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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