When I was growing up, a birthday party consisted of friends playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey,” “Musical Chairs,” and “Duck Duck Goose,” topped with gifts, plus cake and ice cream. Who could ask for more?
Fast forward 25 years. When my kids were little, planning birthday parties felt more like running a marathon. If you didn’t have a theme for your child’s party–from Cowboys to Dinosaurs to Princesses–you might as well forget it. Family Fun magazine was a staple, chock full of ideas. Failing to throw an innovative party meant failing motherhood.
The pressure was on. I rose to the occasion.
You realize this means that EVERY single detail had to be tied to the theme: all games and activities, decorations, favors, and food.
DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this article is intended to induce guilt, real or imagined.
Desiring to give my kids the kind of party they’d always remember and thank me for, I jumped in, full steam ahead. Here are a few highlights.
Kaia’s first party had a “Beauty and the Beast” theme, decorated with Mrs. Potts, Chip, Lumiere, and Cogsworth. It also featured a big cardboard castle. My husband Tim was the Beast. At one point he walked in and scared everyone.
The next year, we had a Teddy Bear Picnic. Kids brought their own teddy bears and decorated a huge picnic blanket (an old sheet) with fabric crayons. Among other activities, we had a scavenger hunt for the bears.
At Audrey’s Cinderella party, girls arrived and immediately put on ball dresses (from a bunch of dress up clothes) and later feasted on a castle cake, courtesy of my dear friend Norma. The one boy who came was elected to be Prince Charming. Lucky him.
On party days, Tim ensured that activities went smoothly. He enhanced the celebratory atmosphere, shined in crowd control, and helped clean up afterward.
In addition, many thanks to my sister Carol for the success of many parties. Not only did she drive her kids up from Chicago to join us, but she often took over the games and corralling kids so that I could take pictures and work behind the scenes to keep things rolling.
Twice, Audrey wanted a “Wizard of Oz” theme. The first time, Kaia and Audrey drew life-size Dorothy and Scarecrow figures for “Pin Toto on Dorothy’s Basket” or “Pin the Patch on the Scarecrow.” Three years later, eight girls showed up as either Glinda or Dorothy. I guess nobody wanted to be the Wicked Witch of the West.
Audrey’s birthday is in the winter. Sometimes that involved making snowman crafts or Valentines.
When Colin was four, his favorite show (besides Mister Rogers Neighborhood) was Blue’s Clues. I must have cut out 100 blue paw prints for a game. Of course we had a Blue dog pinata.
The next year we had a Farm Animal theme, complete with a Pig cake.
We were in Florida for Jeffrey’s 5th birthday. His grandma asked what kind of party he wanted. He requested a Sponge Bob party on the beach. Thanks, Grandma!
The next year, Jeffrey had a Pirate party. The kids dug for “treasure” in the sandbox and “walked the plank.” Outside during party preparation that morning, I smelled fish in the air. Odd–we didn’t live anywhere near a lake, though the smell fit perfectly with our pirate theme. My nose led me behind the garage where a neighbor had dumped a pile of fish from his boat. Oh, my!
When we lived in Milwaukee, my husband Tim started an annual tradition on 78th Street. For summer birthdays, we pulled out all the toy instruments and any kitchen utensils, pots, or pans that could double as instruments. Then we lined up the neighborhood kids for a birthday parade. Afterward, we served snow cones.
My parents usually came from out of town for my kids’ birthdays. So, besides the party with friends, we had birthday dinner with Grandma and Grandpa. This stretched the celebrations in a birthday week instead of just a day. One dinner was a luau–just can’t escape having a theme. Maybe it’s an addiction. Every event had to be better than the one before. Exhausting.
On top of the parties, yearly I made a treasure hunt for the kids to find their presents from Tim and me. They’d look for clues and perform tasks before locating and opening a gift. Though time-consuming, I loved doing that. It slowed down the gift-opening and made it more enjoyable for all.
As the kids got older, I said ENOUGH. I was done with themed parties where every detail had to fit together like a 1000-piece puzzle. Instead, the kids had one friend over for a sleepover. But we still made a fancy cake.
Burned out on home-made birthday parties, I succumbed to Chuck E. Cheese.
Once, Jeffrey had a Garage Band party. He and three boys sat around making “music” in front of the TV. They didn’t care about themed games and cakes. Yay!
No Escape From Parties
However, after I banned complicated birthday celebrations, Kaia started planning other kinds of gatherings: New Year’s festivities, Valentine’s Day parties, craft days (dubbed Camp Moore), and so forth. I realized I had a daughter who thrived on this. Thus, we ended up throwing more parties than before the ban!
She even planned at least two “surprise” birthday parties for me. She was probably ten for the first one. Unbeknownst to me, she invited about six of my friends over. The day of the party, she asked me to run random errands that would take at least two hours. (Of course I was suspicious by then). During that time, she baked and arranged a smorgasbord of treats and decorated the living room with Audrey’s help. It was the sweetest thing!
Not surprising, Kaia went on to plan major events at her college, do part-time wedding planning post-college, and worked as an event planner for Chattanooga’s Chamber of Commerce for three years. She’s a natural. She does with ease the things that cause me much fretting.
A Bit of Serendipity
Several years ago, the tables turned. Tim planned a birthday gift treasure hunt for me! Colin and Jeffrey were in high school, so they were involved, too. It started with searching around the house and ended up across town at Half Price Books.
Tim told me to pick any books I wanted. After browsing, I picked the L. Frank Baum biography. That led me down a whole new path in my writing ventures. More on that another time.
What are your favorite birthday party memories? Either yours or your kids. Or . . . any party disasters?
I’d love to hear from you!