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BUSY IN BRISTOW: The ‘Party Circuit’ Choosing Home Made or Pre-Packaged Kids Parties

| March 16, 2014 | 0 Comments | Busy in Bristow

Last weekend, a mom and I gabbed, loudly, over the din of tinny arcade music at a birthday party both of our girls attended.

Two days ago, we bumped carts at the Bristow Target buying bounty for yet another kids’ party. She laughed and quipped, “It’s time for the birthday party circuit to start again!”

Along with the warmer (ahem …) weather comes the flurry of birthday party invitations. Today, I’ll look at the PreK-first grade parties, and upcoming columns will poke fun at, I mean examine, those parties geared toward our kiddos in the upper grades.

Parties for younger children are of two varieties. First of all, the kids have just started to realize that maybe spending their special day surrounded by their grandparents and their Great Great Aunt Melba who smells of mothballs and wishes them a Happy Birthday with a wave from her walker isn’t the only ticket in town. They’ve attended a few of their friends’ parties by now, and they’ve seen the birthday girl seated on the birthday throne as each of her subjects brings forth a brightly wrapped box. They’ve gotten sugared up on cake and Coca Cola, and they’ve witnessed – if not participated in – the gamut of entertainment which modern middle class families have come to accept as the norm.

The first type of party these kids ask for is of the commercial party place variety, of which there are several age appropriate favorites. I won’t name names, but my kids love a certain rodent themed location due to its flashing lights, beeping screens, coin like tokens, and the promise of prizes one could only earn if he skipped school, pitched a tent and played non-stop for a week straight. I have come to dub it “Casino for Kids.”

At the casino, you’ll find all sorts of four-six year kiddos: snot-running-down-their-faces-kids, threw-up-yesterday-kids, and the kids whose parents hope-they-stay-healthy, their hands so chapped and cracked from forced washings insisted upon by germaphobic parents such as myself.

Although we have gone to Kids’ Casino as a family on their birthday, I have refused to let my children have a party for their classmates there. At first, my reasoning was based on a friend’s who said, “Why pay lots of money for them to go somewhere they won’t even spend time with the friends they invited?” But now – having seen a similar dynamic at parties we threw for them at other commercial locations, and even at home – I realize the main reason I don’t invite other people’s children to the Casino is because I take issue with a place that creates so much excitement and outrage over what usually – after the tickets are cashed in – amounts to a lump of Laffy Taffy or, if your kid’s lucky, a stick of cotton candy.

The second type of party these kids tolerate – but rarely ask for – is the one you throw for them at home. This one is far less expensive but far more stressful for Mom and Dad as it means children will be tramping through your house for several hours turning bins of toys upside down, dumping out the contents and then leaving behind the children sized spoils of a successful frat party. Paper cups decorated with balloons and matching plates smeared with icing litter every flat service instead of beer cans or red solo cups, but the overall effect is the same.

Hosting at your home has its rewards: it’s fun to have people over, and if you’re like me (you know who you are), it forces you to clean the house in a way you’re not usually motivated to do. Even with the normal expenditures a party requires (snacks, cake, ice cream, party favors for the goody bags), you still come in hundreds of dollars under what a commercial party costs, and since you’ve done all the work yourself, there’s no extra gratuity to add in at the end.

I personally find that – no matter the age of my child – this second type of party is my favorite and the kids like it just as much although it doesn’t have the “wow” factor. For us though, it does work better when the weather is warm … we don’t have a basement, but we have a gargantuan backyard with all the trappings: trampoline, swing set, badminton, basketball, campfire ring. Then the toy bins can remain mostly intact except for the one kid who keeps to himself and prefers to play Thomas the Train inside the house.

A final note about parties for this age group. EVERYONE, and by that I do mean EVERY STUDENT IN THE CLASS is usually invited. Why? First of all, because friendships are emerging … many kids are still in parallel play mode, and if you ask your son who he wants to invite, for a response you might get a puzzled expression or one name. Secondly, since you don’t know who any of the kids are anyway and your own friendships among parents are also emerging, the easiest way to contact families is through the school. School systems wisely made rules (after years of hurt feelings) stating If You Invite One, You Invite All. Thus, you end up easily filling the 25 spots that commercial locations require you buy in order for their businesses to remain profitable. You don’t know anyone, but hey, hey, the gang’s all there!

