As my mother and husband will tell you (they’re always in cahoots) I’ve got a tonne of creative ideas, but often fall short on execution. So that means that whenever I propose something fantastic like turning our large balcony into a mini-golf course or painting the concrete with a pretty mandala (cheap and chic, right?), a mural on the nursery wall or bookshelves out of salvaged pipes, they say, NO. Too hard, too much time, too easy to break, too dangerous. They say they’re just being realistic, but sometimes it feels like they are the Masters of Reasons Why Not.
But. This year I planned and executed an awesome birthday party for my wee guy turning six. I’m posting this under Parenting and Mental health, since I attribute the execution part almost entirely to yoga and meditation. Increased focus is one of the prime benefits I’ve noticed with my practise. It makes sense to me, how it doesn’t matter that you don’t clear your mind, but that you repeatedly draw your attention back to the attempt. I do this now, when I’m writing a difficult feature. Usually, I’m up constantly for glasses of water, adjust the fan, snitching chocolate chips from the fridge, but now, as soon as I start to rise, I think, “Maybe just one more minute. I’ll just do one more thing.” So I stay put. And I also see the easiest next step, which keeps the work moving instead of stalled. I find I value the itty bitty details instead of just hoping they’ll get done somehow, sometime.
Basically, I’m pretty proud of myself. It took a lot of advance planning and a lot of organization, but it ran so smoothly. My wee niece even shouted, “It was awesome!” at her mom when she came to pick her up.
Let’s get to the nitty gritty.
Making a butterfly birthday party for a six-year-old
My personal restrictions for this birthday party were
- No dollar-store crap.
I wanted to hand-make as many elements as possible. Where buying was better, I wanted to offer fewer better-quality prizes instead of bags of plastic one-tricks.
- No more than 7 kids.
To save money, and preserve my ‘good ole days’ philosophy, I only wanted as many kids as could comfortably fit in our apartment. Plus, with fewer kids, I could make or buy better take-home loot for each child.
- Lots of planned activities.
This is my anxiety talking. 7 kids running around our apartment – screaming, dumping out toyboxes, forming cliques, leaving people out, arguing over turns – I just couldn’t cope with that much chaos. Plus, the invitees didn’t all know each other, so I wanted an immediate mingler to draw in the shyest.
Handwritten letters by mail on this cute foxy stationary.
- Rowan loves writing letters, and it fit with my DIY theme. Plus, i thought the kids would enjoy getting their own mail.
- While I had the day planned months in advance (yay me!), I couldn’t nail down a theme before mailing date, so they needed to be unspecific. We only knew we’d be outside so warned everyone to wear play clothes and sunscreen.
Activity #1 – Decorating cookies
Decorating cookies with his friends was Rowan’s only request. It could even replace the birthday cake, he said. We made the dough a week in advance using a great recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction, since it has to chill overnight. Then the boys and I cut out birthday cake shapes, baked and froze until party day. The icing is just plain, because Rowan wanted to decorate with smarties, marshmallows and chocolate chips.
Decorating cookies is a brilliant way to start the party:
- Kids can suss each other out across the table while concentrating on their own plate. Great for a mix of introverts and extroverts.
- Kids can take different amounts of time to decorate. Early arrivers can get through 3 cookies, while Lates might just do 1.
Learning: Make sure the kids know they can decorate more than one, so you don’t have a (disgusting) mountain of candy on one cookie. There is the sugar-high factor to consider, but that’s what birthdays are for, right?
Activity # 2 Kid Cocoons
- Divide the kids into two groups and designate one caterpillar in each group.
- Give each of the others a roll of streamer or toilet paper, or give only one per group so they have to cooperate.
- Wrap up the “caterpillars” from head to toe with streamers.
I thought this might be a dud. After all, how do you know when you’re done? Who wins? Will they find it weird not to have a winner? But knowing this group of sixes as I do, I was very careful to assign groups myself so no one would feel upset at getting in the “wrong” group. And I really didn’t want any competition, because, well, my kid gets very anxious about that and I wanted to avoid unseemly tears and accusations.
Surprisingly this was a big hit. After the two had been successfully cocooned, every other kid wanted a turn to be wrapped. If I’d known, I would have scheduled 40 minutes for this. But since I’d left only 15, we had to move along or we’d never have gotten through the Treasure Hunt.
