07/16/2012 03:30 pm ET | Updated Sep 15, 2012

A 'Reality' Birthday Party -- Before the Web

Each year as my birthday approaches, I think -- what can I do to make this year's the Best Birthday Ever? Then I roll back the clock and realize it may be a goal to meet -- since by any measure I had The Best Birthday Ever when I turned eight years old.

I know that sounds hard to believe, but as it turns out, I have proof.

Let's jump back to 1969.

Reality TV didn't exist yet. No Facebook. There wasn't even cable TV.

But there was a young boy who wanted to have The BEST Birthday EVER. And his mom was an author.

Hence, the birth of a reality photo book -- published by Doubleday.

The title: A Different Kind of Birthday -- starring me and my friends from Westbury, Long Island.

The idea was simple. What do kids love? Messy stuff, water, presents, ice cream. Oh, and throw in a wet dog for drama.


Now, given that I was eight, I don't remember the actual staging of events. Was it my idea? Or was it the work of the party's "producer" (my mom)? Probably a mix. But in the end, it was a great story, with a great party -- and great photographs that made for a fun children's book about how to turn the formula of a birthday party into something creative and fun.

I'm sure many a birthday party has been organized around my eight year old adventure book.

Flipping through the pages of the now 40-year-old book, you can see how much the world has changed.


Kids are invited to play slip and slide with a roll of paper and paint. Today that would be simply too dangerous to do without asking parents to sign a release form. What if a kid slipped and broke an arm? What about the costumes? The book happily supports the gender stereotypes of girls as ballerinas and princesses and boys as doctors and fighter pilots. I was "Dr. Bleed." And then there's the mounds and mounds of ice cream and syrup and fudge. No way would kids be handed a self-serve ice cream bar today. It's a sugar coma waiting to happen.

Which is to say, my eight-year-old adventure birthday in 1969 would be a legal and moral nightmare today.

And what have we traded it for? My presents back in 1969 were a truck, a puzzle and an airplane that flys ("really!"). I remember them all, and loved getting them. Today an eight-year-old's party gifts would be a video game, and a bunch of iTunes and Game Stop gift cards. Oh, and you wouldn't let your eight-year-old open them in front of their friends, for fear that you'd hurt someone's feelings. Gifts, it turns out, need to be opened in private. Go figure that out.

And then there's the issue of making a book about a party at all. Back then, we invited some kids over and fed them ice cream and took their pictures. Maybe the parents agreed, but surely it was just a bunch of neighborhood kids and a dog. Today, you'd need releases from the parents to allow the kids to participate and profit sharing or a modeling fee. Of course, it's a book, so they're be no windfall of profits -- but just the legal issues would shift the process from a casual gathering to a booked engagement with kids auditioning to come to the party.

Which is to say -- A Different Kind of Birthday couldn't happen today.

But I'm glad it did. The anthropological value alone makes it worth while. Oh, and without it I wouldn't have pictures like this:


Happy birthday to eight-year-old me.