I think at some point my kids are going to figure out that birthday suppers are a scam. Though I don’t think they’ll care.
Most years, our family does birthday suppers, which is when whichever child is having a birthday gets to decide what we’re having for supper. It’s very exciting, because usually my wife and I decide. And also make it.
We do make some birthday parties here and there, but at some point, you have to stop expecting people to drop everything and rush over to your house on a specific day to celebrate the fact that you exist. You don’t really look different than you did yesterday.
My kids also get to suggest a cake for the nearest Shabbos, which we don’t mind, because it takes a lot of the deciding from us. We need a cake for Shabbos anyway, and the time difference between making one cake and another is not nearly as long as it takes to flip through cookbooks and wait for one of the pictures to talk to us. And it’s not that important for the adults in the house to love the Shabbos cake every single week anyway.
So they pick a Shabbos cake. The most common Shabbos cake my kids pick, for example, is Pesach brownies, for some reason. Yes, this is hands-down the best type of brownies, but it doesn’t count as “a Shabbos cake that I have to make anyway,” because we can’t make a mezonos on it. We still have to make a second cake for kiddush. Which is probably now going to be banana muffins featuring the bananas that have been dying in the middle of the kitchen table. Though actually, two of our kids’ birthdays are on Sukkos, so the Pesach brownies do have a function. Also, it turns out that Pesach brownies are pretty easy to make when your kitchen is not in a hideously-inefficient Pesach setup that is 100% “Which cabinets do we have available?” and 0% “Which cabinets are we instinctively going to try to open?” In fact, the hardest part of making Pesach brownies during the year is carefully digging through the Pesach cabinet in your PPE to see if you have any potato starch. Or subbing in cornstarch and seeing if anyone notices.
In fact, I think every one of our kids has at some point requested these brownies for their birthday. Whereas my wife, whose birthday actually is on Pesach, complains that she never gets a real birthday cake.
The birthday suppers are generally not on Shabbos, though, because my kids don’t want to be locked into specifically picking certain types of foods. Even if Shabbos is their birthday. You have to have a little flexibility. Like if your child’s birthday is Pesach, this can turn into a whole thing:
“Okay… For Karpas I want potatoes, I like the thin Satmar matzos… For Marror, let’s see… What marror do I like? Can I say that I get Romaine lettuce and everyone else has to do horseradish?”
This is why I let my wife pick most of the Seder.
But this works both ways, because if the supper they pick is a hassle to make, they can’t have it on a work night. It has to be a Sunday. And it’s going to be a hassle to make, because otherwise why are they picking foods that we always have? Were they born yesterday?
Well, technically, they were born today.
So it’s usually going to be something time-consuming. Like for example, one of our kids always picks lasagna, because we don’t have lasagna that often. We mostly just have it on special occasions, because it tastes exactly like 5 other things we can make a lot quicker.
The thing is that technically any Sunday a kid can suggest what we’re going to have for supper, and we’ll usually make it, because the hardest part of preparing supper, as a parent, is figuring out what to make. Most Sundays I’ll walk around the house taking suggestions from literally anybody. If a stranger walked by the house and yelled out a suggestion, I would take it. So if my kids really want a certain thing for supper, they can just ask for it. But most Sundays, the kids say, “I don’t know,” and then they complain later.
What do you want from us? We had to make something. We can’t just not make supper because no one knows.
So really what this whole birthday supper thing (and birthday cake thing) is about is me having a specific kid commit to figuring out what I should make on a night that’s good for me and guaranteeing that at least that one kid will not complain about it, and also no one else can complain to me -- they can only complain to that kid. I will throw him right under the bus about it.
“Why are we having this?”
The one thing about this night that makes it a little harder on the parents is that we can’t really substitute foods at the last minute. I can’t either nix something just because I’m not in the mood. The kid is in the mood. So this is technically the one night that I might want to complain about supper. Though that’s not something I’d do. But I don’t care; I made it. I can always make something else later, after everyone else goes to bed. Which is becoming later and later these days, because we have to adjust bedtimes every year on their birthdays.
That one was not my idea.
Though actually, the bedtime-moving thing seems to be getting phased out, for the most part. Most of my kids are at an age that they’ve realized that as long as they stay in their rooms in the evenings and don’t make any sudden noises, I don’t actually know what time they’re going to bed. And they think they’re winning. Though the truth is that the only reason I need them to go to their bed is so that they will stay in their room, and also not make any sudden noises. Until they oversleep, and I say “What time did you go to bed last night?” and they have to make up a time that is early enough not to get them blasted, but not so early that we’ll start bothering them to go to bed even earlier from that point on.
So they say, “I don’t know.”
This is why.
And I actually can nix their supper suggestions. I mean, I try to be nice; I don’t nix things just because I’m not in the mood. I nix them because listen, you can’t pick lasagna and ziti and pizza. That’s not a supper. What’s the vegetable?
“We’re not eating enough tomato sauce to count it as a vegetable.”
“We are if we’re having lasagna and ziti and pizza!”
So we have to walk them through their choices. They have to pick a gender, then they have to a pick a vegetable… And also think: Does the vegetable require the same pan that we need to make the protein? We’re trying to teach them responsibility. This is another way they’re losing:
“Welcome to being an adult! You have to put more responsibility and thought into every stupid decision, and everyone is going to complain no matter what you pick.”
I think the one benefit that they do get is that whatever they pick, I don’t ask them to help me make it. It’s your birthday; you don’t help make it. Though unfortunately, sometimes I also can’t ask my wife to help make it. She like, “You think it’s their birthday? Who do you think did all the work?”
I’m telling you -- you fall asleep during one all-night labor, and you never hear the end of it.
And the same goes for the cakes. Most Shabbosos my wife and I don’t actually make the cake; we have the kids make the cake. Yes, they can suggest cakes literally any week, but then they have to make them. But if it’s a birthday week, we have to make the cake. Or technically we can assign a different kid to make the cake, and then the birthday kid’s decision becomes like, “How can I make this sibling suffer?… Ooh, I want Mrs. Siegelman’s cake!”
(No offense to that cake; it’s delicious. It has 32 eggs; how can it NOT be good? And also like 5 tablespoons of flour. It’s basically a Pesach cake.)
But even when it comes to who makes the supper, there are exceptions. For example, one of our kids always picks homemade pizza, except that she makes it way better than anyone else, so we have her make it. We’re going to have her eat inferior homemade pizza on her birthday?
One year, she’s going to wise up and realize that we would allow her to make a supper of her choice on basically any night of the year. We’re very nice parents.
Point is that birthday suppers are a scam. And yes, I know that a lot of impressionable children read my articles, but I don’t mind revealing this, because what are they going to do about it? Request that this should be the one night that we don’t ask them what they want? Just let everyone else choose? Birthday suppers are the way to go, because everyone wins.
At least the parents do. But anyway, we’re the ones who had the kid; we should be the main ones that benefit here. For the birthday person in general, what does a birthday celebrate? You made it another year? These are kids. Who do you think is primarily responsible for them making it another year? We’re the ones who feed them and take them to the doctor.