Ha ha, made you look. First of all, there will never really be a stress free birthday party if you are the one in charge.
But having survived Cole’s recent 12th birthday bash in one piece – here’s a few lessons I learned to alleviate some of the headaches…
- Make the invitations/thank you cards easy. I have a comic program on my laptop. I inserted a photo of Cole then placed all the pertinent information around it. I saved it as a PDF so I could email it to someone who was invited by the social secretary/birthday boy without my knowledge. Same thing goes for the thank you cards. I found a great photo of Cole and placed a simple note on it. I printed them out and he will address and sign each one and in the mail they go. No muss, no fuss!
- Invite a manageable number of kids. Listen to the Head GEM now as she totally falls on her sword on this one. I thought since we were having the party outdoors, I could invite a bunch of kids. Well, it was more costly and the social secretary/birthday boy added a few more to an already swollen list, leaving me with a ton of kids to entertain. I felt like a damn circus clown. The sad one.
- Schedule enough time for the fun. Again, my mistake was saying the party was only 2 hours but there was a method to my madness. See, in years past when the kids were younger, their friends’ parents would come and hang out a bit. Not this time. They came, wanted to swoop up their youngsters and get the heck out of there. Of course, throwing the party on Father’s Day weekend may have had a little something to do with that. Choose a non-holiday weekend.
- Leave some unstructured time. This is for older kids parties. In TV producing, we used to call it “phantom time” you know, because it just disappears. But basically with pre-teens they want to chill and pose and be cool. Give them time to do that as they try to impress their friends or whomever they may have a crush on that week.
- Don’t plan too much! Again, this one’s right out of this weekend’s playbook. I had the Minute to Win it games, the photo booth, the hot dogs and cake. Needless to say not all of it got done. I think we took one picture at the photo booth and I think that was with the lens cap on. Plan out on paper when you will do what, leaving the aforementioned ‘phantom time”. While they’re using that time to preen, you can use it to scream into a pillow in an effort to keep yourself sane.
- Hire a helper. My daughter will forever be my hero for what she did during Cole’s party. She was my hired gun and she took her job very seriously. I had her spreading peanut butter on 20 pieces of white bread, opening 25 packs of ping pong balls, chasing said ping pong balls during the game, keeping track of who was eliminated, keeping track of the air horn, which always found its way into the hands of a testosterone driven youngster and so on. I told her I would pay her 20 bucks. That seems woefully inadequate. She earned herself a raise.
- Be the parent who helps. If you head to a birthday party (like ours) and you see the host running around like her hair is on fire (like I was), don’t sit on the step and watch – offer to help. And don’t offer after everything is done (which happened). I know that’s not your job but I have to tell you the handful of women who pitched in can ask me for anything and they’re likely to get it. Babysitter on Saturday night, lock of hair, youngest child, all they have to do is name it!
- Test the games/activities out in advance. Sounds basic right? But leave it to me to go in blindly assuming it would all work, just the way it does on TV. Guess what? It did not. The kids were frustrated and so was I and ultimately I had to bag that game altogether. Luckily, in a moment of uncharacteristic genius on my part, I made sure I had a standby game ready to go. Sometimes I surprise myself.
- Make the cake and party favors easy. I know some people like to go all out with personalized party favors and a cake that looks like it came from the Cake Boss but I am here to tell you all that will go unappreciated by everyone. Well, maybe not you, who will have to take out a small loan to pay for a work of art that everyone will devour in 34 seconds. They’ll burp, perhaps loosen the top button on their pants, maybe utter “that was good” and it’s done. Trust me when I say, for a cake that will basically just graze the palate on it’s way to the small intestine, don’t bother! Warehouse store cakes are quite good and the folks there are practically artists. You can get theme cakes, photo cakes or just the plain icing and writing (what we did). We paid about 20 bucks for a half sheet of cake that was more than enough for our 25 kids with some leftover. Dangit. Regarding the party favors, three steps. 1. Buy bag, 2. Fill with candy. 3. Hand out.
- Drink wine after it’s all over. Lots of wine. Does this really need an explanation?
Remember a sense of humor is going to be critical to get you through the day – and if you add in a willingness to go with the flow, either because you’re easy going or just too tired to fight back, your party will be just fine. Good luck GEM!