I love throwing birthday parties for my kids. Planning the activities, coordinating the decor, selecting the absolute perfect cake, finding a cool item as the “party prize’ (aka goody bag)…this stuff is my JAM. I throw Pinterest-level parties, you guys. And I love it.
But this year, for my son’s eighth birthday, it just Did. Not. Happen.
Here’s the thing about Pinterest-worthy birthday parties: they take a ton of time and money. (Anyone who says otherwise has got to be lying.) And it’s not clear that my children ever fully appreciate the amazing hand-stamped goody bags and how the frosting on the cake matches the custom Happy Birthday banner hanging from the arched doorway to our dining room.
So when I found myself slowly suffocating under a veritable mountain of work obligations (both legal stuff and blogging/writing stuff), plus dealing with a significant home improvement thing, and the Case of Strep Throat That Would Not End (seriously, we could not shake it; instead of getting better, we just passed it from family member to family member, round-robin style), I took the advice of a friend and decided to scale way back on my kid’s birthday party.
I had originally been working on a football-themed party, where I was going to have a coach come and run drills with the kids (a LOT of kids; our initial invite list was close to thirty children), and it had become really complicated. We don’t have a big enough backyard, and getting a permit at the local park was a challenge because, well, they were worried kids would get hurt playing football (even flag). Blah blah blah, I was spending a boatload of time trying to work out these logistics.
So when it became clear exactly how much time, effort, and money it would take to execute on my original party plan, I took a deep breath and scuttled the entire thing. I abandoned it mid-stride, and in the space of a ten-minute conversation with my son (you know, the child whose birthday we would actually be celebrating), we had a completely new plan in place, one that he was way more excited about than the original.
We decided to invite his three best friends over to spend the night. I agreed to rent a small bounce house for our backyard. We would get In-N-Out takeout for dinner. And the boys were allowed to watch one PG-rated movie after dinner. Party prize? Matching red Under Armour socks. (Don’t laugh; for some reason every single second grade boy in my son’s school is obsessed with Nike and Under Armour socks; my son thought this was the greatest idea he’d ever heard.)
I didn’t even bother with an Evite. I emailed the six parents of the boys directly, found a weekend that worked for everyone, and booked it.
I’m guessing you won’t be surprised by what I say next.
It was the greatest, most successful birthday party I’ve ever thrown, no hyperbole. Those boys had a blast. The laughed, they bounced, they ate their body weight in French fries. After it got too dark to bounce in our backyard, they shot baskets on our lighted driveway for two hours. At 9:20pm after the movie ended, they collapsed into sleeping bags and everyone was asleep in twenty minutes. The next morning I made them chocolate chip pancakes, which they gobbled down while watching Cartoon Network.
The total cost for this party was $92; we spent $50 on the bounce house, $17 on In-N-Out, $5 on cupcakes from the grocery store, and $22 on the socks. This isn’t even factoring in the money saved on wine from me self-medicating due to birthday party planning-related stress.
And my son and all three boys are still talking about it, weeks later. They loved the party so much, all four of them. My son claims he wants to do the exact same thing next year.
Look, I don’t want to wrap this all up neatly with a fake bow and give you some platitude like “simpler is always better.” It isn’t. Sometimes you really need to put in the effort and go big. But sometimes it really is smart to take a minute and assess how you are spending your time and money. Sometimes the simpler route actually is the better route, and you’ll discover you were spinning your mental wheels and burning your precious resources on something that doesn’t make a lot of sense or isn’t necessary.
The elaborate birthday parties I usually throw? They’re for my benefit as much as my kids’. Maybe more for me than for my kids. Taking a few minutes to re-calibrate my lens and figure out what actually mattered to my son…that’s one of the smartest parenting moves I’ve made all year.
I don’t have a lot of gorgeous pictures of my son’s party to post on Pinterest this year. But I do have a bunch of blurry, poor-quality iPhone snaps of those boys bouncing in the bounce house while laughing so much they could hardly breathe.