I did it. I planned an entire birthday party and I didn’t even glance in Pinterest’s direction for advice of any kind whatsoever– and it was a success. I may have actually started planning it the night before at about 10pm as well. Now, before you start hyperventilating into a brown paper bag at the very thought, I need to explain to you that I am pretty much a phone-it-in mom when it comes to birthday parties, and I’ve been winging it for years with my 5 children (because honestly, you can’t survive that many birthday parties in a year if you go all out, and four of my five happen to take place in a month and a half.) The amazing thing is that my children have never given me that look of embarrassment or disappointment when their birthday party is over. Surprisingly, without any help from Pinterest at all, we have managed to have some pretty great birthday parties. And here’s the secret that Pinterest isn’t telling you. It is all about setting the bar at a low and reasonable level to begin with so you aren’t trying to top yourself every year, and rest assured, I can teach you exactly how to do that, friend.
The irony of you finding this post on Pinterest is not lost on me, but I think there is a generation of kids reaching adulthood who have no concept of how a birthday party went down before Pinterest was on the scene, and I want to remedy that situation. I also think there are a boat load of mothers out there who are digging themselves an early grave with their extreme party planning efforts. Now, I know there are those precious few who live to plan parties and are exhilarated by the whole experience, but the rest of us are just hanging on for dear life trying to keep up and end up needing a sick day after the party is over just to recuperate. Come on people. That’s just sad and kind of ridiculous really.
So, if you are not one of those precious few… the first step is admitting it. Say it out loud with me. “I am not a master party planner. I am, in fact, a procrastinator. I would rather be sleeping, reading a book or catching up on my favorite show than making centerpieces and filling goody bags at 11pm, and that does not make me a bad mother… kind of. I am not the queen of cakes and fondant is foreign to me. I love my children enough to give them a dose of reality when it comes to their birthday. It is not because I’m lazy. It’s because it’s good for them to realize the world doesn’t revolve around them… Okay, its because I’m lazy. But I still love my children, and I think the number of dirty diapers I have changed and the number of their self-written and produced plays I have patiently endured is proof of that…” You know what? Maybe we should stop admitting stuff.
How about we just talk about how you can plan a Pinterest-free birthday party your child will love from the comfort of your own home in 5 easy steps, shall we?
Step 1- Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT choose a theme. Themes are highly over-rated and themes can suck the life right out of you. Themes bring with them the lie that you have to make everything you do at this party fit in with the theme somehow, and who needs that kind of stress? I don’t need Sophia the First breathing down my neck while I plan this party, you know what I’m saying?
Do you know what the theme of every party I hosted or attended growing up was? Happy Birthday. Now that’s a theme I can get behind. It’s simple, to the point, and EVERYTHING goes with that theme people! Just think of the possibilities! So, resist the urge to theme it up no matter how enticing your local party store makes it. You know what? You should probably just avoid those stores at all costs just to be safe. It is too easy to get sucked in walking down those aisles. In the words of the most popular party theme character of all time- girlfriend– “Let It GO!”
Step 2- Take an inventory of what you already have around the house that could help you pull off this party. You probably have a whole bin full of partially used rolls of crepe paper, paper plates, table cloths, etc. Pull them out and use them again. If they were good enough last time, they are good enough this time. Honestly, your kids just care that you decorate– and if you set the bar low in this area where it is just the normal thing to pull out the same old decorations birthday after birthday, they won’t feel like they are being gypped.
My girls love staying up to decorate our house with me while the birthday child goes to sleep so they can wake up to a world of birthday splendor. And by “birthday splendor” I mean some twirly, swooping crepe paper in a couple places, a party table cloth of some kind that we have already used a few times, some birthday printed paper plates and cups and their presents in the center of the table. We also hang a picture of the birthday kid front and center and tie a couple of balloons that are once again, not usually matching, let alone attached to any theme, to their chair.
(Notice my impressive disregard for themes with my combination standard smiley face birthday balloon and camouflage happy birthday balloon because his dad builds custom military trucks, so we had to get one of those, right? Does that face say, “I’m disappointed these balloons don’t match?” Not on your life.)
Step 3- The cake. First off- if it stresses you out lady, don’t even decorate a cake. I have one daughter who prefers cheesecake and if you think for a minute I went to Pinterest to find the most re-pinned cheese cake recipe to whip up for her, you’d be sadly mistaken. Who in their right mind wastes that kind of money and energy on immature palates? Thank you great value instant cheesecake for making all her dreams come true! Another time we did an ice cream bar with various candy and cookie toppings instead. I LOVED it and so did the kids! Stick a number candle in it and your are good to go… as long as you know, you blow it out fast and stuff.
