Yesterday was party time for Boy 1, my oldest son. He is turning 10 next week. I cannot believe it. Double figures.
In fact, this time ten years ago I was in the early stages of labour, not knowing what to expect (having never watched ‘One Born every Minute’), wondering if my ‘leaky waters’ were normal. (It turns out not – one lumber puncture and five days of antibiotics for my new baby confirmed that!)
Ten years on (I still cannot believe I am writing ‘ten years’) and two more boys later, I have now hosted 17 boys’ birthday parties (I also have a seven-year-old), so I speak from a bit of experience.
As each year goes on, it gets harder to plan the parties. What does my child want to do? Is it feasible? Is it original enough? Who should be on the dreaded guest list? Can I afford it?
By sharing some of my party planning thoughts, maybe I will help to make your planning a tiny bit easier.
So the party format first…up to the age of about 5, this is relatively easy. The first few years can be done at home. All weather parties. Invite your close friends who also have young children and who won’t judge the quality of your home-made birthday cake! (Yes – you will probably have a go yourself in that naive way us new mums do! Top tip – bake a rectangular cake, pipe it with green buttercream in a messy manner, put a toy on top and voila, you can have a field with farm animals and a tractor in it, or Makka Pakka on a bicycle, or a footie field, complete with players! Easy!)
Preparations for a successful party at home are as follows:
1. Make a small buffet consisting of sandwiches, crisps, biscuits, cakes and sausages. Don’t bother with the carrot sticks and fruit as the children will only eat one triangle of sandwich, a handful of crisps and twenty-three chocolate fingers anyway!
2. Create a ‘pass the parcel’, complete with a layer for each child to open, which contains a bag of Haribo that they will then eat while the game continues! (Trust me – they are too young to smile politely when they don’t win – this keeps the peace!)
3. Play repetitive music from CBeebies and let them dance around the room.
4. Find some cheap tat in Wilkos to put in a party bag. The more tat the better. Quantity not quality at this age!
5. Make room for the grown-ups. They will stay. Have hot drinks ready for them. And encourage them to eat up the leftover buffet!
Entertainers are great for young children’s parties, but they can be expensive. Musical bumps, musical chairs and musical statues should suffice for now. Maybe save the entertainer for when your child is at school, when you have invited 30 children you don’t know and hired a hall in an attempt to preserve your house!
By ages 5-7, I think it is best to go for that hall party, complete with a magician, or clown or Elsa lookalike (one for the girls!) and let them entertain the 30 loons you have invited. (You will have invited the whole class since any attempts to gain a sensible guest list from your child will have failed. Their list will have changed daily and be dependent on who is their best friend that day and who they sat next to at lunch. Better to invite everyone and be done with it!) The same rules for food apply though – less is more. Less ‘healthy’ food that is, and more sugar! And for party bags – more is more. More tat!
BEWARE! At 5th birthday parties onward, parents don’t always stay to look after their children. This shocked and panicked me at Boy 1’s 5th birthday party, because no one had warned me this might happen. No one had warned me that my husband and I would be solely responsible for 30 children for two whole hours. I remember frantically rushing around, trying to find a pen to write down phone numbers in case of emergency. Why would they just desert their child like that? Why would they?! I wasn’t a teacher back then and it was a petrifying two hours – and possibly the most stressful two hours of my life!
By the time your little one is not so little (8-10 ish), parties will most likely have become single sex and will require an ‘activity’ to keep everyone amused. For girls this could be a make-over party, sleepover, jewellery party or something lovely and calm like that (so I hear, we have not actually been to any!). But for boys (sorry for the stereotype, but I find my boys very stereotypical!) consider bowling, laser quest or other sports parties. This gives the boys an opportunity to run off the sugar they consume and expend that excess energy that boys appear to be born with. Nature not nurture!
Or like us this year, try a gaming party. Energy levels are lower but the boys really enjoyed it, were totally engrossed and entertained for two hours and were very easy to manage! (Gaming party post coming soon!) Food rules still apply, although there is not normally much left over. And the party bags take a bit more consideration. Having a January-born boy, we opt for annuals (in the post Christmas sale!) and a bag of sweets. Quick and easy but seemingly appreciated.
Just a small point to note on these smaller parties – as your guest list becomes smaller, the party politics get bigger. It becomes a political party minefield! Now is the time to develop a thick skin! Do you invite the children of your school-gate-mum-friends, or the ones your child wants to ask? There is no right or wrong answer here. I think you need to be led by your child’s choices, however they will invariably leave out your good friend’s child and you may have to coerce them into inviting one more, to save face with your friend in the school playground! You will undoubtedly upset someone (without meaning to), but try not to feel bad about it. Your child will also, one day, be the child not invited to a party and you whilst you will feel crap about it at the time, you will understand.
So that’s it for now – my words of wisdom following years of boys’ party planning! I know that for us grown-ups it is just a couple of hours, to mark the anniversary of pushing a rather large object out of a rather small hole (!), but for our children it is a super, special event. It is a chance to impress their friends. To legitimately be the centre of attention. To share their excitement with others. To get gifts and hand out gifts (in the form of party bags). It has to be just right.
It is a year in the planning in our house.
My boys are already discussing next year’s shenanigans!