Tuesday, June 1, 2010

How To Throw A Wonderful Kid's Birthday Party

My two older children (ages 4 and 6) have birthdays ten days apart. So it makes sense to throw one party for the two of them.  A little girl down the street also has a birthday right in between our two (the daughter of my amazing friend Ellen). Rather than have three Saturdays in a row sucked into birthday party mayhem with practically all the same kids at all three parties – we decided to throw a triple birthday extravaganza. One very big, chaotic, ridiculous cluster of a party that would make Perfect Mommy and Martha Stewart throw up a little.

It seemed like a really good idea at the time.

And if I’m being honest, it was. We threw a ginormous bouncy house birthday party for maybe 40 kids all for under $300. And the children LOVED it. And it was all outside on Ellen’s front lawn. And it was supposed to rain but instead it was sunny. The kids all had a blast and got their faces painted and beat the crap out of a piñata and then got meth-ed out on candy and cupcakes and then they went home.  And it was great to have someone to share all the work and stress and expense fun with.  Also, stupid Kate was in Texas visiting her sister, so she was no help at all.

So, here are a couple of lessons learned that I thought I might share so that you too can throw an affordable, fantastic children's party. You may already know these things if you are (a) not an idiot or (b) not Lydia.  But anyway, here goes…

Engage in Careful, Assiduous Planning:
Ellen and I spent hours picking the date, noodling details of what, where, who and when. Then came the research – where to rent the bouncy house, the best price, what kind of snacks and drinks. We made lists and a budget. Then we forgot all about it because it was a month away and then I lost the list until the day after the party was over.

Four days before the party found me staring at a now useless stack of invitations and frantically emailing and calling people, praying that any of my kids’ friends would actually be able to come.  One day before the party found me going to Party City and Costco and Walmart and the grocery store and the Bouncy House place (with my raging B solidly in place) dragging along all three kids in a van so dirty and crowded with random crap that strangers may have suspected me of having some sort of van-related hoarding problem.

The Cap’n (hilariously) thought all the last minute racing around was intentional: “It was smart of you to wait until the last minute when you knew the weather would be good, so you didn’t buy a bunch of stuff you couldn’t return or make a lot of extra trips. Good thinking.”

Ummm right. Thanks, honey.

Line Up Lots of Help for the Set Up and Clean Up:
For our party, there was a ton to do for set up. The party was supposed to start at 10am. Early, I know but you see then it’s all over early. And that's important because that degree of stress cannot be sustained all day. Normally, I would say this is a good job for the Daddies, but often they are conspicuously absent during this phase (more on that later).

Ten minutes before the party found me and Ellen trying not to shriek at our wildly geared-up kids while simultaneously blowing up a Bouncy House, lugging tables and chairs, carrying snacks, busting open bags of ice, all while sweating balls on the hottest day of the year so far and praying it didn’t look as disorganized and crazy as it felt. Then the families started showing up.  All the parents I knew on a first name basis I put to work. I used a begging and pleading tactic that is totally ineffective on my children, but seems to work on adults because they fear that level of desperation.

Shockingly, it all came together by about 10:15. Then Ellen asked me, “Do you have the release forms for the bouncy house?” Oh snap. The husbands said we had to have a release form for every kid so they could bounce and we would protected from liability. I hate that word. I mean I'm pretty sure it's really just Daddy-speak for "NO".  And the dang Bouncy House place didn’t have release forms when I was sure they would (more on them tomorrow). So I ran over to Ellen’s computer and typed up the following form:

For the post-party clean up, we basically threw everything out.  Including ice, ten pounds of candy and a lawn chair.  We were so tired and it was so hot that throwing it out seemed a lot smarter than actually putting things away properly or cleaning stuff.  At that point we were too hot, sunburned, exhausted and stupid to be thinking clearly.  Don't judge me.

The Party Itself Will Fly By So Take Lots of Pictures:
First of all, even though I told every single parent that they were expected to stay at the party, about ten dropped off their kids and peeled out faster that Dale Earnhardt Jr.  I also told every parent that it wasn’t sibling-inclusive (because of the possibility of little guys getting slammed in the Bouncy House), but there were about fifteen random kids who had not been invited. And they were all like 14 years old (the party was for 5-7 year olds) and they kept rolling their eyes and telling me did I realize the Capri Suns weren’t cold. And could I kick the little kids out of the Bouncy House so the big kids could bounce for a while without them underfoot.  I wanted to toss them to the curb but I couldn't - because their parents had already left.  Stupid jackholes...

I thought face painting would be a great idea. Except that I was too busy running around chasing kids and popping popcorn to actually paint more than three faces.  I ended up begging my two Girl Scout co-leaders to paint faces for me and they were all wehateyoulydia “OK fine, but we don’t know how to…” and then I ran away from them to beat a 6th grader off a 3 year old in the Bouncy House. Then I started seeing kids walking around with large multi-colored smudges on their faces, so I asked one what the smudge was supposed to be.  The little girl looked indignant and was like: “IT’S A DANG BUTTERFLY, Miss Lydia. YOU DREW IT.”

One hour and fifty minutes into the two hour party, I remembered I had a camera.

Leverage the Utility of the Daddy:
Daddies can actually be really helpful. I hear. Ellen’s poor husband was so punch drunk from exhaustion that he was practically slurring his words. Because his boss decided he needed to work a very special 12 hour shift – from 6pm to 6am. Then problems with mass transit gave him a three hour commute home.  So he was done.  He woke up, came downstairs, kissed his wife and his daughters, ate a cupcake and staggered back upstairs to bed.

The Cap’n decided he would help by taking the baby and going to buy a piñata. He left to run this very important errand ten minutes before the party started and came back an hour into it. So yes, we used husbands to get things done. Just not our husbands.  Every time a daddy arrived with their child, we enlisted them immediately.  I’m pretty sure they will not be coming to our children’s party next year. Oh well.

