The $50,000 Kiddie Birthday Party

Limos. Petting zoos. Did we mention spa treatments? When it comes to their kids’ birthdays, status-seeking Philly parents now say it’s their party, and they’ll spend what they want to.

YOU MIGHT THINK the “one-year-old birthday extravaganza” is an anomaly. You’d be wrong.

There was that other one-year-old’s party in Voorhees, where the parents spent $1,000 on just the party favors (suntan lotion, sunglasses, and beach towels, all 40 of them embroidered with the birthday girl’s name). Then there was that super-chic first–birthday brunch at the Ritz-Carlton in Center City. (“It was basically an adult cocktail party, with the kids as a side thought,” remembers one guest.) And, of course, the Main Line was all a-twitter about the 200-person first-birthday monster bash in that ginormous Bryn Mawr backyard, catered by Leslie Rosen and with the lighting designed (yes, designed) by Bobby Morganstein. “It must have cost $50,000,” says one guest. “At least.”

“If you start at this level, what are you going to build to?” wonders party planner Janet Jones Silver, owner of Event Creations in East Falls. “What’s the wedding going to be like? Rent the White House?”

Silver has watched this over-the-top-ness trickle down, from the blowout weddings of the late ’90s to the blowout mitzvahs of the early 2000s (remember the one at Germantown Cricket Club with the go-go dancers writhing behind back-lit screens?) to the blowout 16ths that have blown up since My Super Sweet 16, that vulgar spectacle of the over-entitled being over-indulged, debuted on MTV five years ago and suggested to parents that the best way to deal with a whining, selfish teenager is to give him a $50,000 car. In one memorable episode, a kid from Episcopal had a party that cost $250,000 and included professional dancers shipped in from New York to increase the event’s “hotness” quotient.

Now, seemingly unscathed by the recession, the birthday party-turned-mitzvah-turned-wedding-turned-moon-landing has dipped as far as it can drop — to the first birthday, for a child who will likely be so overstimulated by the splendor that she’ll shut down, sacking out in the stroller while mom and dad walk around saying “Thank you!” as guests praise them for throwing the “best party ever!” Until next year’s. Because that’s the thing about birthdays: They only go up from one.

Take the parents who feted their four-year-old son at a Bucks County racquet club with hand-carved filet mignon and butlered crudités with smoked salmon and caviar. The ones who rented out the Please Touch Museum — the whole museum — for their daughter’s fifth birthday. The ones who procured actual amusement-park rides — four of them, at $2,000 a pop — for their six-year-old’s party in Pennsauken. The ones who, for their 10-year-old, hired trapeze artists to perform. The father of the 12-year-old who drove all the way to Hoboken to get a $2,000 (at least) tiered cake from the Cake Boss, because his daughter likes the TV show.

Whatever happened to Duncan Hines at the kitchen table with a few neighbor kids?

Parents happened.