When I was a kid, two things were guaranteed on my birthday: a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken and a cake in the shape of an animal. At 51, party plans have been revised for a variety of reasons, not least of which are that as much as I still love the taste, the Colonel's recipe would probably kill me in my tracks, and given the limited number of animal species on the planet, my mainstream zoological cake options would have been used up a decade or two ago, leaving my already domestically-challenged wife to decide between ordering gateau de l'iguane from the local patisserie or whipping up her own boll weevil layer cake. (Cut a big slice of THAT baby and watch the kids run for the hills.)
Of course, birthday parties after 30 (30 at the OUTSIDE) should be low-key affairs. It's okay to make a grown-up fuss about milestone birthdays (40, 50 etc.) but for the in-betweeners, celebrations at our house are geared towards making it fun for the kids, something that can easily be accomplished with a few balloons, a cake, candles and a rousing rendition of "Happy Birthday" sung sufficiently in key to keep the two year old from bursting into tears and the dog from turning in a circle several times before pissing on the carpet. (By the way, I realize that at 51 I'm a little long in the tooth to have small children, but I have an attractive wife 12 years my junior who can't keep track of her own ovulation cycle.)
The first and last rule in making it fun for the kids is to remove alcohol from the equation. While they might not fully grasp the implications, kids are instinctively uncomfortable with liquor-fuelled screaming matches, impromptu wife-swapping and Uncle Billy falling down the stairs. Also, as amusing as a drunken toddler might be careening across the living room after finishing off a half-full rum and coke left unattended on a low-lying coffee table, it's probably also grounds for the wee one's removal from the home by child welfare authorities.
Gifting should be optional for adult birthdays, the notable exception being wives, on whom gifts should be randomly lavished throughout the year so as to accrue goodwill in the event that a well-meaning but professionally preoccupied breadwinner forgets his espoused's actual birthday.
I couldn't care less about getting gifts for my birthday, a relatively recent change in attitude that my family and friends honored this year by getting me a combined total of one (count 'em, one) present - a book called "Order of Battle: The Red Army in World War II." Sounds like quite the page-turner. I'll read it to Allie tonight, because there's nothing two year olds like better than Russian Front bedtime stories.
"And then all the Germans surrendered and were marched into captivity in Siberia, where most of them perished from mistreatment and malnutrition. The end. Sweet dreams!"
Like I said, it's all about the kids.