There’s a reason why at-home birthday parties are going the way of the white rhinoceros: They are stressful! And why bother when the local laser tag place does it all for almost the same price? Well, 1) because I find, no matter how chaotic it is, your kids (and you) will get a special kind of high from doing it under your own roof and 2) Take it from me, you’ll forget all about that chaos the first time your almost 11-year-old requests “Nothing organized, Mom. Let’s just watch a movie.” (Translation: “I am no longer a little kid” and/or ” You are old.”) Herewith, the DALS ten commandments for throwing a minimum-stress, maximum-fun (for the kids anyway) at-home birthday party.
1. Thou Shalt Not freak out officially until two weeks before the party. If you’re like me, I get very ambitious about birthday parties months and months before we have to actually throw one. Eventually I find myself in the danger zone – the three or four weeks before the birthday when you know you have to start mobilizing, but you just don’t know where to start – and then panic. Over the years, though, I’ve figured out that if I can get two things checked off the list (send out invitation, order party favors online) two weeks before the date, then I can go back to pretending it’s not happening for at least another week.
2. Thou Shalt Not invite parents starting from age 5 and up. Parents need to be entertained, too, and having them around just adds unwanted stress, and more people asking for more glasses of water as far as I’m concerned. Plus, as much as they enjoy watching your kid pin the tail on the donkey’s nose while small-talking with all the parents they just saw at the earlier birthday party, most parents (me included) would rather use the two-hour free-babysitting time block for hitting the gym, running errands, reading the paper for the first time in a month, or just general chilling out.
3. Thou Shall let the kids make the invitation. I’ve been accused of micromanaging just about everything that happens under my roof, but generating the birthday party invitation is not one of them. I will certainly make sure it includes all the vitals (date, place, drop off and pick-up time – especially pick-up time! etc.) but the design and manufacturing of the invitation is totally up to the kids. When the girls were younger, they’d hand-write all the information in rainbow colored markers — maybe a heart or two around the border — and that was enough. But as they’ve gotten older they’ve drawn cartoons (for Phoebe’s pizza-movie party, she drew a slice of pizza watching a movie) and enlisted picmonkey (the world’s most imbecile-proof photo editing website) to add words on top of a favorite photo. Whatever they do, the best part is that it’s a) personal and b) one less thing for the parents to worry about. I usually scan and email the invitation, but there’s nothing wrong with mailing it the old fashioned way. A Sort-of Bonus: You can save the invitations as keepsakes so that later on they will make you weep.
4. Thou Shalt Not serve juice. Yes, juice-boxes are so easy to distribute, but they are sugar time bombs that might just tip the party over the fine line from fun to nightmare. Not to mention, you’ve probably got the sugar food-group covered already. Serve water instead.
5. Thou Shall set the party the day before (or earlier) It gets everyone excited for the party and is one huge check mark on the to-do list. (Click here for more information on the psychological benefits of this practice.)
6. Thou Shall hold the party at night if at all possible As soon as the girls were old enough, we started holding their parties in the early evening. We did this out of necessity — trying to nail down an hour on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon that works for a dozen soccer-playing lacrosse-playing, play-rehearsing tweens is an exercise in futility — but also because it feels a little extra special for a seven- or eight-year-old to have a party after the sun goes down. (Not to mention, you can also justify a glass of wine – notice that’s singular, no kid needs to see you sloppy – to help get you through the proceedings.)
7. Thou Shall make a playlist Having a pre-approved soundtrack ready to go for Freeze Dance, Pass the Parcel, Hot Potato, or just general good energy vibing is crucial. The job usually falls under Andy’s purview, but includes a few songs that work with the theme (think James Bond Theme Song with Secret Agent Party) along with whatever your kids are into. Note: Though we are all for expanding kids’ repertoires beyond Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, a birthday party is not the time to see what kids think of that Ry Cooder Live album that got you through senior year in college. Plus: It’s hard to overstate how heart-swelling it can be (for me at least) to watch a bunch of girls singing the chorus of some terrible pop song on your living room floor.
8. Thou Shall try to think outside the pizza Box Everyone serves pizza – what the heck is wrong with pigs n’ blankets, veggie dumplings, or mini chicken pot pies from the freezer aisle? (If you want to talk homemade food for the birthday party, you might want to go to another blog.)
9. Thou Shall send thank-you notes within three weeks of the party. As soon as the kids are old enough to write the words “THANK YOU,” they should be writing thank-you notes themselves. (The perfect way to use up that sweet box of notecards you bought for her birthday — mmmwaahhh) If you want to make it extra fun for them: Order a bunch of these.
10. Thou Shalt Not feel guilty about outsourcing any portion of party. It’s built into my maternal DNA to equate homemade with something greater, as though my daughter will somehow love me more if the crappy ice cream cake I barely cobble together will make her feel more well-loved than the 14-layer cake from the bakery that she has been asking for all year long. Last year was the first time in a long time I outsourced almost all of Phoebe’s party – it was pizza and a movie. The sum total of my contribution was driving a pack of girls from the pizza place TO our house for the movie. How did she feel about? In her words, it was the best party she’d ever had.
Balloon photo by Aimee Claire for etsy.