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.

Not the poor three-year-old whose parents hired Valerie Felgoise to put together a birthday party for him at his daycare. They wanted a car theme with green as “the color” (he loved green), so Felgoise planned green cupcakes and green arts-and-crafts in between the musical chairs and piñata.

“They kept asking for more,” Felgoise says. So she added tattoos. Then a ball pit. Then a Lightning McQueen pop-up tunnel/tent. Then Big Wheels to drive around. Then retro wooden cars, all decorated for a race.

“The party was so much fun,” Felgoise says. Except for one thing: The boy’s parents didn’t show up.

AFTER EVERY PARTY SHE DOES, Felgoise has other parents asking for her business card. After all, this is a woman who, for a five-year-old’s lavish party at a Main Line country club, couldn’t find a Kung Fu Panda costume for one of her entertainers. So she ordered one. From China. “Parents want to keep up with other parents,” she says.

Jamie Joffe was a little irritated (and a little proud) when, barely a week after her son’s snowboard party in the Poconos, he got an invitation from one of his friends to the exact same party, Hummer limo and all. But keeping up with the Joffes can be hard.

Last year, one family asked parents to drop off their five-year-olds at their Main Line country club for a popcorn-and-movie party. “We figured they didn’t want to spend the money to have the parents stay at the party,” says one guest’s mom, who did stay, for dinner with friends who were also members. “There were only two adults supervising … and 30 kids.”

When whispers spread through the dining room that there was a problem at the party, this mom rushed in to find the popcorn machine overturned, cushions ripped, and vomit everywhere. Word on Lancaster Avenue was that the damage totaled $6,000. “They kind of got what they deserved,” the mom says. If you can’t afford to do the party right, she adds, “Don’t do it.”

But everybody else is. That’s what the kids say. That’s what the kids see, whether they live on the Main Line or in Fishtown, whether their families can afford it or not.

“The extravagant parties set the standard for the whole community,” says Bonnie Brooker, who owns BonBon’s Parties and Events in Cherry Hill. “You want your children to have that happy experience so much that you’ll do without for yourself. That’s really what parenting’s all about.”

Is it? Brooker is currently working with a single mom who scheduled an hour’s worth of services for her daughter’s birthday — a princess will come, sing songs, do a craft, paint some faces. The mom’s never done a big party before. And she probably won’t be able to do another one for a long, long time. It only costs $150. But she’s mailing Brooker $25 a week until she pays it off.