Sunday, September 26, 2010

How to Host a Kid's Birthday Party Without an Anxiety Attack

That's my son in the middle, annhilating you with Silly String.
My son's birthday party was yesterday. We cleaned up our house, furiously cooked and decorated and then allowed it all to be eaten and demolished. Seriously. Right now, I am sitting in a pool of toys, deflated balloons, half-filled trash bags and sugar. My beautiful windows that look out onto a lovely view of the mountains below are speckled with Silly String. But, you know, it is fine. I don't care. Because Sam had an awesome, awesome party and it was something that he'll always remember.
Tips for having an amazing party:
1. Get thee a theme. At first, my son wanted to have a "History Party." This, my friends, was terribly tough because you can't find stuff to match that theme at a party store. You are probably thinking, "Well, Southern Belle, just use those creative juices and cook up some stuff." And that what I was going to do. But then we went to a party store, and Sam discovered the Star Wars stuff. This was perfect. We got the stuff we needed, all Star Wars themed and in 3D! It was easy to pick up and made the shopping/planning easier. If it wasn't Star Wars, we decided, we didn't need it. The only problem is that I couldn't find a cake pan for a Star Wars themed cake, so I had to improvise on that a bit. I ended up just drawing two crossed light sabers on the top of the cake which was about the easiest thing I could do (I can bake and ice a cake like no one's business, but a professional cake decorater I am not) and then plopping a Darth Vader toy that I found in the $1 section of Target on the top. Instant Star Wars.
2. Decide what is important. You can't do it all, surprisingly enough. Decide what is important to you. To my husband, it was making Sam's room clean and easy to play in, so he spent a lot of time making sure that Sam's toys were out of the floor and organized for easy playing. For me, of course, it was the food/cake. I seriously have nightmares about a member of my family having to eat some shortening shellacked monstrosity from a discount grocery store for their birthday. Decide what is important to you, and get help on all the other stuff.
3. Plan on not-planning. Kids will do what they want, regardless of what you have planned. What we did was to buy some "activites" (no planned games) and put them up on the bar (read: out of reach) from the kids. They could see them, and let us know what they wanted to do at any given time. We had Silly String, those little firecracker popper things that shoot streamers, a Darth Vader pinata and Star Wars coloring books and crayons. Try to pick at least one "quiet" activity they can do while they wait on the next sugar rush to hit. Also, don't forget that your kid has toys that they will want to play with. For instance, Sam has some light sabers and lighted sword thingies that were perfect for a party. We forgot about them, but Sam pulled them out to play with and the kids loved them. Go with what you got. Your kid may even find some discarded toy from years past that suddenly becomes SO FUN when played with with others. Or, they can take turns locking themselves in a wardrobe. Yup, they did that. But they had fun, so who gives?
4. Make sure you have food for kids and parents alike. The kids might want to sit down to some kind of actual meal (we had hot dogs), but chances are, the adults will just be sitting/standing around talking and will want a little snack. Plan on finger foods for them. One hit that we had for both age groups was fruit kabobs. Yup, just cut up fruit and put it on a stick and serve with some kind of dip. The adults liked it because they could eat it while standing, and the kids liked it because it was...on a stick. I just left the fruit out in my kitchen and made kabobs when I had a chance--they disappeared quickly and easily. Another thing to consider is dessert. Yes, you have to have a cake. We had two kinds--yellow cupcakes with chocolate cream cheese frosting and the big cake that was chocolate with white buttercream. But some kids (and adults) are not wild about cake. At one of my daughter's parties in the past, I made a simple berry pie (with frozen berries, natch) and everyone loved it. It was a nice counterpoint to the super rich cake and ice cream. Other ideas are cookies (this is what I fixed for Sam's party), banana pudding, or chocolate dipped frozen bananas. The good thing about cookies is that they can also be little munchies for the kids to nosh on as the party is ending up. If you are worried about leftovers, just send a bag home with each family. They will be appreciative, and you don't have to worry about having a lot of extra sweets hanging around.
5. Invest in a cute apron. I have a great one from Ikea with cupcakes on it. The reason this is on the list is that you don't want to be that parent who ended up not having enough time to shower because they were getting ready to party and lost track of time. You also don't want to mess up your new True Religion jeans with flying cake batter. So take a shower early in the day, pull your hair back into something nice and respectable, put on earrings and lip gloss, and then strap on the apron. This is not just for cooking. The apron can also comes in handy for last minute cleaning and planning. And it is a good reminder to folks that you made the stuff at the party, so to aim their comments at you!
6. Give your kid one present from you that they really wanted, but save the rest for later. We allowed Sam to open his gifts from the party participants at the party, but didn't want to make them watch him open all his other stuff. Plus, his actual birthday is on Wednesday, so we wanted to wait for that. We gave him one pack of Pokemon cards that he really wanted from us. He was excited, but it wasn't boring to the other kids. I have been at parties where the kid's present time took a good 30 minutes. This isn't fun for anyone but the kid getting the presents. Think of your guests and also the fact that your kid will want to have some excitement even after the party ends.
7. Relax! Adopt a laid-back approach to the whole thing even if you are not laid back in real life. Just let everyone do what they want and sit back and enjoy it. It is a party for Chrissakes, not a Middle East peace summit. Just be calm and those around you will adopt the same laissez faire approach.

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