These days we’re all trying to cut corners: mowing our own lawns, shoveling our own snow, ironing our own shirts… and even–ye gods!–throwing our own kids’ birthday parties!
As anyone who has ever hosted a little kids’ birthday party in their own home knows, the journey from the first ding-dong heralding the arrival of a small guest to the handing out of the last party favor is never a smooth one.
Balloons will be popped, juice will be spilled, food will be trodden into the carpet, clothing will be destroyed, and feelings will be hurt (especially if you decide to play musical chairs).
Nonetheless, at-home birthday parties can be fun and rewarding. Honestly.
The most important thing is to rope in a couple of mothers to help you on the day. Promise them wine or chocolate, or both. You could even offer to do all the car pooling for the next few weeks–whatever it takes. Just get them to stay, because no woman–gosh darn it, no couple–can handle seventeen seven-year-olds on a sugar high without back-up.
Choose your helpers wisely, though. You don’t want to your right-hand woman to be the kind who panics when the papier mache volcano blows, or is too squeamish to mop up blood.
Perhaps most important of all, make sure non-designated parents understand that this is a drop-off event. Don’t allow lingering mothers to block up your kitchen for the duration of the party. They will stand around gossiping about the teacher and eating the kids’ Goldfish crackers by the fistful. They won’t be any help at all. And if you give them wine, you’re done for. They won’t leave when the disignated hour arrives. They may even suggest moving the party on to a pizza parlor or other den of iniquity. Above all, they will not help cut cake, sing happy birthday, blow noses, hand out goody bags, or even clean up. The noise of their general merriment will vie with the cries of the children, who by then will be tired, cranky, and primed to pick fights.
It goes without saying that you should keep the kids outside, if at all possible. To foil the devil in his eternal quest to find work for idle hands, set up stations where small groups of guests can fish for rubber duckies, throw beanbags at a coconut, or shoot hoops. Fit as many stations as you can into your space, to accommodate potentially short attention spans. At all costs, you want to avoid ending up with a crowd of bored elementary schoolers on your hands. The destructive potential of bored elementary schoolers can never be over-estimated.
If your child has a winter birthday, you’re probably better off celebrating the half-birthday instead. Little kids trapped indoors, in sizeable numbers, are a recipe for disaster. In the event of a forecast of rain, phone around and see whether anyone you know has a canopy they can erect in your backyard. Failing that, phone around again to see whether anyone has an obscure but gripping DVD that none of the kids are likely to have seen before. If the kids end up watching a movie, do NOT give them popcorn, unless you’re happy to be excavating it from your floorboards and furniture for the next several months. Darken the room as much as possible. Station an adult to keep order, or you may come back from heating up nuggets to find that the TV has been reconfigured and now operates only in purple and black.
Check toilets frequently and have a plunger standing by. Small children believe that paper cups are flushable.
Be sure to take photographs of all your party guests so that you can send cute thank you notes back to the parents, showing their beaming child in the act of taking apart your antique Japanese fan collection. These will come in handy when you sue for damages.
Keep party favors simple and cheap. It’s best if you can dream up a craft/activity that also doubles as a favor. For example, have the kids decorate cookies and send those home in a Chinese takeaway box with a couple of cookie cutters tied to the handle with pretty ribbon. Or have them create one of those fiddly crafts from Oriental Trading that involve glue sticks, googly eyes, and press-out pieces of foam. Nobody can ever complete these crafts, but that’s okay. Simply send them home as works-in-progress in an attractive goody bag–and let the mother dispose of them herself in her own garbage can.
At-home parties are definitely making a come-back, and with just a little planning and imagination, your whole family should be able to enjoy a couple of hours of birthday cheer the old-fashioned way. Be aware though that you’ll need about a week to recover, so schedule carefully.