Sometimes my half-baked planning works out.

Because I was in Sweden for my younger offspring's birthday, and because my older offspring's birthday is nowhere near the school year, we gave them a joint un-birthday party today. Each was allowed to invite eight friends. Of these, a total of five attended (plus a younger sib), but there was some suspense about what the actual turnout would be due to low RSVP rates. Summer vacation can be like that.

Food is pretty straightforward for the age-range involved (4 to 7): raw veggies and dip, chips and salsa, Smart Dogs in blankets. Younger offspring and I squeezed a bunch of lemons from our tree and made a gallon of lemonade. For dessert, cupcakes, brownies, fruit, and ice cream.

The challenge, however, was figuring out activities that would entertain kids in two different age groups (which, for the purposes of playing, they are) for the entire three hours. We did not want these kids making their own unsupervised fun around the house or yard, but the standard party games didn't really seem like what we were looking for. Pin the Tail on the Donkey can get awfully competitive, and a Piñata was out, because I think dizzy blindfolded kids waving bats around is asking for trouble.

Also, it's been very hot here lately.

I ended up deciding on three "structured" activities:

  1. Face-painting. We already have face paints, and kids of different ages seem amused by it.
  2. Water-play in the back yard. Squirt guns would have been serviceable, but younger offspring's school has a "no toy weapons" policy, so I figured arming younger offspring's friends might have untoward consequences. I ended up getting brightly colored plastic squirt bottles from a craft store instead. They were a dollar each -- cheaper than the squirt guns I had seen, and with larger capacity, too.
  3. At the craft store I noticed fabric markers, and so decided that "draw-your-own-T-shirt" could round out the non-eating activities.

The guests, of course, didn't arrive all at once, and I was still hulling berries when the first ones arrived (which meant I wasn't immediately available to paint faces). So we started the kids on the T-shirt decorating. Each child who walked in was handed a T-shirt and set to work on it. They all finished before lunch, so I threw them in the dryer for 30 minutes to "set" the designs.

After lunch (in the back yard, of course), the children grabbed the squirt bottles and commenced a water battle of epic proportions. At first, owing to the heat and the bright sunshine, they gloried in the drenching. But after about thirty minutes, most of them were ready not to be soaked ...

... at which point, we had a dryer full of dry T-shirts, one per child.

I swear, I did not plan these two activities to dovetail this way (although the parents in attendance with younger offspring's friends seemed to think I had).

In the remaining half-hour, we had dessert, presents, and goody-bags, after which all the party-goers left right on schedule. We didn't even get to the face-painting.

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Reminds me of the first birthday party that I had to plan. I was terribly worried, and planned something like 8 activities. They probably did three of the structured activities, then spent the rest of the time splashing in a little pool and running through the sprinkler.
The thing is, kids already knowhow to play. It is us adults who've forgotten.

Hey, I haven't forgotten how to play.

However, in these parts it sometimes feels like there's a birthday party arms race, what with the piñatas and bouncy houses and animal shows, or the gymnastics parties or ballet parties (at the studios), or the swimming parties (at the aquatic center), or the dreaded Chuck E. Cheese's (which children love but which feels like a casino to me and leaves me in shock in the aftermath). You wonder, based on these adult notions of What A Child's Birthday Party Should Involve, what kind of expectations the kids internalize. Will I really be able to get away with a largely unstructured back yard lunch/cupcakes/ice cream gathering?

So far, at least, the answer is still yes. And, in case that changes, I've already made my peace with being the uncool parent who doesn't authorize whatever cool thing all the other kids are doing. I had parents who were uncool in just that way, and I turned out alright.

Your comment about the 'birthday party arms race' is spot on. Every recreational/entertainment establishment around here has gotten into the party business: pools, bowling allies, video arcades, gyms....

My daughter has a rather unusual birthday situation because, owing to the circumstances of her adoption, she ended up with TWO birthdays, the actual biological one and the second, official one, which I got into the habit of calling her 'paper birthday' to stress to her that whenever she filled out any sort of form she was to use the date of the official 'paper birthday' rather than her biological one. Anyway, we got into the habit of celebrating her birthday twice, and I think you would really have appreciated how we celebrated her official one. Since it was her 'paper birthday party', all the guests were asked to bring gifts that they had made out of paper or cardboard. Each year my daughter would select a theme--e.g., bears, bees, the ocean--and the guests would duly arrive with all kinds of fantastical constructions based upon that theme. There WAS a kind of arms race, I suppose you could say, because each year the gifts got more and more creative. There was plenty of 'ooohing' and 'aaaahing' during the opening of the gifts as the guests had a chance to appreciate the cleverness of their fellows (sometimes with an assist from parents, I suspect).

The party also included art projects on the deck (thank heavens her birthday is in mid-May!) that were tied in with the year's theme. The guests would always make things that they could take home.

Oh, yes, we DID have a piñata each year. We made one at home--hey, papier mache, right?--and it always tied in with the year's theme.

The cake was homemade, too, and decorated in keeping with the theme.

(Oh, dear, now I am wishing my daughter hadn't turned seventeen.)

Glad things came together in such a felicitous manor. You gave a fine party without the obsession seen in your maternal parental unit in her years of full-time motherhood.

We're glad that that your guests were in the relatively "on-time" category. Our least favorite parents were the ones who dropped an attendee off well ahead of party time, or picked same up well after the nominal end of the party. And you can guess what kind of kid it was that the parents wanted to keep out of their own home as long as possible.

Please note that you were one of a multitude of siblings, and so an "arms race type birthday party" was not even a possibility. But with the great outdoors available at party time you have a range of possibilities. decorate your own cupcakes, water-balloon target practice, treasure hunt [where the offspring help construct the clues], a taffy pull, and chemistry lab demos are a few that come to mind immediately.

HAPPY UNBIRTHDAY to the F-R offspring from their "uncool" Grandparents.
p.s. I never say "I turned out OK", since I still consider myself a work in progress (and hope I still have time to keep evolving).

By Super Sally (not verified) on 26 Jun 2006 #permalink