coping with whisky and cotton candy


Sam was so confused by this party favor, he thought he had attended his own birthday party.


5 piñatas, shock and awe

Hannah Montana Party

Sexy dance lesson

photo 3

Sam enjoyed this Hannah Montana party

Obviously, we need to go to more birthday parties. I need to take whatever opportunity I can to improve my Spanish and get to 96%. I have to conquer my fear of high heels. The kids need to get over their fears of performers and people dressed as talking animals. So, for the good of us all, I will resist the urge to accidentally lose the invitations that come home from school. Happy almost bearthday to Sammy.

One Comment on “Birthday Dread”

  1. Ellen Orleans says:

    I need to get over MY fear of people dressed as talking animals! As, always, brilliant observations and commentary. I hope you turn all of these into a book upon your return.


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