After my First Communion, my family went out to celebrate. At McDonald’s.
McDonald’s! How awesome was that? It had to be a pretty special occasion to celebrate at McDonald’s.
Not only was McDonald’s the only fast food restaurant in the area, it was the only restaurant where I can remember eating until my teen years. Going there was a rare and enormous treat.
A few years after my First Communion, I got invited to a friend’s birthday party at McDonald’s. This was mind-blowing on multiple levels. First: a birthday party? Birthdays were when you got to pick what your mom would make for dinner, you ate some cake, and received one present from your parents. What was this crazy talk about having your friends come to your birthday? And they all brought presents, too? No way!
And celebrating a birthday at McDonald’s? McDonald’s was ground too hallowed for a mere birthday celebration. McDonald’s was for big, once-in-a-lifetime deals, like the Sacraments. I’m sure I could easily imagine couples having their wedding receptions there (if they were high-class enough to meet McDonald’s standards).
Despite my misgivings, I went to the party. Hell yeah, I went! I wasn’t about to miss a precious opportunity to enjoy the gourmet offerings of that palace of delicacies.
The party was short and sweet. We had burgers, fries, and some cake. The Birthday Boy opened our modest gifts, and then we went home. It was the single birthday party experience of my childhood.
My oldest son is five. He has been the focus of three birthday parties and a guest at dozens. None of them have been at McDonald’s. Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
Times have changed, leaving middle-aged bumpkins like me wondering what to make of things. McDonald’s has gone from treat to last resort. Birthday parties crowd the outside edges of our calendar.
Though it sometimes feels as though our weekends are drowning in kids’ parties, I can’t complain. To the extent that it is a problem, I’m a part of the problem. We play the party game too, and we do it without trying to make anybody eat at McDonald’s.
I’m all about giving my kids good childhood memories, but sometimes I worry that these automatic birthday parties will lead them to believe that watching the calendar page flip a dozen times is a superstar accomplishment. When you’re 105, it may be, but you’re 005, it’s been done by plenty of other normal folks.
Then again, opening my mouth wide and letting a priest put a dried circle of bread on my tongue wasn’t the mark of superstardom either – those wafers dissolve in your mouth; you don’t even have to chew your way to success. Yet, I got what was, at the time, the best reward I could imagine for it. And after a few more birthdays, my son will have outlived my Catholicism, so I guess I’m the last one worthy to complain about undeserved honors.
So let’s party!