November 04, 2013

Nine Easy Steps for a Successful Child's Birthday Party

This past weekend, I hosted a birthday party for my daughter's 9th birthday. Since moving to Texas, we have outsourced our children's birthdays to bounce places and play areas. This is always fun and easy, but often really expensive. This year, we decided to keep it in house. My daughter wanted a tea party with a real tea set and finger foods and fancy clothes and crafts. Every day closer to the event, she had more ideas and suggestions.

By the weekend before, I was a wreck. I'm about as crafty as a raw potato, how could I possibly do a real tea party? What on earth would I serve? What could I find for them to do? I had visions of bored little faces staring up at me quietly, looking around with disdain. I pictured my daughter crying in disappointment that all her friends had such an awful time. I borrowed things, I trolled Pinterest like a madwoman, I lost sleep and spent too much money. Here's what I learned and what I will now, hopefully, remember for next time.

1) Once the day arrives, they don't care. They really don't. You said, "party time!", they said, "yay!" and then you gave them sugar. Beyond that, it's all a blur, a backdrop against which they smear frosting and echo their high-pitched giggles.

2) See step 1.

3) You don't need "activities", not really. You need two bags of balloons. Blow them all up until you pass out, recover, and then do the next bag. Disperse said balloons across the room. That's it. That right there provides infinite activities all of which are a variation of "bounce, scream and pop". If you turn on some music, you have freeze dance (involving kicking balloons). If you give them markers, which I don't recommend, you have art (involving scribbling balloons and drawing on their own faces). If you do nothing whatsoever, you have screaming, laughing, running, volleyball-ing, tackle football-ing and general euphoric mayhem. Which leads to step 4.

4) You are not in control. Nothing you do, nothing you've planned, matters. Once more than four children have gathered in a room full of balloons and the promise of sugar, there exists not even the illusion of adult superiority. They are in charge. They own you. Submit.

5) They aren't hungry. Or, to be specific, they aren't hungry for anything INTERESTING (like all the infamous "finger foods" my daughter requested). Pizza, plain jelly sandwiches and, if you want to go all out, a basic fruit plate, some carrots and ranch-- these things will satisfy the masses with a minimum of dried out leftovers.

6) Cupcakes are better (i.e. less messy) than cakes. Cakes are prettier than cupcakes. Either way, they will only eat (or, in recent events, smear over their entire faces) the frosting. One mom I know just serves cupcake liners full of frosting. You decide.

7) Ask for no presents. Seriously. One of the best things we've ever done is request that, instead of gifts, people bring a small donation for a local charity. Take your pick: food pantry, shelter, Goodwill, animal rescue, whatever interests your child. The end result is an impressive display of giving and an impressive lack of excess. It's a good idea to open any family gifts after the party has ended, making the most of the lingering energy and still making your child feel special (which they are!). Settle down, kick some balloons out of the way and open presents from Grandma and Mom and Dad. Later, when you take the items to be donated, make sure your child goes, too. Gratitude is a gift in and of itself.

8) This step is for you, the parent, and must be executed with discretion. It is, however, absolutely non-negotiable. It is a successful party must. Open a bottle of wine before the 1st child arrives. Set it off to the side next to a fresh wine glass, away from prying eyes and curious fingers. As the door closes behind the last child to leave, fill the glass and drink it down as quickly as your nerves demand. Repeat as necessary.

9) Party bags, the two-edged sword of modern day birthday parties. If you don't want to do them, don't, but also don't be surprised if you hear about it from the children and even from a few less-than-tactful parents. If you do want to do them, do not, I repeat do NOT, fill them with candy. Or glitter. Or markers. Or glitter. You will invite the wrath of every single parent and create a pay-it-forward chain of party bag horror. They'll send your kids home with candy and glitter and markers and bubble gum. Then someone else will send the kids home with candy and glitter and espresso. Next thing you know your kid will come home with a glitter-covered puppy wearing a bubble-gum collar toting a barrel of chocolate-covered espresso beans around its neck. Stop the madness! Give out toy rings, bouncy balls and maybe something that lights up when you shake it. And, of course, balloons.

You've got extra.