Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Birthday Partying

I like to think that I'm a pretty fun mom, but parties totally intimidate me. So when Henry said he really, really wanted a party *with friends* for his birthday this year I had to gird up my loins. At first, all I could think was, this is going to be so much work! But then I changed my thinking to, this can be as fun as we make it. My mantra was Simple Fun. And a little bit cute if we can manage that, too.

I hardly feel qualified to dole out party planning advice; I just confessed to being "not much of a party person." But it doesn't take much experience to glean a bit of party-throwing wisdom.

Here's mine:

* Remember who you're throwing the party for. Sometimes I look at party blogs and see those elaborate dessert spreads and think, "who is that all for?!" Kids are just as happy with a few pieces of licorice and some Cheez-its as they are with gourmet macarons and homemade marshmallows. Don't get so caught up in all the pomp that you forget who you're really celebrating and trying to please.

* When it comes to entertainment - less is more. Simple games are best - a beanbag toss, a relay race, pin the ______ on the ______. If you're at a park (which I totally recommend) just turn the kids loose on the playground and let them play! A word to the wise: if you do decide to party at the park, choose one that is contained and facilitates easy supervision. I chose the worst park in town and felt anxious the whole time wondering if someone had wandered off unseen.

* When I first started planning Henry's party I didn't even consider a venue like the bowling alley or an indoor play facility, assuming it would be much more expensive than doing our own thing. But in talking to a few other moms, I discovered that the party rates for those places are more reasonable than I'd thought. And by the time you figure the cost of food and favors and paper goods and might not be as much of a discrepancy as you first imagined. And being able to just show up and turn things over to the party coordinator at KidZone (not to mention sparing your home the trauma of a dozen energetic six year olds) -- you can't really put a price tag on that!

* Anticipate siblings and stragglers :) I ended up having a bit of a goodie bag fiasco because I didn't have enough for the little brother of one of the guests. He was pretty distraught about it! I should have anticipated better and at least had a little something I could have offered him. (I ended up being short because a little boy who was playing at the park (the straggler :) just sort of joined the festivities and ended up taking a goodie bag.)

* Think like a kid; that's who you're trying to impress. I guess I kind of already said this with regards to food, but it applies to the whole affair. I know fabric party hats and vintage stickers make for great photographs, but kids, especially boys, really like things like silly string, bubble gum, poppers, noise-makers and punch-balloons. Give them what they want :)

And for a few specific details:

We made our own invitations. We did this because we had all the supplies on hand and because Henry loves to paint. It was a fun, rainy afternoon project for us; we are not above store-bought invites. I found some rocket ship clip art online, traced it, made 6 copies and Henry watercolored each one. I didn't take a picture of a finished invitation to show you, but I think they turned out really cute.

I also made some cupcake toppers because I wanted to. They were super simple. I used my circle punch and my star punch. It took me about 20 minutes to make 24 toppers.

We served cupcakes and Pirate's Booty - easy to transport, easy to serve, no utensils required. The kids drank water (I did not re-label the water bottles; I think that's ridiculous. But you might think it's ridiculous that we watercolored our invitations and made cupcake toppers for 6 year old each his own).

Henry was over the moon happy about how the party turned out. He had fun; he felt loved. So it was a success in all the ways that matter.

What's your best bit of birthday party wisdom?


liz said...

We are definitely on the same wavelength -- make the party for the kids, not to impress the adults. My other suggestions: hire your favorite babysitter to help, or get some grandparents or a young aunt or a friend. I always need more help than I think I do.

Also, I really like to feed kids something meal-like (hot dogs or pizza usually) but tend to overdo it -- one time we had hot dogs, chips, drinks, corn on the cob and watermelon, and guess who had about 10 extra corn cobs and half a watermelon left over? Keep the food simple! (I think the fruit and vegetable was me trying to impress the parents.)

I agree that having the party somewhere is usually worth the money -- we've had great success with bowling. Another idea is to rent one thing (like a bounce house) that will keep the kids busy in the backyard the whole time. We did a dunk tank one time and it was hilarious and totally worth the money. The kids loved it. Our kids only have a party every two or three years, so spending $100 on a rental doesn't seem so bad to me.

One last thing, my kids always think they need a pinata, and I've forgotten almost every time that you can't put hard candy in a pinata. It gets beaten to a powder. Maybe you're all smarter than me, but since I've done it more than once, thought I'd include that hint :)

Natalie said...

Your my kind of party thrower Em! Sometimes I look at blogs and think "Was this party for the child, or the mom's ego?" Not to be rude, there are so many talented, adorable ideas out there. But let's face it, kids...especially little boys, are usually the most excited by the tackiest things. :) Kool-aid. My boys think that's the nectar of the gods. I think it's disgusting, but hey, it's their party right? Thanks for keeping it real. Re-labeling bottles? Really?

Natalie said...

I just realized that I misspelled "you're"...embarrassing. :)

Lu said...

I appreciate your kids' party REALITY check! The party is for the kid, not for mom and her craftiness -- unless the kid truly loves that! Personally, even if my kid loved it, I think I would probably go a little bit crazy trying to put on some of the all-handmade parties I've seen around blogland.

Anonymous said...

This is great advice, and the party was so cute (and not overdone -- what a relief!) ... Thanks for sharing!

Bloom said...

Liz: Your practical advice is gold. Such a great suggestion to hire a babysitter or recruit help -- you always need it!
And thanks for the pinata hint, too. I didn't even think of a pinata -- would have been a big hit (pun intended :)

Natalie: your Kool-Aid comment made me laugh. And why am I not surprised that we're like-minded when it comes to party throwing? (wink!)

