My youngest daughter turned 4 and we had a “small” party for her at My Gym. Keep in mind, in our world, no party is small by normal people standards. We invite everyone. It is insane. We invite the class, and our friends with kids, and often, purely for selfish reasons, we invite our friends in other cities that we have not seen for sometime so we can socialize with them. We rarely throw a party so when we do, we go all out – after all, we just don’t see our friends that often- so we use our child’s party as an excuse to have some fun for … well, to be blunt, us!
I have written on this topic before. [see the following related posts on parties: Party Poopers, and Dancing With Myself] This weekend, we had our party, and then we attended a smaller, more intimate party as well. I have to say, the intimate party was awesome- the family was kind, everyone introduced themselves, and talk about just nice people. It made me think back to our party and how chaotic it was, and I do not remember introducing anyone or meeting that many new folks because I was stressed- the videotaping, the photos, the cake, the food, the constant – “can I get you a drink?” But, like every year, here are some more lessons learned to carry forward into future party-planning:
(1) Go simple- go small: It is okay to invite 5-10 of her closest friends and just do something super casual like the mall, build a bear, or jumpy castles. She is after all only 4. Keeping it simple makes it easy to enjoy. The chuck e. cheese party we had was the most enjoyable because while it is loud in there, the tables are all there to sit and hang out. You can hand out tokens to kids, and then just sit back and relax. The food is served, the cake is served, and there is really not much to do and parents can have a glass of cheap wine or beer too!
(2) Forget the goody bags: Goody bags are just junk. I got some good ideas this year to avoid them altogether. IF you want to do a giveaway and it is not built into the party, then just get scholastic books for $1- $2 and hand out the same ones to all kids. Another great idea I got from the same friend is a book exchange. Everyone brings a book of $5 or less and there is a book exchange… everyone takes something home. Another friend suggested that each kid bring a wrapped gift of $10 or less and you do a round robin type of gift exchange– where each kid goes home with a $10 gift- great idea! Another wonderful idea is a book exchange no matter what you do with gifts. People can bring gifts but they also need to bring a gently used book or purchased for $1 – $3, and then the goody bag is the book exchange.
(3) If you do give a gift, be kind, bring a gift receipt and don’t commit the faux pas I did. If you are recycling a gift, don’t accidentally leave someone else’s card or message on it. Boo! I heard this weekend that it is okay to recycle gifts. All moms do it, I was told. My husband hates recycling gifts. If our kids get them, and we do not want them, return or donate. He despises re-gifting. He is right you know. But if you do it, do it with pizzazz and style. Make it look cool – make it look put together or that you thought of this person when you re-gifted. Don’t throw some trash you don’t want in a bag and call it a present. Don’t bring a gift at all rather than re-gifting presents without a little class.
(4) Does it feel weird when you bring something back to the store and get store credit? We got something we already had so I took it back to the store and got a gift card. It felt weird. These were my daughter’s gifts, and I returned it. I do not know- it felt weird. I know it is okay but I couldn’t help but think of the parent who misappropriates their kids’ money. I think if you get a gift card from a returned gift, let your child learn the value of money by using it to get something for him or her and spend it wisely. Of course, it depends on the age of the child. Age 5 and older I think this makes sense.
(5) Another tid bit I got this weekend was very helpful – siblings. Who brings along siblings to a party for the other sibling? If the sibling invited is say 5 and the sister/brother is 18 months, this may be okay, but once kids are older, is it okay? What is the magical age you ask? Well, it depends on the circumstances too and also, the relationship of the family. I went to a party where someone was paying $15.00 per kid to build a bear and people brought siblings. It is one thing if you are family friends but if you are a classmate, and you bring a sibling, you really should just pay the cashier or the party host automatically without being asked. If they choose not to accept, that is one thing but that is a lot of money to spend on your kid plus their siblings. In one party we had for my kiddo several years ago, someone we did not know brought a neighbor’s kid so his son would have a friend to swim with. Here is the kicker- I never invited the son. He was the brother and his 2 year old sister was the only one invited. I ended up paying for 3 kids and an adult rather than 1 kid and 1 parent. It is one thing if they are family friends but you can rest assured that as a classmate, you will NOT be invited back – ever! We are trying to implement the same for our kids- one kid goes to the party and the other does not unless we are family friends, special buds etc. Here is an important rule: Please tell people in advance when you plan to bring a sibling. If one parent is out of town and there is no child care, it is more understandable or if it is a play date at a park or fun place w/ no admission fee. But, to expect someone to shell out $15.00 + for a sibling or a neighbor’s kid is wrong. Ask the person if it is okay in advance – but don’t just show up with extra kids. It is shocking.
(6) What is the etiquette of food at a party? Do you just feed the kids and not the parents? I think it is really important to feed everyone who is there. If you order 1 pizza to feed 5 kids and expect to have leftovers, you won’t. The worst party I went to ran out of food for kids, let’s not even talk about parents. Parents just stood around drinking bottles of water and going out to dinner afterwards. If you hold a party at lunch time or dinner time, do the right thing- feed your guests. If you do it at snack time, have snacks for all. I felt like it was more work to have snacks than just ordering a bunch of pizzas. Lesson learned – take the easy way out when you can. Bottom line: If you do it, do it right or don’t do it at all!
And while we are on food people, let me tell you my observations of all the parties were there was food present. Order ONLY cheese pizzas for kids- one out of 10 kid eats pepperoni. The veggie pizzas went first. As a vegetarian, I get offended when you order just meat and all that is left is meat. Order cheese pizzas. Why is it that at all the parties I attend, all that is left over at the end is meat/meatballs/meat trays? People are more health-conscious and they eat better. That means they tend to gravitate towards non-meat items. Order accordingly .
(7) RSVP – this french abbreviation is the bane of my existence in addition to the damn goody bags because no one seems to honor the RSVP date. As a result, the mom who invites people has to exhibit the utmost grace and dignity when someone RSVPs an hour before the party. Have extra crap bags handy (goody bags)- it is not the child’s fault after all. Be ready for 2 to drop, and 4 to add. If you are mentally prepared, you will not lose your mind and be tempted to write back a nasty response or say something nasty on the phone. Someone once told me- “grace” – “breathe…grace…breathe again.” It has worked. It is rude, and nasty and disrespectful what people do, but what you do with that is even more important because how you choose to handle it defines you. You have to live with yourself. If you are reading this and you are the mom who always consistently fails to RSVP on time or you RSVP yes and then don’t show up, please use this opportunity to perhaps self-reflect. Your actions do affect others. It is never too late to do the right thing. Your actions will not be forgotten but everyone understands you are human.
Birthdays come, birthdays go – if your kiddo kisses you at the end of the day and says, “mommy I loved it… thank you,” all the madness seems worth it.