("My Ultimate" will run most Tuesdays and will feature any topic that hops into my head. The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of the other New England Mamas. . . although they should).
First, a confession: I have control issues. And, I'm cheap.
I think these reasons pretty much sum up why my kids have never had a birthday party at a "do it all for you" place. We've attended parties at several local gyms, a couple YMCA's, a Children's Museum,a crafts store, an ice cream parlor, a swing set store, a girlie "makeover" spot, and even a pirate ship in the ocean. The kids have loved these parties, and I've been tempted to try out several places for ourselves. Most recently, I was enthralled with the idea of hosting a party at the new indoor water park, CoCo Keys in Danvers. But when I saw that a weekend party would set me back at least $490 (never mind the cost of gas to get us all to Danvers), I knew this wasn't going to happen.
The other reason I don't hand the reigns over to someone else is that I really enjoy planning parties (it is the execution of them that I don't love so much, but "Mommy-for-a-day" rentals aren't so easy to find). I've gotten ideas from the kids (of course), from books and magazines, from websites, and from friends. To manage costs (and reduce the amount of crap I need to buy), I search the house for decorations and props. If I don't have it, I try to borrow it from someone who does.
So, here is a short list of some of the best birthday parties we've either hosted or attended in someone's home. I'm leaving off some of the really fun ones that ended up either being expensive or time-consuming (so, the Luau of '06, isn't making the cut).
1. Favorite Color Party: This is best for a first birthday party since, chances are, the child hasn't the ability to voice their preferences and would be satisfied with a cupcake at dinner. For our son's first birthday, I walked around the house and saw that we had a lot of "red" things, so "RED" was the theme. Red balls, red trucks, Elmo and Clifford were all over the room. Red streamers, balloons, plates & cups were easy to purchase. The cake had red balloons all over it. We all wore red shirts or pants and served pizza, watermelon & strawberries, fruit punch and Killian's Irish Red beer (for the grownups of course).
2. Extreme Gross-Out Party: We attended this party in the back yard of friends. Activities included "ant eating" (licking black sprinkles off a plate without using your hands); "catch the crickets and worms" (alive and put into a large box; each child was given a little plastic insect 'house' in which to place their booty); "find the bugs" (plastic ones were hidden throughout the yard). This type of party has loads of variations from a Fear Factor theme to a Bug theme, and can be as elaborate or as low-key as you want.
3. Pretend Sleep Over: For my oldest's seventh birthday, we had a 'pretend' sleepover which ranks as one of my favorites for its simplicity and fun. Girls were invited to arrive at dinnertime, dressed in PJ's and bringing a pillow. The TV room was decorated with silver stars hanging from the ceiling and white Christmas lights hung from the walls. On the floor, I had several sleeping bags and blankets. Activities included decorating white pillow cases and getting a manicure (I enlisted two neighborhood tweens to help out). The girls held their own impromptu dance party before having cupcakes and ice cream and opening gifts. A little after 8pm, I gave each girl a little popcorn box filled with microwave popcorn and turned on a movie in the TV room. Parents arrived at pickup to find the girls quietly watching the movie, munching popcorn and relaxing on the sleeping bags and pillows. Their goodie bag contained breakfast for the next morning (a Poptart, juice box and fruit).
4. Fire truck party: A few years ago, my girls attended a party with a fire truck theme. The highlight of this party was when a real fire truck arrived in the driveway to surprise the guests. The gracious firefighters let the kids pose on the front of the truck and even squirt some water from the hose. This party requires some pre-planning and a backup plan since the mother knew that if there was an emergency in town, there would be no truck. But, it went off without a hitch and was a huge hit with all the kids.
5. Hello Kitty party: If forced to do a 'character' party, I'd pick Hello Kitty over just about anyone else. First, the decorations are adorable and readily available. Second, you get to make a cake the looks like this:
. . .or cupcakes that look like these:
6. Ice Cream Party (this one is currently in the planning stages): My middle child is turning five and loves ice cream, hence the theme for this party. For her invitations, I cut out cone shapes from construction paper and had her color big round 'scoops' which were glued on top. Her 'cake' will be cupcakes baked into flat-bottomed ice cream cones and covered in mound of frosting. We will have a sundae bar with loads of toppings. Favors will be little plastic ice-cream-cone-shaped bubbles along with a coupon for a cone at a local shop.
The next party after this will be my son's fourth birthday, to be held in September. Any ideas?