Surprise Loot: Butterfly Wings
As I said, my goal was 100% DIY and inexpensive. Dress ups seemed fun. My little guy loves fairies and princesses and all that shiny stuff, but I wasn’t sure how the other invited boys would like that. My compromise was a pair of take-home butterfly wings for each child.
- I purchased one giant piece of fabric at Value Village for $5.
- Ribbons and elastics came from the dollar store – about $14.
- My sewing machine broke!!!!! So I made all seven pairs by hand. Thank god I started this a few weeks in advance, and had the good sense to skip the Folk Fest. Sniff sniff.
- I followed these instructions from The Tip Toe Fairy… mostly. Instead of cutting and hemming the centre spine, I used extra wide ribbons.
- Learn how to gather stitch with this no-nonsense tutorial if using a machine. You can do the same thing by hand, but you’ll only need one thread to pull, instead of fiddling with top and bottom threads.
- If hand stitching, drape the fabric over a cutting board or magazine on your knees. This way you can also watch tv without sewing the wings to your jeans.
Learning: Not everyone will like them. Some of the kids were so happy they got to keep their little wings. Others found them itchy, or just refused to wear them. It just meant I got to keep a few extra pairs.
Prime Activity: Treasure Hunt
We scattered ours in two routes around our apartment, balcony and nearby park. Two adults accompanied each group. It was a lucky a few parents stayed, despite it being a drop-off party. We really needed the extra person to keep everyone toileted, watered and keeping up.
- I used this site for planning purposes. About 20 clues took one hour to cover, but we were quite spread out. Kids were in groups of three and four, so everyone would get to read clues.
- Here’s a sample of one route
- Check where Rowan lays his sleepy head. [Rowan’s bed]
- Rub a dub dub, I like to float in the tub [taped to the rubber duck]
- Look for a drink that gives you a milky mustache. [milk jug in fridge]
- Want to go down? Give me a push, and then wait for the Ding! [The elevator buttons!]
- Turn this dial to give the potatoes and tomatoes a drink. [tap for balcony hose]
- Careful, sometimes I’m HOT! Just look around my legs. [BBQ]
- Check the door at floor #3. Don’t take the elevator. [a friend’s door in our building]
- To open these boxes, you need a key. But this special letter is easy to see. [mailboxes]
- If you pump hard enough, could you go up to the sky? Otherwise ask your Mom or Dad for a push. [taped to swing in playground]
- Use a racket to hit a ball over this special fence. [tennis net]
- Check a light post near the playground.
- Down some steps and then down some more. This clue will be near to the floor. [I discovered too late that this is the exact spot where teens like to enjoy a bong on a Saturday afternoon. I made them promise not to move the clue and carried on.]
- Run all the way across the green. Enjoy the shade till this clue is seen.
- Find a place good for crawling thru. Mostly for babies, not big kids like you.
- Where do the girls pee? [Women’s toilets in the park]
- Find a bus stop but don’t cross the road.
- Check the chain at the edge of the park.
- Look on the path on the other side of the basketball court.
- Look in the trees closest to the baby slide. Time to catch a surprise.
The Bad: we didn’t plan a treasure! Yikes!
I sort of thought the wings would be the treasure, but then some people thought it’d be fun for kids to run around in them. Anyhoo, by the time my friend and I had raced around placing clues in 30 degrees heat we didn’t have time to write a new last note saying, “Your treasure is pizza and pop in the house!” Instead, one of us popped out lamely from behind a tree. Surprise!
Learning: Have a treasure! I wish I’d had a chance to pop down to a crystal shop and pick up a handful of shiny rocks. That would have been great. Or perhaps some butterfly nets from the dollar store. But then … are we for capturing butterflies? Such a conflict.
Also, water! Plan some method – water stations, thermoses – for keeping kids hydrated. There was very little shade in our park. That’s why the poor butterflies look a bit wilted.
Do keep it as a drop-off party. Drop offs are strangely easier because kids are often better behaved without their parents. At least mine are. Plus, it’s less crowded and chaotic in small apartments. It’s also great for sticking to time limits. You know you have to get through a few key things before pick up, so it never lags into whining. Parents are grateful you’ve looked after their darlings for a few hours, and always come back on time so your responsibilities as host end sooner.
This is optimal scheduling for a mind like mine: a huge burst of activity and focus for several hours, followed by an assured rest period, i.e. drinking beer in the shade. Aaaahhh.