My middle child loves his birthday more than I love mine, if that is possible. Like most little kids, he counts down the days until the big day, plans an ever-changing theme and writes a wish list of presents. My guy takes it a step further and drafts a timeline for the party and creates a sign for his pile of presents.
He might get some of his party planning interest from me. I love a theme and carrying it through like Martha Stewart taught us in the early days when she planned a daisy theme wedding for a staffer (does anyone remember the couple’s initials in daisies on the church doors?) I love picking out invitations. I love finding deals on favors. But I always make at least one mistake, and this year it was:
It’s not a kid birthday party without balloons. J.’s friends were treated to Build a Bear workshop, lunch at McDonald’s complete with a Play Place. Cupcakes back at home and Hoodsies. As the birthday boy walked into the dining room to sit in the seat of honor to blow out his candles, he said, “Hey. Where are the balloons?” This may make him sound like a spoiled brat and he was reminded of all of the great things he did for his birthday, but he was right. It is not a kid birthday party without balloons.
Other mistakes included:
Spending 75 bucks on a cake for a two year old. When my daughter turned 2, Maisy was her favorite show (created by author and illustrator Lucy Cousins). Maisy was not a popular show, so I couldn’t find a grocery store Maisy cake. I had to drive to a famous store in Brookline, Massachusetts called Party Favors, which not only creates beautiful cakes, but delicious cakes. I spent 75 bucks on that cake, plus the cost of gas to drive 45 minutes each way to pick it up. It was cute and all, but as my mother-in-law so kindly pointed out, “The kids aren’t eating it. I think it is too dense for them.” I was the dense one because kids don’t appreciate good cakes. I learned to save my money on the cake and buy them at the grocery store or if I couldn’t find the character, improvise by getting crafty.
Saving money+birthday parties doesn’t add up for the most part (with the exception of the last tip). I thought I would save money by only letting my son invite 3 friends to his party. Add his sister and her friend and we spent more money than we would have renting out a place and having a professional run it instead of carting 5 kids and our toddler all over the place. We’ve hosted birthday parties at our house the old-fashioned way, balloons, party games, cake and ice cream. Somehow we always spend 300 bucks. Which is partly because of the goody bags.
Goody bags suck. Goody bags, with their novelty pencils, crappy erasers, stupid plastic games that fall apart and random candy and stickers, suck. The recipient is happy with their loot for the first 5 minutes and the stuff is all over their parent’s car and house for the next 5 years. Some moms try to class it up by giving one present, equivalent to the bag of crap, like a stuffed animal or a wooden train whistle. This only pisses little kids off. They want the bag of stuff. And that bag of stuff costs money.
The birthday parties that are biggest hits cost the least money. Last year was a good year. We found a an old school bowling alley the next town over where we had 3 bowling lanes to ourselves and the party room cost 20 dollars to rent. Who cares that the party room had an old carpet and we had to run the vacuum when it was over? It was the best 5-year-old birthday party ever. For my lucky daughter with a summer birthday, we rented an outdoor pavilion at a conservation property near our house. The 8-year-old girls played games on the field. We hiked on the nature trail and came back and cooked up hot dogs on the charcoal grills. I am leaving the part out where I had to carry my middle son’s best friend through the woods because had a blister.
Birthday parties are work. They cost money. But our kids are only kids once. So don’t forget the balloons. What have you learned from throwing parties for your kids?