I didn’t make this cake for my nine-year-old’s Secret Agent Party. I had the local bakery write the birthday message in “code” (see if you can crack it!) but that’s where my confectionary contribution ended. I opted to buy the cake instead of bake one from scratch because by the time I was thinking about this last piece of the party puzzle, Reasonable Mom (Secret Code Name: Make-it-Easy-on-Yourself Mom) was losing to Unreasonable Mom (Secret Code Name: Who-Exactly-Are-You-Trying-To-Impress Mom). In fact, for this particular party — with its three-floor, ten-clue scavenger hunt, hand-stenciled tablecloth, and late-night phone consultations with my friend Marcie, who threw her own spy party a few years ago — Unreasonable Mom was crushing Reasonable Mom. For this party, Unreasonable Mom was leaving it all on the field.
It was Unreasonable Mom who, two weeks earlier, forced me spend an hour designing the invitation for the party on my computer, even though the 9-year-old honoree herself was downstairs playing Angry Birds on the iPad. (A major violation in our house! Reasonable Mom always makes sure the birthday girls are as involved in the process whenever possible. Reasonable Mom does everything in her power to protect me from being on the other end of the silent accusation: Who’s this party for anyway? The mom or the kid? )
Reasonable Mom is the one who makes sure the girls choose the theme; the one who lets them pick the table setting (hence the blue tablecloth and pink plates Abby picked for her Game Party in spite of Unreasonable Mom’s aggressive nudging towards the yellow plates, which worked so much better with the dining room rug!) And it is always Reasonable Mom who insists the girls draw and write their own invitations, to put their own stamp on the occasion. Until this time, at least. Cause there I was photoshopping Phoebe’s head onto Inspector Clouseau’s body, flagrantly betraying my better self and pretty much nothing could stop me. Not even Andy (Secret Code Name: Reasonable Dad) peeking into the office to check out what I was doing before saying without exactly saying Who’s this party for anyway? You or your kid?
But I have to say, once the guests arrived, all the warring within vanished cause the party rocked. We had Andy’s playlist, which included “Secret Agent Man” and the themes from Mission Impossible, Pink Panther, and James Bond? Plus a dozen little detectives, calling each other by their assigned code names (“Vice Grip,” “Beetle Brow,” “Rawhide,” “Pigtail”) and sniffing around the house trying to solve the mystery of the missing goody bags. Even Reasonable Mom — with her rallying cry “the kids have fun no matter what you do” — had to admit: it was pretty cool. Oh! And the birthday girl thought so too.
Secret Agent Party: The Schedule
12:00 Make I.D. Badges. As soon as the girls walked in the door, they were handed a secret agent packet with their code name inside. They wrote this name on I.D. badges (procured at Staples) and decorated with stickers and their own fingerprints.
12:25 Mystery of the Missing Goody Bags. The running narrative of the party was that Iris, our dog, had run off with all the contents of the goody bags (one box of candy, one box of fake jewels and cash, one box of glow sticks). But the good news was that Iris left clues for us all over the house. In other words, this was a giant scavenger hunt.
12:45 Who Am I? We wrote names of famous people (Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Barack Obama) on index cards and each kid got a chance to answer 21 yes-no questions until the group guessed who it was.
1:00 Lunch and Cake Pigs and blankets and sweet potato fries, plus the code-encrypted cake shown above.
1:15 Pass the Parcel We ordered spy kits from Oriental Trading and wrapped up enough fake mustaches and spy glasses so that everyone would be able to unwrap a gift when they peeled off a layer of paper.
1:30 Frog Detective. This is basically Indian Chief: Everyone sits in a circle. One girl leaves the room, a parent decides who is the leader. The leader starts a pattern (clapping hands, tapping shoulders, etc.) and everyone follows when she changes. The Frog Detective comes back into the room and has to figure out who is changing the pattern.
1:45 Present Opening and Goodbyes.
We made this sign a half hour before the party began and posted it on the front door and over the fireplace.
Phoebe wrote “Police Line Do Not Cross” on the yellow streamers and I draped them all around the windows.
Scavenger hunt clues left by Iris (aka “The Striped Bandit”) led to stashes of loot like cash, fake jewels….
…and Trader Joe’s candy!
When kids walked in, they were handed a secret agent packet, which included their code name written in teeny-weeny font size 3, plus a magnifying glass to help them read it. This agent was assigned “Needle Nose.”