I was in San Francisco last week, where I’m pretty sure I wrung every last drop of fun and food and friends out of that city. I’m sorry if you’re going there this week, there’s no more of that left for you.

I was there working during the day and each night I visited with my dear friend Hannah. We ate and saw Michael Chabon read and ate some more. And we talked a lot. There’s a lot I want to write about the experience because I learned some stuff about friendship and love and work and myself. I think these stories will come out over time, but mostly I have two things I want to say today: Oakland is too far away from Portland. And two: kids’ birthdays are hard.

Let’s focus on number 2 because number 1 is too sad and it makes me cry. So, Hannah asked me for recommendations for gifts for kids birthdays. Here are my recommendations for little kids: bubbles and bubble devices. All kids love bubbles and all kids spill bubbles. Parents never have enough bubbles. There are many cool bubble devices out there that prevent spilling and also keep kids entertained with little parental help.

For older kids (4-6), I recommend gag gifts, like fake mustaches and whoopee cushions. I also love the book series Franny K Stein for this group. The chapters are the right length and there’s a very cool female narrator.

I also have a recommendation for kids’ parties: a lesson of some kind. This weekend Arch turned 7!! SEVEN. And we did a group rock climbing lesson instead of a party. I can’t recommend a lesson enough, particularly if you’re like me and consider the chaos of kids birthday parties to be incredibly stressful and unnecessary. If you’re not like me, please keep rocking the bouncy house. I know my kid loves them.

You know how you hear about parents competing about birthday parties and who can throw the grander event? It’s so true. Also bouncy houses are rampant. A few weeks ago, our neighbors shut down our street so they could throw their five-year-old a party with a bouncy house in the middle of the street. Our other neighbors printed a gigantic fabric banner with their precious baby’s face and a Happy Birthday message and strung it across their driveway. The kid turned five.

I think this is insane.

We’ve done two parties in our backyard and followed the rule of the number of kids is equal to the age they are. So, if your kid is 6, you’ll have 6 kids total. Not 25, which is what I’ve experienced at other parties. The backyard parties were fine. We did pin the tale on the donkey and red light green light. But in all cases, there were tears. And at these huge parties there are tears. I’m in tears because it’s just so much happening.

This year, I couldn’t stomach the insanity, so we did a rock climbing lesson for 6 kids total. It was wonderful. The kids were calm and paid attention and climbed up a 30 foot wall. It lasted an hour and a half. Parents dropped their kids off, and picked up calm and focused kids at the end. We didn’t feed them cake and ice cream, nor did we do goodie bags. We did cake and ice cream at home for our family. There was no tears. No insanity. Arch got a few presents, including a remote control tarantula, which has been a hit. In the afternoon, we went to the park and threw a football around and Arch went to be early.

The whole thing was low stress for everyone, including the birthday boy.

So, if you’re considering throwing a birthday party, don’t do the bouncy house. Give yourself and your kid a break. Consider a lesson of some sort for just a few kids. And have an actual enjoyable day instead of an insane mess.