Friday, June 5, 2009

the birthday party conundrum

What do you do for a four-year old's birthday?

Every parent faces this, right? Do we have a party or take them someplace special with a friend? If we have a party, who do we invite? How big should it be? Do we have to invite the whole class? Do we have to invite THAT kid? Do we have to invite that kid's PARENTS?

We are facing this now. Owen will be four in July. He's old enough to be fully aware of this. He knows the date and will tell you if you ask. At his age, birthday=party. They are the same, inseparable. It's not your birthday if there is no party. I'm already anticipating psychic chaos when we tell him his birthday PARTY is on a different day than his actual BIRTHDAY. His little mind might crack.

But once we're past that, and assuming he's still functional, what are we going to do? Owen and Nicholas are three years apart. Nicholas will turn one about a month and a half before Owen turns four. We're not going to have a big blowout for the one-year old. I mean, he has zero clue. He'll be stoked about cake and ice cream, as this child lives for food. Other than that, who are all these people, and why is that thing on fire?

But for Owen it's a different thing entirely. He's a birthday party connoisseur now. He's been to so many he could plan the fucking things. He has strong opinions, some of which he has expressed out loud, some simply through his actions. Here are some of Owen's rules, as I understand them, of what makes a proper birthday party:

  1. Bouncy house? Yes.
  2. Cool toys and stuff scattered around for everyone to play with? Yes.
  3. Open presents at the party? Yes (we'll fight him on this).
  4. Organized party games? No. Absolutely no. Get that parachute away from me, I'll show you where you can pin the tail, and why is that dude wearing makeup?

So at least we have some clear dos and don'ts if we go the party route.

But is a party the best idea? Parties are expensive, and messy, and stressful. Somebody will end up in tears. Probably one of the kids, and quite possibly also me. When it's over we have to clean up and manage our exhausted children who live in our house and don't leave at the end. We could do it at an indoor playground, but we've done this twice before. Owen seems almost old enough to graduate to the next level of pay-to-play fun, but I refuse to take a child to Chucky Cheese who will not eat pizza. We've told him this. He says he'll eat pizza when he's four. We'll see. We could go to a park, but it's mid-July in Los Angeles. If it's 100 degrees, nobody wins.

So that brings us to Plan B - amusement park with one or two friends. I happened to land four free tickets to Legoland through work. I've never been, but folks tell me it's a cool place for young kids - better in some ways than Disneyland (less commercial and more age appropriate, and hopefully less crowded). So we're thinking we might invite a friend or two of Owen's to come along and spend the day there instead of a party. We'd still do cake and presents and stuff with the family, but no big thing. Lisa floated this idea to Owen, and he was into it. But I'm not sure he understands this would be INSTEAD of a big party. We'll see.

Whatever we do, I'm sure he'll have a good time. And the truth is, he's four - is he really even gonna remember this birthday? I sure don't remember my fourth birthday. I don't really want to try and out-party his friend's parties, and ultimately I'm not sure anything can top our day at the LA Department of Sanitation Open House. The day he got to drive sit in a garbage truck. They even let him blow the horn and run the thing that lifts the cans. I don't know about your kids, but next to spaceships and dinosaurs, garbage trucks are about the coolest thing ever.

Wish us luck with the birthday celebration. Whatever we do I expect you'll hear about it here before long.



  1. I've managed over the last 13 years to only have a handful of parties...but I know that I'm going to have to throw a sweet 16 and I'm sure that I'll will spend enough money combined to make up the fact that she didn't have a party every year. SIGH. Teenage girls suck.

  2. I'm currently avoiding baking the 60 cupcakes I have to bake for the people attending my son and his best buddy's 3rd birthday party this weekend.

    Hold me.

  3. First of all happy birthday to your adorable little boy. How about a small party with 3-5 kids of his age. Maybe you can take them to an indoor pool or something of that sort. bake cupcakes and screw the cake. instead of candy bags and party favors you can take them to the park and ask the park people if you can plant trees or something? I dont know LOL or you can just take them to the Legoland place

  4. I'm having a twin b-day party for ours who are turning 4 next weekend. It will be exactly 2 hours (1-3 p.m.). We will have self-directed games (chalk, bubbles, etc), some music in the background, cake, presents and a parting gift (candy apples).

    See you later, don't let the door hit you on the way out.

    Keep it short and sweet. Everybody wins.

    Good luck!

  5. I don't know how it's "expected" that these things get done in Cali. Heck, I don't even know how it's s'posed to go down in Winnipeg. But I never had the energy to do a party up "right".

    * A good rule I've heard is # of guests = age of child. We were beyond that before I heard that rule - we had always stuck with with six - plus your siblings, (siblings are a gimme) - but as the girls get older, it seems to make sense. I think keeping it small gets them thinking about who they *really* want to spend time with and not just racking up numbers (and gifts). Plus, if you're only inviting a select few, it lessens the chance that you'll offend by leaving someone out, because you're leaving a *whole lot* out.

    * We didn't start having real parties (i.e. other than family & *our* friends) until age 5 for the two girls (now 9 & turning 7). But we may be having something for The Boy who turns 4 later this month (Shh... I haven't talked about it with the Bigger Boy yet.)

    * One of my favourite venues has been the bowling alley. Our local-est one has party rooms - bowling for an hour (with bumpers, of course) and party room for 45 minutes. Then Get OUT! No mess, no fuss, no broken couch springs at home. We did the first 5 yo party at home and (I) decided Never Again. With an alley that can pull up the bumpers, 4 yo can have a great time. Not 50 4 yo, but certainly 8!

    * We've *always* (where possible, of course) had them open gifts in front of the giver. It reinforces that it was a gift and affords the opportunity to look the giver in the eye to say thank you. I am actually surprised that's an option.

    * My advice, since I've decided that you've asked for it, is reel it in NOW. IMHO, it will only escalate in future years, so keeping it small now will be an investment in your future sanity!

    * Also, a personal pledge that came from the one party we had at our home: What ever time the party ends, I will be there to pick up my kid ON THE DOT (or earlier). I owe it to the host parents... :-)

    Sorry for the ear-full. Somewhere in here (or maybe it was Twitter), I interpreted a request for opinion!

  6. wow. That was huger than I thought... sorry! [blushing]

  7. I wish I had some advice to offer. I think childsplayx2 had the right idea, though. Make it as easy on yourself as possible. And if he will go for the Legoland, DO THAT! That sounds like fun and SO much easier than a party. And that picture is very cute. Love the thumbs up. hehe :)

  8. Good luck. That's all I've got for you since I'm so far removed from that craziness. :-)


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