We’re entering our silly season again, and by silly season I mean birthday season. Through careful lack of planning, four of my seven children have their birthdays within a three-week period, including two on the same day – and they’re not twins, there’s 12 years between them!
Irrespective of the fact that they have enough siblings for a ready-made birthday party already, each child still looks forward to celebrating their respective birthdays with friends and classmates.
Birthday parties have taken on a new meaning from the days of old. Fairy buns and jelly and ice-cream with a few of the neighbours’ children, if you were very lucky, just doesn’t seem to cut it anymore. Bigger, better, and more expensive is the new alternative.
We’ve tried lots of different types of party and if I’m honest often most of the pressure to do something a little different has come from me. My eldest was the youngest in her class. It meant we got to see a whole array of birthday parties before we had to decide on hers, the ultimate one of the year. Our enthusiasm for something different, however, was not equally felt by some of the parents.
Her first school birthday party was to the zoo. Twenty-five girls, not to mention the toddler and baby boys in their buggies, versus three adults. It was hell on earth. The peacocks ate half the sandwiches that we brought for the picnic and the girls has a tendency to disperse in every direction possible at the same time. “My mum said this is absolutely ridiculous,” one five-year-old told me in the midst of chaos. Her mum was referring to the fact that we had dragged parents halfway across the city for a two-and-a-half-hour birthday party. Her comment was more fitting to the whole scenario.
We continued trying to find something different for each of the children as the years passed. The farm, play centres, cinema and lunch, (tweaked to breakfast and cinema to avoid the crowds), bowling, quasar, the aquarium, swimming and football parties, all of which were huge successes. The expense however grew, in line with my numbers.
Where possible, I wanted to invite the whole class. Two particular options made that a possibility. The first was to host the birthday party at home, in a nod to yesteryear. This is not for the fainthearted or the house proud, but with the right planning, it is more manageable than you might think.
Older siblings can help, or a local teenager happy to earn a few euro. The key is to plan your activities and to make sure that there’s plenty of them. Games such as pass the parcel, musical statues, pin the tail on the donkey, amateur face-painting, all go down a treat and if you can time the food to be ready just as the games finish, there’s little opportunity for a house demolition job. Better still if the sun is shining, getting outdoors might be a possibility.
In my children’s school, shared parties are becoming very popular. The idea behind this is, that several children whose birthdays fall around the same time of year, share a party at an agreed venue.
The bonus for the parents of the host children is that the cost is shared and there are more hands on deck when it comes to managing the numbers. The bonus for the classmates is that it is wholly inclusive.
And then there’s the bonus for the parents of the attending children. The party invitations will always specify that no present is necessary but if a parent wants to give a gift, then the request is for one maximum please. The expense is reduced for everyone. At the end of the party, the gifts are divided equally between all of the birthday children, who, to be honest, while excited by the prospect of having gifts to open, are generally much happier that all of their friends and classmates were in attendance, rather than focused on the number of presents.
Party bags can be a pain to fill, especially when it comes to trying to work out what plastic junk to put into them, the same junk that will in all likelihood be discarded or break within minutes of receipt. And yet the party bag is very much a modern-day necessity. Children must leave a party with something it seems. While some play centres include party bags in their package, other celebration options mean you’re on your own when it comes to deciding on content. One of my children has a birthday close to Christmas. At the end of his party, rather than a party bag, the children leave with a chocolate Santa. Not very practical for a summer birthday granted, but given that there are so many “occasions” these days, you’ll always find a chocolate something!
As kids get older, the numbers tend to drop off. No longer is there a need to cater for the entire class but rather the focus is on a few close friends.
The cinema and fast food for lunch or dinner is still a popular option but there are other alternatives that have worked well here too. Late evening, home-hosted birthday parties can be very popular with slightly older children. Something as simple as football, home manicure, home disco followed by pizza and a dvd. It really depends on what each child is into — the real appeal is the time. Hosting and attending a party much later in the day can make everyone feel very grown up.
The effort is pretty minimal — but the gratitude is still the same. It’s win-win!