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LJI 10 Week 18: Party Planning for Dummies

This is my entry for this week in LJ Idol, Season 10 (therealljidol). The topic was "Invitation."

One week until they arrive, bouncing through our door carrying presents selected and wrapped by their parents. A cadre of energetic children, ready to celebrate my Kung Fu Panda's birthday. Hopefully, with my planning and experience, we can avoid another disaster.

This time, we're going old-school, holding a car-themed party at our place, with games and crafts. Ten six- to seven-year-olds running around a two-bedroom apartment, making car sounds. What could go wrong, right? Trust me. Things will go wrong. Even when you're certain they won't, things go wrong.

Kids' parties and I have a history.

Rather than reliving each "adventure" in excruciating detail, let me share a few of the lessons I've learned from my forays into planning kid fun over the years.

• If you're not paying in advance for ponies, don't count on them. I found this out at KFP's fourth birthday, where we told everyone to meet us at a local park for a picnic. In the invitations, we'd promised to pay for pony rides, which are indeed offered at the park every weekend in season. However, we didn't read the fine print on the park website revealing that the ponies are not offered on certain holidays. Apparently, Father's Day must be one of them.
• If your kid's birthday falls near Father's Day, and you want to have your party in a park, rent a pavilion. At the same park party mentioned above, we arrived too close to the start of the party to grab the tables we had hoped to claim. You know, the ones near the grill that we had to use to make our hot dogs and hamburgers? Lesson learned.
• If your kid's birthday falls in June, don't plan the party for a place that has no air conditioning. For KFP's first birthday party, we invited a few friends and family members to a party at my Dad's apartment. On the second floor of an old brick building. With no AC and very little air ventilation. Result: one very sweaty little birthday boy.
• On the subject of heat, if you order special cupcakes from the bakery, and they have light, sugary icing, don't leave them in a hot car trunk for very long. They melt. We discovered this at KFP's second birthday party, where we invited two of his buddies to a really cool playground but then discovered that we were not allowed to bring food past the front gates unless we were holding an officially-sanctioned party.
• If you plan to celebrate your birthday at a public site such as a really cool playground, without making reservations, check the public schedule for conflicting events. On the day we'd chosen, we were unaware that their annual fundraiser was planned for that evening, with the playground being closed early to prepare. We took the boys to a grassy area across from the parking lot, where they ate gooey cupcakes with melted icing.
• If you want to celebrate your birthday by inviting a couple friends to a public event, such as Spend a Day with Thomas the Tank Engine, don't count on your friends staying with you. Or, in fact, seeing them after you eat a picnic lunch together in the parking lot.
• Planning a pool party at the YMCA for summer splash fun? Make sure you read the fine print. Having attended a "gym party" at the YMCA, where a staff member led the kids in group games, I expected a little private pool time with a staffer leading them in water fun. What I got: the opportunity to crowd in with the rest of the swimmers during open swim, with one extra lifeguard provided for our protection, who stood quietly at poolside the entire time.
• If you want to have the easiest possible party, go for one of those all-inclusive places. Last year, we did a mini-golf party at Putt-Putt Golf. They provided pizza, cake, decorations, a staffer to lead activities, and tokens for video games. I just had to show up and take pictures.

Here's the biggest tip. Yes, things will go wrong, but the kids will enjoy themselves anyway. On his first birthday, KFP dripped sweat but still had a blast. On his second birthday, after we'd evacuated to the grass outside the playground, the boys ate their cupcakes and ran around in a spontaneous game of tag until they got tired from all the fun.

On his third birthday, KFP was so enchanted by Thomas the Tank Engine that he barely noticed that his friends had disappeared. On his fourth birthday, my husband spoke to the people who had rented the pavilion, which turned out to be a church group, and they let us use the grill to make our hot dogs and hamburgers. The kids didn't get pony rides, but they did enjoy the party games I led and had tons of fun playing on the nearby swings and slide.

At his fifth party, the kids enjoyed swimming in the crowded pool, smiles on all their faces as they splashed around with the help of their parents. Afterward, we had build-your-own-sandwiches and cake upstairs in the community room, which we got all to ourselves.

The truth is, I'm not really worried about this upcoming party, even though it's a week away and I still have to finalize plans for the cake, decorations and games. You see, I've learned it's almost impossible to truly ruin a kids' birthday party. Resilient, flexible, fun-loving and open-minded, kids will enjoy their time together, no matter what.

KFP enjoys cake at his birthday party.
KFP enjoys cake with friends at the no-pony party


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( 34 comments — Leave a comment )
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May. 27th, 2017 07:27 am (UTC)
That is a lot of snafus given that KFP is turning, what, six now? Though I see that some of the semi-disasters came in the same year.

Parties were rare when I was growing up, and mostly consisted of games like musical chairs and "pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey." Apart from that, the kids would run around and play together, and then there was cake and ice cream. And all of us thought that was awesome!

Simpler times. The logistics of all the planning are daunting, and you find yourself feeling disappointment on your child's behalf even if they don't really mind.

May. 27th, 2017 07:47 am (UTC)
That's the thing: feeling disappointed on the kids' behalf! The worst party, in my mind, was the no-pony party, but I have to admit it was a beautiful day and I doubt the kids really noticed.

