A Few Random Thoughts on Pace’s First “Real” Birthday Party

So now that Pace is in kindergarten and turning six, we decided to have his first “real” birthday party with a bunch of friends rather than just family members and/or a friend from daycare like in previous years.

Here’s some random thoughts about what we did for Pace’s party this year and why…

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– in Regina, a lot of parents choose to spend $150 – $250 to book a birthday party package at one of the kid-friendly venues around town – anywhere from Laser Quest to “It’s a Blast”‘s giant climbing structure to the Science Centre to Dino Bouncers to bowling and so on. We’d thought seriously about doing this too since, especially having just had our second baby a month ago, it can definitely make things easier and more streamlined. But in the end, we decided we’d have a party at home and that would be less expensive and not much more complicated to arrange, especially since we weren’t even going to really have a theme (other than perhaps “Generic Old-Fashioned Kid’s Birthday Party”) and we’d have lots of helping hands from the family who were here including my aunt who’s visiting from BC and one extra unexpected helper (see below.)

– in terms of who to invite, Pace has one really good friend from his old daycare who’s already been to his birthdays in the past so he was a sure thing. He has one cousin around his age in Weyburn who normally comes to his parties but we had a smaller pre-birthday in Weyburn last weekend since that cousin and also Pace’s grandparents couldn’t make it for the birthday in the city.

– Other than his friend from daycare, Pace has eight boys in his class and since invite cards at the Dollar Store come in packs of eight, we decided it was easiest to invite everyone from his class (just kidding – I’m sure we would’ve sprung for a second pack of invites if they came in four or six packs so we could still invite all his classmates. Well, not all – we couldn’t convince Pace to invite any girls from his class and at his age, didn’t think it was worth forcing the issue.)

– a co-worker told me her strategy was to allow her kids to invite a number of kids equal to their age. Pace invited slightly more than this (nine) but knowing not everyone would make it – especially with Pace’s birthday falling on a long weekend – it would probably work out to close to six (we actually ended up with exactly six guests when an older neighbour kid across the street was a last minute addition. His birthday is the same weekend as Pace’s and a small miscommunication made us think his and Pace’s birthdays were at the same time.  But turned out that the neighbour’s birthday was in the morning and Pace’s was in the afternoon so Pace missed the morning birthday but was able to call him over to join our afternoon party. Oh, the neighbour’s venue of choice? Laser Quest.)

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– I doubt we’ll continue inviting everyone in his class in future years (boys or girls) but we thought it was a good approach for the first year and this led to a couple unexpected “teachable” moments. For example, Pace said he didn’t want to invite one boy because he was a “bad” kid. I explained that perhaps, if this boy was bad, maybe it was partly because he didn’t get invited to birthday parties so we should invite him anyhow to be nice. (The kid ended up being unable to attend anyhow so I didn’t get a chance to see if he was really a bad kid or just misunderstood.) 😉

– the mother of another classmate who RSVP’ed said she wanted to stay during the party because of her child’s “issues”. I had no idea what this meant and didn’t ask – I figured it could be autism, could be allergies, could simply be a really overprotective mother. Turns out that her son had a major operation as an infant and still has related health concerns meaning he can’t overdo it, has to take medication, etc. I guess that wasn’t so much a teachable moment but it was nice to hear the mother say that this was her son’s first birthday party invite ever (his health issues mean he didn’t go to daycare and he’s probably not as active or involved as the other kids at school – he frequently stays indoors at recess for example – so hasn’t gotten invited to other parties that have happened already this year.) His mom said he was very excited to come and it was also gratifying to hear that her son talked very highly of Pace and how they played together at school.  (Oh, and I mentioned one unexpected helper and this mom pitched right in – helping the kids wash their hands before hot dogs and holding Sasha while Shea was busy!)

– there’s also a HUGE amount of peer pressure to give out goody bags full of cheap crap from the Dollar Store that’s quickly broken or forgotten by the recipients. After some searching online for alternative goody bag ideas (I’m not so brave as to do away with giving out something to guests! As sad as it is, I don’t want Pace to get a reputation as “nah, I don’t want to go to his party – he doesn’t give goody bags.”) In the end, I decided to spend a little more but bought a bunch of $5 gift cards from Chapters and gave each kid one along with a note, written from/on behalf of Pace explaining that he wanted to give his friends a list of his favourite books and a gift card so they could get one too. (The irony, which I realised after, is that this may increase peer pressure on other parents to spend more than a couple bucks on their goody bags. But maybe not everyone’s as self-conscious as me?) 😉

– Probably a lot more than for many parents when I was growing up, I’m also conscious of all the possible special needs – do the kids have nut allergies? Religious beliefs that mean they can’t eat hot dogs? Gluten-free diets? Are they vegetarians? Do their parents not let them have sugar? Watch/play violent games? On and on and on…

– With that last point made, I tried not to worry about these things *too* much or ask parents to fill out a disclaimer form or anything – the kids happily played guns on a climbing structure in our backyard, we did give candy to each kid after a pinata got broken, they did come in and play on the XBox after it started to rain the middle of the party. In fact, one of my favourite pictures from the party is one of our living room with a quintessential “boy” look to it – two boys playing the Lego Batman 2 video game, one hitting a stand-up punching bag, one on a hobby horse, one shooting a Nerf gun with foam balls in it.

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– I didn’t force it too much but I was hoping I could convince the boys to play some old fashioned party games – Marco Polo, Charades, etc. – which I suspect many of them might never have ever heard of. But again, I was always mindful that it was Pace’s party, not mine and so I’d let him lead (with guidance) on what to do and when. If the boys are happy playing pirates in the backyard, I’m not going to say “okay, now who wants to play a rousing game of “Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button”?” (Pace did ask me today – “how come we never played any of those games you talked about?” and I told him that they were having fun doing other things so I didn’t bother.)

– Fascinating to see the different personalities of the kids, even at this age – who’s extroverted, who’s a joker, who’s domineering, who’s more of a loner or who’s more interested in playing with our cat than the other kids! 😉

We didn’t choose not to go to an existing venue just to save money but if I dare total up what we spent on the party compared to the $200+ we would’ve spent at a typical birthday venue, we definitely came out ahead…

$30 – food – hot dogs, buns, juice boxes, chips, nachoes, etc.

$30 – cake from Sobey’s

$30 – 6x$5 Chapters gift cards for “booky bags” instead of “goody bags” (we bought 10 in case we had unexpected guests but only gave out six in the end so someone else in the family will likely end up using the extras)   

Free – it took some work but we convinced Pace that using a chili pepper from our Mexican-themed wedding ten years ago was just as good as a new $20 Batman pinata from the Bulk Barn

$10 – candy from Bulk Barn for Pinata

$20 – assorted other stuff from Dollar Store – plastic utensils, paper plates, sparklers, a few birthday decorations, balloons
—–
$120

What else? I guess that’s about it – although it had its minor stresses (and real or imagined) peer pressures, I think Pace’s first “real” birthday party was a hit and I can’t wait until next year when his mom, less burdened with a new baby, can be the lead in planning it instead of me? 😉

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