If you must have cake, do not feel pressured to pay hundreds of dollars for someone to hand craft you an amazing custom birthday cake or to spend hundreds of hours making one that probably won’t turn out as cool as it looked on Pinterest- (let’s be honest.) Keep it simple, and let me just say you can’t go wrong if you embellish with candy– nothing gets your kid more excited than seeing candy on their cake!
For example, my son just turned 3 and LOVES trains. So, I just made your standard 9×13 chocolate cake, bought some pre-made cream cheese frosting and colored it for a base, made a train track out of pull-apart licorice, and put 3 little mini train cars that I bought on the track. I didn’t even have a confectioners tip to write happy birthday with, so I just cut the corner of a plastic bag and made it work. Then, I added a #3 in mini M&Ms. Done and done. I know. It’s terribly impressive. I came up with it right out of my own brain, can you believe that? I kid you not, my boy stared at that thing for 20 minutes talking to me about it and then insisted that I put it on the floor next to him while he played with his toys until it was time for his party. He loved my lame little cake just as much as he would have loved the one I might have paid hundreds for or spent forever on, and I was not stressed out by it in the least. And again, I have his expectations set right where they should be for future cakes, which is critical.
Now, if you are one of those moms who can plan ahead- like two days ahead, you can get these awesome inexpensive pre-made cake decorating kits and your life will be even easier. I just, you know, am not really good at planning ahead like that and stuff.
(Just one of the many adorable options they have available)
Step 4- Games and entertainment are so much easier to come up with when there is no theme holding you back. Don’t go crazy with it though. You can over plan the fun right out of a party, rushing kids from one thing to the next because “I stayed up until 2 am creating this frozen-themed twister board and by-bippy you kids are gonna play it!” Everything is more enjoyable with a little freedom and creativity. You know what we did for my sons birthday? I found these LED light-up balloons, so we blew them up, turned off the lights and had a dance party. It was seriously splendid! Everybody had a great time and it took me exactly 5 minutes to plan and set up. Sometimes the skill is in the succint-ness of your planning, you know? Anyone can spend hours planning something amazing. But, few are gifted enough to plan something epic in mere minutes. (And when I say epic, I am using it in the more popular, though incorrect usage to mean “anything mildly cool”.) Let that be a challenge to you as you plan your epic party.
When all else fails, honestly, the old classics are still a good time– red rover, pin the tail, fruit basket, freeze tag. You don’t have to re-invent the wheel here. If kids can run around and be crazy, they are happy, right? Why lose sleep trying to come up with something original?
Step 5- Let the goody bag ship sail off into the sunset without you. When did this become a thing and who started it? Seriously, who? I want to give them a firm talking to in front of their neighbors because what is up with creating all this extra work and expense for no good reason at all? Ok, maybe it is thoughtful to send your guests off with a thank you gift for attending your party and giving you a present, but do you remember goody bags when you were a kid? I do. They were called a pat on your head on the way out the door. Seriously– they just fed me cake and ice cream and entertained me for 2 1/2 hours– wasn’t that enough? And I didn’t feel ripped off as a kid. So, couldn’t we all just make a pact as reasonable adults to get rid of the whole goody bag scene once and for all?
And let me just tell you the part I hate worst about goody bags. You hand them out at the end of the party and then the kids start playing around waiting for their parents to arrive. Well, you need both hands to play, so they set down their goody bag somewhere and forget about it, until their parent gets there and they go to get it, only to realize another kid picked it up thinking it was theirs, and then you get to deal with the drama because the goody bag that’s left has all the candy already eaten out of it (because we all know children can consume unusually large amounts of sugar in incredibly short periods of time,) so you are digging around to find any scraps of candy you have left so none of your kid’s guests leave in tears. It’s awesome. And if you just read that whole run on sentence out loud then you understand how exhausted I feel after dealing with that kind of nonsense. Let’s just be done, k? That’s all I’m saying.
So, to sum up: No theme, lower the bar, use what you got, keep it simple, the classics are still classic, and bag the goody bags. If you follow this formula for a Pinterest-free birthday party, I can pretty much guarantee you a stress-free experience. But, you should still play the I-just-survived-a-kid-birthday-party card and take a nap afterwards… or read a book, or catch up on your favorite show…
If I haven’t convinced you to take it down a notch- even just sometimes- you should check out this great article as well from one who loves to plan parties. I love her perspective. Give it a read!