If you'll notice, a number of the earlier parties were pretty low-key, with just a few friends. I wasn't planning on doing an all-out party this year, but KFP started asking me about it in April! Since it's his first year in a new school, I agreed to do something. And since we finally live in a place that's big enough to host people, I decided to do it here and limit the guest list. Plus, even though our apartment isn't huge, we are allowed to spill into the common green space, where I plan to have them participate in a few games. All will be worked out this Saturday.
May. 27th, 2017 12:07 pm (UTC)
It definitely helps to look back on the birthday parties for you and remember how you felt about them and what they were like. In that sense, there is a through-line that keeps it all in perspective!

It's so great that you go to such effort for Panda! He's very lucky to have a mom like you.
May. 31st, 2017 09:06 am (UTC)
Thank you! His attitude helps a lot. It would probably be a bigger deal if he was a very fussy, easily-upset kid, but usually he rolls with the punches.
May. 27th, 2017 01:50 pm (UTC)
Coolest kids party I ever went to was at an arena where you got to shoot Nerf guns at each other. I kept expecting a disaster, but none came.
May. 31st, 2017 09:21 am (UTC)
That sounds like a lot of fun!
May. 27th, 2017 02:44 pm (UTC)
Hard-earned lessons indeed! ;) Glad you've got a sense of humour and resiliency about you! CUTE picture of a CUTE kid!!
May. 31st, 2017 09:21 am (UTC)
Thanks. He is super cute. <3
May. 28th, 2017 06:32 am (UTC)
I'm sure KFP's party will be a success. I really enjoyed reading about parties past. What a sweet picture of KFP.

He's about the same age as yamyam_kat. We'll be in your state this summer, maybe if you're willing, we could meet for a play date.
May. 31st, 2017 09:22 am (UTC)
I would love that! Message me on Facebook or via direct message here.
May. 28th, 2017 06:43 pm (UTC)
Chuck-e-cheese - a lifesaver! Provides pizza, soda, and you provide cake. Movie and pajama parties as they get older.

We worry so much more than they do about perfection. They could care less! Hugs and peance~~~
May. 31st, 2017 09:23 am (UTC)
So true! They don't have the same expectations we have about things. Thank goodness!
May. 28th, 2017 10:34 pm (UTC)
A very sweet entry! Seems like as long as you're careful and read all the fine print, you should be okay! Hope this one goes well!
May. 31st, 2017 09:35 am (UTC)
Thanks! I'm feeling pretty good about this one. We even have some indoor activities planned, in case the outdoor activities don't go as well.
May. 29th, 2017 01:44 pm (UTC)
Despite all the mishaps, it sounds like KFP is really lucky to have a rocking b-day party every year! Loved this little timeline in snapshots.
May. 31st, 2017 09:39 am (UTC)
Thanks! For the last several years we've done a bigger party. I probably wouldn't have done one this year, except that he just moved to a new school and has new friends he wanted to invite.
May. 29th, 2017 07:38 pm (UTC)
The positive side is that it's the mishaps that become the best stories later on. The no-pony party already has it's own name, for instance. :)
May. 31st, 2017 09:40 am (UTC)
They do, don't they? It was always the same with our family vacations, too. In the end, you barely remember the ones that good well, but you retell the stories of the disastrous ones over and over.
May. 30th, 2017 05:23 pm (UTC)
There's an old saying:
"Man plans. God laughs."

You do the best you can, and roll with what you actually get. That's all you can do. (Remind me to tell you about my godson's bar mitzvah celebration some day.)

Thanks for sharing such a great post!
May. 31st, 2017 09:40 am (UTC)
Re: There's an old saying:
Tell me more about your godson's bar mitzvah! A big event like that has plenty of areas that can go wrong.
May. 30th, 2017 05:43 pm (UTC)
Small kids remember the fun, it's the grown-ups who remember the snafus, as you pointed out. Summer birthdays do lead to several extra things to be aware of though.
May. 31st, 2017 09:41 am (UTC)
Very true. Although at least we have the option to be outside. I'd find it much harder to plan a December party.
May. 30th, 2017 05:47 pm (UTC)
I have never thrown a birthday party for children, but I have attended a few in recent years. Can't remember anything going wrong, though. So I guess it's not just the children who are oblivious to the mishaps etc., with birthday parties.

Great read!
May. 31st, 2017 09:41 am (UTC)
Probably not! I have also learned not to point out the mishaps when they happen. People are less likely to notice them that way.
May. 30th, 2017 08:36 pm (UTC)
"You see, I've learned it's almost impossible to truly ruin a kids' birthday party. Resilient, flexible, fun-loving and open-minded, kids will enjoy their time together, no matter what."

I completely agree with you on this!! But I feel like it's your "we'll just roll with it" attitude that really keeps the party fun!! You stayed relaxed and made all the parties (mishaps and all) still a party that was focused on your special birthday boy and him having fun!! He's a lucky little guy!! And please tell him I said Happy Birthday!! ❤️❤️
May. 31st, 2017 09:43 am (UTC)
I will! He's very excited about Saturday. This was the first time he actually assisted with the planning, down to making a "Car Wash" sign to hang up next to our sliding door, which will festoon with streamers to look like a car wash.
(no subject) - lolaslaughter - Jun. 1st, 2017 04:29 am (UTC) - Expand
May. 31st, 2017 07:14 am (UTC)
That's a very handy list :) And I am sure after reading this that the party is going to be FUN even if it's not perfect. Wishing KFP a wonderful birthday in advance, hope he has an awesome year! Lovely click btw :) <3
May. 31st, 2017 09:44 am (UTC)
Thanks! I know that he'll have a blast just being with his friends. I said to a friend today that "If you have kids and cake, you have a party. The cake is optional."
May. 31st, 2017 09:35 pm (UTC)
Hope it goes well! Happy birthday to KFP!
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