By the time my kids were in second grade, they’d developed friend preferences. Eldest Son’s friends were the Uber Athletes, Youngest Son’s were the Science Guys and Boy Scouts. Oldest Daughter’s friends included her entire Girl Scout troop, and Youngest Daughter decided that since she couldn’t BE a twin  — like her middle brother/sister – she’d BEFRIEND every twin pair in the school. This is also the time in which my kids were either invited to the continuing Mega Parties – which, admittedly they often wanted to attend not for the company of the classmate who sent the invitation but because it was the only time they got to go to these party places. (Mom and Dad continue to take them to education oriented events which they end up liking but that don’t quite ‘satisfy’ like the purely entertainment-only places.)

The great thing about parties for kids in this age group is obviously that the parents can drop off their progeny and LEAVE! If you’ve never seen the face of the parent who is waving over one shoulder and calling out, “Thanks! See you in two hours!” you’ve never seen someone win the Parent Lottery. I remember the first time I was told I could leave Eldest Son and come back. At first, I thought it was a cruel hoax until I realized that – other than the birthday boys’ parents – I was the ONLY adult in the room. Then I cautiously made my way over to him and told him I was going – if that was okay with him, and since he’s never been much of a Momma’s Boy, he just gave me the, “Sure, whatever” that at once set me free and seared my heart. And then … quite honestly … I ran!

Freedom unlike any other pulsed through my veins as I sat in the driver’s seat of an empty mini-van, and my mind filled with possibilities. I could drive to the mountains and take a hike and STILL get back before the party was over (although that would be cutting it close). I could go to Panera, eat in peace and write one of these columns. I could actually go shopping – for clothes – and not have an ant trail of kids behind me which meant I could actually go into the dressing room and try things on (not that anyone I know enjoys looking at herself in those unforgiving mirrors anymore.) I think I ended up sitting in the parking lot for the first 20 minutes, daydreaming and rocking out to music I can’t listen to when my kids are around, and then, sadly, I’m pretty sure I ended up at Wal-Mart buying a present for the kid whose party my son was attending since I’d forgotten to do it before. But anyway the opportunity was there, and I’ve since gotten smarter about managing this “found time.”

The downside to birthday parties for kids this age is that some children are bound to get their feelings hurt when the class sanctioned mega parties end and they’re not invited. In addition to the careful negotiation among children and their first dealings with social niceties (which sometimes require lying, let’s face it and almost always merit some parental restraint on Facebook), there is the occasional social faux pas that we parents accidentally commit.

I remember the party of one girl when Oldest Daughter was in the second grade. I’m the mom who appreciates your prompt R.S.V.P. to our party invitations but who doesn’t give it in return. (Sorry!)

Anyway, I have made many a phone call and composed many an email the day after the R.S.V.P to the tune of, “We understand if we’re too late, but if you still have room for her at Kid Casino, Eldest Daughter would love to come gamble for a piece of candy and to be entertained by a teenage boy in a mouse costume!”  But at this particular party of which I speak, I not only didn’t R.S.V.P. late, I didn’t R.S.V.P. at all, and then I had the nerve to show up anyway, ED in tow.

I’m not often dishonest, folks, but I played this one off. Having been on the other end of this many a time, knowing that in spite of my OCD, I’m perfectly capable of losing track of one or two R.S.V.P.’s when it comes down to the wire, I was hoping this mom would second guess herself, but the surprise on her face when we showed up told me otherwise. That’s okay. She’s been cool about it since then which just tells you she isn’t into the Mama Drama or Queen Beedom.

Next up: Tweens’ Birthday Parties. We want YOU! (But not you, you, or you.)

© 2014, Bristow Beat. All rights reserved.

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