I would have killed my husband for his absence but for three things:

1) He came bearing $1,000 worth of Starbucks including a Venti Ralph Macchio for me.
2) The piñata was pretty awesome (even though I didn’t think we needed it).
3) He was on baby doody duty the whole time.
The piñata was great because the kids loved it and they all got to take some candy home (and y’all know how I feel about goodie bags). And because it was the perfect Coupon family pinata in that it was beaten to a pulp and its head fell off and the “rope” broke so we had to fashion a noose out of Target bags and string him back up.  I found out later the rope was actually part of my favorite apron, that got cut off when there was no twine to be found.  I’m not kidding. Look at the picture.

Remember to Teach Your Child the Value of Good Manners:
Of course, I did this successfully as well.  I used the party as an opportunity to instill good manners in my offspring. I taught them to greet their party guests. And make sure they said goodbye to everyone and graciously thanked everyone before they left. Also, I modeled good behavior by asking every single adult there to work their arses off by schlepping heavy things in 90 degree heat. I will probably also wait three to four weeks to send thank you notes, because I'm an idiot and have already lost the list with who gave them what.  I also made sure that the children understood how fortunate they were to have a party and friends and gifts and cupcakes.  They are very lucky indeed.  Their screaming, sugar melt-down, end of the day tantrums really let me know how truly grateful they were. 

Sigh... I just love making memories.

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  1. I am sorry to laugh at you follies, Lydia, but this is hilarious! My husband and I sat on the couch and cracked up reading this. Partially because we just threw a 6 year old's birthday party in 90 degree heat and thought that it would be a good idea to serve fudgsicles (which in that heat, melted immediately upon wrapper opening). I don't think that the parents were very overjoyed to receive their children back covered in chocolate.

  2. YES! We did a joint party - at a HUGE soft play area. 2 bonuses - did not pay/plan by myself and did not have to clean OR clean up since it was not my house. Will definitely be doing that again next year!!

  3. 3-4 weeks for Thank you notes?! You go girl! It took me 2 months after each of my kids parties to get them out!

  4. Lovelovelove this post, and totally concur about the siblings and/or random kids. Last year I threw my daughter a bowling party, and rented the "party room" in the back. Little did I realize that the room came with squatters...3 girls whose parents apparently spend all of their free time and money in the bar. These girls joined in the games, ate cake, and were surprisingly well-behaved, until I told them that I did not have goody bags for them (yes, I know goody bags are the devil's creation, but my daughter made them herself). The squatter girls threw a holy fit and ran to Mommy and Daddy, who came and got in my face, saying that it wasn't fair for everybody to get bags except for their girls.

    So I squared up, saying that the girls should not have been there in the first place, they were not invited, but I gave them cake and let them play games because they obviously had nothing to do or eat. And then I threatened to call the cops. Mom and Pop Squatter left, but unsurprisingly, left the girls there and went back to the bar. D-bags.

  5. You know, I've heard that if the people are there when you open the gifts (and this is for kids parties only) and you thank them in person, then you don't have to send out thank you cards. But I could just be hoping it true what my family told me since I so plan on not sending out thank you cards from my daughter's first birthday.

  6. Sounds like a party I would throw!! I am forever late and off task and even when I plan a month in advance I still forget half of everything and spend the day of the party running around like crazy!!

    Also? Joe would totally have gone for the pinata and not come back until the end of the party and he wouldn't have thought of Starbucks!

    Know how I fixed that? I throw hockey/ice skating parties and I invite the parents to stay and skate. Surprisingly more parents stick around than leave and dad loves hockey as much as the kids do so he sticks around too!

  7. Thanks...this was so helpful! My almost 4 yr old twins bday party is 3 weeks away...EGADS! I am almost sorry I read this as now I remember what I have in store for me...makes me tired just thinking about it.

  8. Your release form is amazing. Want a job? :)

  9. We had an elementary graduation bbq Friday for my son. His sister invited her friends so I had a yard full of tweens, rocking out to Immabe and pissing off the neighbors. I managed to pull this party together in 24 hours because the date I wanted got taken over by a friend's son's birthday party closer to where our guests live. I figured nobody would come out here next week so I crammed it into the next day. Then none of those people showed up anyway.

    In addition to that, I also forgot I had a camera and took a total of two pictures.

    But my son was happy and encouraged about completing a school milestone so that's okay!

  10. OMG..... DO I REALLY NEED A RELEASE FORM FOR THE CHAOS THAT WILL REPLACE MY BACK YARD IN ONE WEEK???? Oh lord help me. And if the lord cant help... tequila straight up.

  11. The most awesome part is that you threw a party that involved a release form. Just because you made it (and note Law & Order) doesn't make it less valid. I love it. I wonder if we can just start making forms like this up for summer camps when we can't find their special "legal" form??? :-) Hmm... how can I use this in my free months pre-kids?...

  12. It looks like you had a great party. Looks so happy. I love the theme too!

  13. I'm a 56 year old Nana, and love your post! It brings back such fond memories of surviving the raising of my darlings who have now bred and produced me GRANDCHILDREN!!!! They are the best! Anyway, when my oldest was in kindergarten, we lived on a farm in rural Idaho -- the school bus pulled up and ALL 26 kids in her class got off the bus for her birthday party that I had enough food and stuff for just the girls. Teacher said, "If you invite one, you have to invite them all". So they ALL came! One little darling, who now has bred and produced lots of little mini-me's, was pissed off that he didn't get as much candy from the pinata as he thought he should. "I'm never coming to another one of your parties" he screamed.... I screamed back "GOOD, because you're never going to be invited again." (right in front on a group of moms) Not a pretty scene!

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