Children’s birthday parties say so much

Throwing a successful children’s birthday party is no easy task. I try to execute a party that will make my child happy and will be a healthy, and hopefully a learning, experience for the guests. With a little extra upfront planning, this is possible. They say that kids spell love T-I-M-E and I am inclined to believe that.

One friend ran a bunch of science experiments for her child’s birthday. Another gave away a birdfeeder as a loot bag. Another held a day of play in their backyard complete with an outdoor hotdog roast. These were memorable and in line with the family’s values.

For me, the most outstanding party I ever had (in fact the only one I remember at all) was a scavenger hunt my mom set up for us where we paired off on bicycles and had to comb the neighbourhood for small items and find the colour of the garage door at a certain address (for example). It must have taken her and my stepfather hours to plan, but the results lasted for so much more than three hours. In fact, I’m still reminiscing about it three decades later.

To reflect our values, and to attempt a memorable event, this year, we did an outdoor treasure hunt with clues spanning the area, all reached by snowshoeing and solving puzzles, riddles, or math problems. When they were good and tuckered out, the last clue was frozen inside an ice cube, containing a word scramble that led to C-A-K-E.

Granted a party at home is scientifically linked directly to ‘mess’ and indirectly to ‘cost’. You always have to ask yourself how much time do you have for cleanup before and after the party and how much can you spend per child to keep them at a offsite venue?

Reflecting on my childhood birthdays, I also don’t remember any of my gifts. Because of this I try to buy one or two coveted gifts instead of 20 things they will soon forget. I’m also becoming more and more anti-commercial as the excess around us grows to astonishing levels, so this year we asked for $5 for the birthday boy and $5 for the food bank. Teaching the kids to give to others less fortunate is another important lesson, so why not sneak in the learning for their birthday? One mother commented how happy she was she didn’t have to stress about buying a gift. Perhaps one guest will do the same for their next celebration?

Loot bags are another concern. I suppose these are to thank people for buying birthday presents? What if you don’t ask for presents? Kids have enough candy, and I don’t have the resources to get each child a gift certificate to Chapters.

Hoping enough children RSVP is also worrisome. One friend’s solution is to call the two most important guests first and get their availability. The rest, she said, were icing on the cake.

Speaking of cake, I challenged myself to find a recipe that was easy, delicious, and wouldn’t be left half-eaten on plates. Thanks to Paige, my daughter’s friend, I was hooked up with a root beer float cake recipe. I took it up a notch by filling the middle of the Bundt cake with scoops of ice cream and pouring extra root beer over top. It was a hit! Before I could finish serving out slices, the first guests served were asking for seconds. No food went in the garbage (but the plates did – it was worth the extra couple bucks for easy clean up).

Basically, that means that as parents, we’re stressing about the venue, entertainment, gifts, loot bags, the date, the cake, not to mention the cost and the mess. It’s a lot of worrying for a three or four hour event!

But if you’re lucky (read: do a lot of advance planning) at least one of the parties you throw will set the “party-bar” for your kids with their kids, and instead of the party lasting three hours, it will have a lifetime effect. After all, we throw birthday parties to show our kids that we celebrate their lives and that they are loved… and as wel know, love often involves worry, and a lot of work.

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