Robin said...

We do birthday parties for each of our four kids (well, I guess the 3-yr-old hasn't had one yet) every year, and I have learned A LOT over the years! I have learned how to give an awesome party on a shoestring budget (usually less than $50). Here are some of my top hints:

1. Don't start too early. I have learned that the bare minimum age to have an enjoyable party with friends is probably four, preferably five. Three year olds can't follow instructions, can't play games, miss their mommies, and occasionally aren't potty trained. This ends up in a lot of crying from both them and you.

2. Pick a theme, but don't overdo it. If your kid wants a Tinkerbell party, buy the more expensive Tinkerbell plates, but use plain cups, a solid tablecloth, etc. Let them pick ONE special themed toy to put in their goodie bags, and then get anything else (candy or toys) at the dollar store. Streamers and a package of balloons taped to the walls and hanging from the ceilings are simple, cheap, easy, and make the place look super festive!

3. Limit the number of guests! This is the most important thing to help keep your sanity and save your budget. I allow my children to invite one friend for each year they are turning. I can handle five five-year-olds just fine, but not fifteen of them! As my children get older and want to do more expensive things, like go to a party place, then they can only invite two or three friends.

4. Food: I totally agree that many people go overboard here. I have learned to put less and less emphasis on the goodies. For one thing, just getting all the kids to sit down long enough to eat is a real hassle. They just want to play! If you want to make a cool themed cake, go ahead, but for efficiency's sake, make cupcakes. It saves you cutting and serving time, which takes far longer than it should! Also, I have found that a remarkably large number of kids DON'T EAT CAKE! Using cupcakes often reduces the amount of wasted dessert. I can't tell you how many plates of cake and melted ice cream I have thrown away nearly untouched. And I always serve Sprite or lemonade! Call me a party pooper, but I never have to worry about red or purple Kool-aid stains on my carpet. I have never had a kid complain!

Robin said...

(Hee-hee, apparently my comment was too long for one post!)

5. Games and Activities: Always have something simple for them to do as guests arrive. Coloring a themed picture works great for little kids. Use some sort of party ice breaker game for bigger kids. If you choose to do a craft, keep it as simple and age-appropriate as possible or you will be helping every individual kid figure theirs out (we made a robot out of styrofoam cups and pipe cleaners once, and you wouldn't believe how long it took six-year-olds to figure that out!). Most classic party games can be adapted to whatever theme you choose. Some sort of treasure hunt or relay race is almost always a winner. You should have at least five or six activites planned, just in case some take a lot less time than you thought they would. But always be flexible--judge your audience, don't be afraid to skip some of the activities on the list and be sure to allow for some sort of free play time. One of my nine-year-old daughter's favorite parties was a "beach party" where they basically just played in the sprinklers the whole time! I've also found "storytime" to be a great way to wind the younger kids down at the end. There are plenty of princess, fairy, pirate, or other character-specific books out there that the kids get a big hit out of. We never do pinatas anymore. I think they're over-rated.

6. I should have said this first, but yes, absolutely get some help! Send whatever younger or older kids you can off to their friends or ask a neighbor to babysit. If you don't have a spouse, relative, or friend available, ask (in advance) if any of the guests' parents can stick around and lend a hand.

In summary, I agree that parties can be a lot of work, but the whole point of them is to make the birthday kid feel special and to create a cherished memory. All the rest is fluff. Good luck!

Barb @ getupandplay said...

My little guy just turned 2, so we're a ways off from having "friend" birthday parties. We do have a family party, which ends up being a pretty big crowd, though. Last year, I killed myself making homemade cake balls for hours for our ball themed party and was so exhausted that I missed a lot of fun things that I regret now (like getting a picture of me and my husband with our birthday boy!) This year, we kept it more simple- had the cake made by a friend, went bowling on a Saturday morning (the best time for my toddler), ordered pizza. And it was a blast!

jeanine said...

I love all your advice... and have to add a big AMEN to all of it. The simpler the better for kids. Sometimes I think the parties are more for the parents than the kids!
Also, have something for the kids to do while everyone is arriving! When we did William's dino party I had all the dinosaur toys out in the living room for the boys to play with until everyone arrived.... or you could have a coloring sheet, etc.

jeanine said...

ps. We also don't do a party every year! They get their first "friend" party when they are 5... and don't get "friend" parties more than every other year.

Joan said...

I did an over-the-top (at least according to me) party for James when he turned four and it was A LOT OF WORK. I promised myself never to do that again (at least not for my kids--perhaps for a wedding shower or something). Like you said, silly string and bubble gum and they are happy.
Thanks for keeping it real, Em.
If I re-label my water bottles for a party will you still be my friend?! hahah. j/k.

Shelley said...

I enjoy the birthday parties for my girls. THEY start planning for their next one as soon as one birthday is over. Yes, those ideas change 3,4, 100 times. But that is part of the fun for them. Following a theme is easiest for me. My girls help with the game planning and some decor. A low budgeted party is not hard to do, just get creative. Also, keep it simple. Like stated above, the kids just want to play. It's a party after all. :)

Shelley said...

Also, what frosting recipe did you use for the cupcakes. I love they way it swirls. Thanks!

Bloom said...

Shelley - (I hope you see this!)
I used Anne's butter cream recipe for the frosting. In her words: "For butter cream frosting, memorize this ratio (it makes perfect butter cream every time!): 1 stick butter to 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar to 1 T milk. (Mix the butter and sugar and then add the milk.) For 24 cupcakes, you'll want to at least double that recipe. (I triple it since I pipe on such a huge layer of frosting!)"

I just snipped the corner off of a ziploc bag and piped the frosting on.