My mom adventures in Fort Collins


Thoughts on kids’ birthday parties

Up until this past weekend, I had never hosted a birthday party for either of my children that included anyone other than our family and extended family. Once, three years ago, I offered cupcakes to the playgroup that Scout and I attended (back then, it was just four mommies and four kids) since her birthday fell on the day of the week that we all got together.

The birthday girl

That’s it. Once upon a time, I thought, “What’s with all the hullaballoo? Why the need to create a three-ring circus when all kids want is to hang out and play?” Furthermore, the expense involved with some of these shenanigans seemed simply ridiculous. In the past, I’ve attended a birthday party for a one-year-old with more than 100 attendees, a birthday party at the birthday girl’s home that included a quasi-build-a-bear workshop, a few cutesy game-playing homespun deals, and a couple that took place at Chuck E Cheese or equally kid-oriented locations.

So, imagine my surprise when I suggested months ago that we have Scout’s fifth birthday party at Pump It Up, an indoor playplace filled with bounce-house-type inflatables. Immediately, Scout loved the idea. With Cory’s hesitant approval, I decided to proceed.

My number one reason for having a party for our girl outside of the house? Well, it’s her turn. You see, my father-in-law has hideous allergies and truly shouldn’t step into our home due to our dog (we had a colorful Thanksgiving a few years ago that nearly resulted in a 911 call due to a severe asthma attack).  Since Scout has a June birthday, we’ve always gotten away with a simple outside bbq. However, Ruby has a November birthday, so we’ve opted to have hers at a local rec center the past two years. In the interest of equality, I thought we should offer Scout the same opportunity.

I called a few months ago to secure the date with a $50 deposit. A few weeks before the party, I sent out online invitations.  I invited the entire pre-school class, several siblings of the pre-school class, our extended family, and several other family friends. I think the guest list was nearly 31 kids (not including the adults I specifically invited and others who would likely accompany many of the kids). Have I mentioned that we had 11 guests at our wedding? No, seriously, I have no idea what I was thinking with that guest list.

As the RSVPs started to roll in, I got panicky. The place has a policy of not allowing more than 45 people at the party (I got wind of this AFTER I’d invited all these people). Thank the Lord that it was summertime and many people had other plans. Sweet Mary, how awkward would it be to rescind invitations to your five-year-old’s birthday party?

In the end, this was how it worked: I had a little list of items not to forget which included the cake, a knife, candles and a ton of extra socks for kids who might forget them (it is apparently a huge hygiene or safety concern not to wear socks on the inflatables). When we walked into Pump It Up on Saturday morning, I handed them my stuff and they took it from there. Each one of the staff members introduced herself to me, and those women worked hard. Ten minutes before we transitioned from the play area to the “party room,” one of the staff members showed me how she set up the room, seeking my approval. I didn’t have to set up a cup or hand out one napkin. The entire party was taken care of for us, and we were able to enjoy our time instead of running around like a pekingnese on ritalin (as I am apt to do). At the end of the party, a staff member handed me a list of gifts and gift-givers and stack of thank you cards. In the end, it wasn’t cheap, but it was money well-spent. I am thrilled that I gave the birthday-party-machine a chance!

Here’s my new approach to birthday parties:

1. Above all, have fun.If you need outside assistance to accomplish this, so be it. I thought the age-appropriate fun of bouncing around like superballs proved fantastic. The kids never seemed to tire of the action. Had I had the party at my own house, I think we might have lost a few after the third round of duck-duck-goose.

Tell me honestly, would you rather box in a ring with your friend or play “Pin the tail on the Donkey”?

2. If you can’t handle the details, leave the details to someone else. You may not need a party-planner, just an awesome friend or an establishment that does this gig all the time. I loved the idea of getting everyone together, but when guests arrive at my home, I typically lose sight of some important aspect of the party (like seeing that everyone has drinks, for instance) because someone has asked me for a band-aid and I’m off tracking that down. I also delegate very poorly. By hiring someone to do this for me, I’ve suddenly lowered my stress level (and therefore, everyone’s stress level).

Cory and my niece coming down the slide

3. Keep it simple, keeping in mind what simple means to you. Kids like a party in their honor, but it can get over-whelming. The party attendees typically need some sort of sustenance, not necessarily a four-course meal. Goody bags are intended to be a token, but too often they’re a bag of plastic crap. In the end, our party consisted of 18 kids and assorted adults. I cannot imagine having more than this, and would readily admit that the guest list I put together was overly ambitious. What I did get right was just serving juice, cake and ice cream and skipping the (overpriced) pizza. The party was from 10 am to 12 pm, and I put a gentle note on the invitation that we would not be serving lunch, but would serve a snack. I had purchased a ton of simple paperbacks through a Scholastic book order, so each child picked out a book as a take-away gift rather than a goody bag.

Party attendees–all these kids, and I didn’t have to clean up a thing!

I can’t say we’ll do a big shindig like this every year, but I feel exhilarated to have conquered my fear of the birthday party. In the end, the birthday girl was happy and so were our guests. Couldn’t be better, right?

Tell me your insights into the world of kids’ birthday parties. I can’t wait to learn from the pros.

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6 Comments so far
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Sounds like a good party. Kids parties are stressful – my wife goes crazy over them (posted about it too) – sweating over every detail. It definitely is easier to make it somewhere and more expensive as you noted.

Comment by memyselfandkids

Ooh, I’ll have to check out your post on that. It WAS fun, and I think it was well-worth being able to actually enjoy the party–that doesn’t usually happen when you’re the cruise ship activity director, so to speak.

Comment by jaymers

Julie from Love Boat – come on down!

Comment by memyselfandkids

Ha! What we really need at those parties is Isaac the bartender!

Comment by jaymers

Oh the birthday parties! Glad this went well! I have had a few for my dudes at Chuckie Cheese and they were OK. I do like the place to cook and clean up!

Comment by jeandayfriday

It’s amazing that I don’t have more birthday parties for that reason alone–someone else to do the cooking and cleaning? Yes, please! Thanks for commenting.

Comment by jaymers




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