We’ve jumped the gun so many times as parents.
There was the time we took preschoolers camping. (They were scared, they had to go potty. Unzipping and zipping the tent a million times at night is less restful than you think.) When my husband tried to share a classic movie he enjoyed as a kid, “The Apple Dumpling Gang.” The result was a continuous Q&A that would make The Inquisition seem like a couple of questions. “Who is he? Where is that man’s mommy? Why are they in trouble? Will they get a time out?”
This line of thinking has also gotten us into wayward territory at birthday parties.
Now, I might be a birthday party purist. Or maybe a curmudgeon. I KNOW I’m a
crabby person teetering on the brink tired mom so maybe we’ll just leave it at that during this talk about parties. Oh, the birthday parties.
We’ve been invited to some expensive birthday parties for small kids in the two years we’ve lived in the States. To celebrate turning 4, 5 and 6, bouncy houses have been rented. There were two farm locations complete with pony rides for all. Live ponies with big round tummies. Ponies who, for the record, did not seem especially happy to see us. (And who could blame them? Sweaty kids in even sweatier Crocs climbing on with hands so sticky those ponies actually need to lather up with that horse shampoo Jennifer Anniston maybe uses.)
But that’s not all.
We’ve arrived bearing gift bags at pottery shops, gyms and rented grange halls. Don’t get me wrong. They’re nice, if exhausting, events (and exhausting is just part of the deal at these things). But for all the horseshoe favors and coloring sheet printouts, all this effort doesn’t seem to pay off for small kids. The problem being, the small kids.
Our four are tiny indeed, six years old and younger, and at these events, at least one of them will typically be too nervous to straddle ponies, have a hard time managing a paintbrush without so much assistance that it borders on a hostile takeover, and our preschoolers both blew off the teenaged gymnastics instructors’ obstacle course. There will be no shimmying through the tunnel for this crew.
Based on our experiences at these extravaganzas hosted elsewhere, we’ve decided something. For us it’s better to have parties at home.
I hope we haven’t disappointed anyone so far (and if we haven’t yet, there’s always next year!), but here’s the thing. It’s got to be smaller, more special and more doable. For me. If I am throwing the party.
We have four small kids and three of them just celebrated a birthday in the last two weeks. So I speak from experience when I say these are the new birthday rules we’ve adopted.
- Do not buy piñata. I fell into the piñata trap twice last year. It cost me $80. Both times. For what? Little trinkets that came ALLLL the way from China, just to be cherished for 26 seconds before making their way to living room rugs and by extension, the bottoms of unsuspecting parents’ feet. And in the kids’ beds. Don’t forget the van. There’s always a few “prizes” in there too. Also, it turns out that kids this age can’t even break a piñata open. After watching a group of four-year-olds take turns staggering around, each holding the stick like a drunken little Luke Skywalker, I finally had to take a swing myself to bust it open. No piñata. Ever. Again.
- Pick 1 fairly nice favor instead. We threw a pool party for my 6-year-old this year (and a kiddie pool or skip-n-slide would’ve been just as fun) and gave all our guests a little fish necklace that was made out of something close enough to silver for me to feel fine about. I bought them at a school fundraising auction for $45 (for a set of 10, a steal compared to all the crap in those piñatas) but you could do the same thing with a great paperback book, or nail polish, or a small Legos set, a mini first aid kit full of Frozen Band-Aids, or…nothing! I’d never heard of goodie bags until we started going to birthday parties in the US. We moved here from Italy a couple of years ago. We may do this next time.
- Food = 3 snacks, water and cake. End. At parties, the kids do not care about the food. And if they do, the party activities need to be stepped up a notch. A fruit plate will always be devoured and DIY veggie cups turn out to be the perfect complement. Fill a third bowl with popcorn, nuts or crackers and you’re in great shape. The ideal party beverage? Water. No one is allergic, everyone is allowed to have as much as they like and it never stains anything. Tart it up with slices of fresh strawberries or mint sprigs and plain ol’ water starts looking pretty festive.
- Plan 1 fun activity then let the kids play. Summer parties beg for outdoor games, like a slip-n-slide, water balloon toss, relay race, even a scavenger hunt. For indoor parties, there are tea parties, movies, musical chairs, dance-a-thons, Twister, cooking projects. When it comes to very small kids, they only have about enough attention for one organized activity anyway. Then they just want to play. Inside, outside. With all the toys. Save your energy; instead of planning a million activities, prepare to put all the toys away when everyone goes home because every last one of them will be dragged out before the cake is cut.
- Offer beer, wine and coffee for the adults. Just do. Everyone will thank you for it. (Almost as much as not taking home another little bag full of surprisingly expensive junk.)
One more thing. We don’t have huge guest lists at our parties. Inviting a handful of friends and their families allows us to actually talk to each of them while they’re here, and not get so overwhelmed with prep work that we’re tired before the shindig begins.
Celebrating our kids at these ages turns out to be so much easier than I thought. It’s like a giant playdate. They just want some balloons, a few friends and that one special song.
Pony rides can wait. At least until we reach the point where no one in our family thinks “Finding Nemo” is terrifying.
Which, based on my experience, may be a while.