Tuesday 31 October 2017

I hosted a birthday party!

"I hosted a birthday party..." some people might read that and go, so what? Because there are people who grew up with parties, love parties, wanted children so they can throw more parties, get invited to lots of parties, are expert/competitive party planners, have parties for everything. They exist. I assume they are happy. I hope they live long virtuous lives.

I am not one of them.

Sometimes it feels like a character failing, but there are a few actual reasons:

  • My family was involved with a religious cult for a few years of my early childhood. One of the rules of this cult was that you don't celebrate birthdays. (Or holidays, or sing/stand for the national anthem, or participate in any mainstream culture, or be friends with people who were not in the cult....Yeah they were great for the social life.) Luckily, my parents saw  the light when I was around 4 and left. But old habits died hard and we never celebrated birthdays until I was mid teens or so. Honestly, I didn't usually feel the lack as a child, but it means I got no exposure to birthday celebrations and grew up indifferent to them. (There is one exception: I made a friend at around age 8 who probably struggled socially, though I didn't think of that at the time. Somehow my mom let me go to her St. Patrick's day party, and after that I remember getting an invitation to a birthday party....maybe more than one? I recall receiving one card that said "Please, please, PLEASE come to my party!" And my mom made me write a card back saying I don't go to parties. I felt bad writing that card, both for myself and for my friend, but I couldn't say why. To this day I feel sad thinking of it; it was just plain wrong to not go to that party. It was wrong of my mom to not allow it. The fact I lost touch with my friend later makes it feel more wrong.)
  • I got a better social life later on as a young adult, and part of that was going out for drinks or having little celebrations of friends' birthdays and buying them presents. I enjoyed that.  But I have never invited anyone to celebrate my birthday, partly because I wasn't used to doing so and partly because it's on December 26th. Kinda awkward.
  • I am an introvert and tend to shrink away from drawing attention to myself. There have been a few exceptions: one, when I graduated with my first degree I was very happy and proud and threw a party for friends. Two, before I went to live abroad I had a sort of going away party. Three, my wedding. There you go. Can count them on the fingers of one hand. Now, I have organized many other social events, but they weren't about me specifically.
So, fast forward to married and child bearing age....that didn't help, actually. As I've noted before, most of my close friends and immediate family are childfree by circumstance or choice. Whatever extended family I have or acquired through marriage doesn't live close by. This was quite convenient when we were struggling with infertility (note past tense) but there no invitations to baby showers, children's parties, etc. (OK, *cough* there was one...I didn't go) Again, nice for a childless infertile; not so great for a new parent who is supposed to know all about these things.

Well, so now I am AJ's mom and have to make decisions about her life. While there is much I appreciate about my childhood, the social isolation piece of it is not something I want to replicate. (My parents were very good, dedicated parents; they would have given their right hands before seeing their children harmed. They also had their flaws like anyone else and they were at times victims of things they did not understand.) So, Mr. Turtle and I agreed we would celebrate birthdays and holidays and encourage AJ and any siblings to be social. Excellent; but then we had to actually make it happen. Mr. Turtle is supportive, but unfortunately a little too similar to me socially and lacking the sense of urgency and obligation.

For AJ's first and second birthdays, I kinda cheated by only inviting adults to the parties. My excuse was I didn't have any mom friends, and she was too young to have real friends anyway, and, um, it was just easier to have our childfree relatives and friends over and have a good time. But I could see as her third birthday approached that AJ was forming relationships with children at her daycare, and was pretend playing at birthday parties (often with imaginary friends invited), and I started to worry that soon she would learn to feel different or left out if we didn't get our act together. So I felt anxious and did....well nothing until last month. OK, not quite nothing: I made friends with one daycare mom, and it turns out we have lots in common including subfertility. (In a lucky break, she is pregnant too, and hopefully it will continue to go well). So thanks to that AJ got *invited* to a party, and I had less excuses to not throw one.

So, what did I do to make this birthday party happen? Well telling that will take a lot less space than telling all the reasons I procrastinated.

  • I figured out who AJ's most consistent friends at daycare were, through observation and asking her several times and taking the mode of the answers. I decided we would invite 4 (two boys, two girls)
  • As I breezed past parents during daycare pick up and drop off, I worked up the nerve to say "We really should exchange phone numbers!" with enthusiasm. I was encouraged by the enthusiastic responses. Though none of us ever had our phones at the time.
  • Finally, with a week to go, I found some pretty note cards and wrote: "I always mean to get your number but it hasn't happened. Here's mine and by the way we are having a celebration for AJ....call or text me). And all four of them did and said they would come.
  • I printed invitations using a Microsoft template. No suspense wondering if people would say yes because I knew they would.
Party planning was pretty easy. I had a decent idea what the children liked from observing them, and I wasn't about to try anything too adventurous.
  • One and half days to clean the house and blow through the week's laundry to get ready
  • One trip to party store for decorations (I've bought the same polka dot themed stuff all three years, which means I can reuse some items every year.
  • Dairy Queen for ice cream cake (same as last year; AJ requested it again)
  • Activities: I set out some of AJ's toys that could be good for sharing, and set up a little craft table. We had playdough, colouring pages (AJ chose the pictures) and some puzzles.
  • Pre-made fruit, veggie and cheese trays from the grocery store
  • Pizza ordered in for early dinner
  • Picking out stuff for swag bags was actually kind of fun. I made them a little snapshot of AJ's current interests:

Kitty keychain, dinosaurs, Frozen crayons, Spiderman finger puppet.
The little bags were all different colours so each child could pick a colour.
AJ helped create the swag bags. They were a hit!
    So, if anyone is like me and has anxiety over preschooler parties, there's your easy party template.

    Also, not to leave out our relatives and childfree friends, we had a get together at a family friendly Japanese restaurant the night before the kid party. This worked really well since we weren't overwhelmed with too many people at our house and we could spend more quality time with everyone. 

    • Number of children (and parents). Four (plus one one year old sibling) was juuuuuust right. The house looked like only a small tornado hit it afterwards. And it wasn't too busy for some real conversation with the adults.
    • Playdough and dinosaurs
    • Ice cream cake
    • Snacks
    • AJ was mostly good with sharing and did a good job of welcoming her friends, paying attention to all of them and telling them what the activities were.
    • All the play, laughter, smiles and hugs. Social learning around sharing and party conventions happened too. We found a nice balance between letting the children do their thing and intervening to teach some skills. I didn't get a weird vibe from anyone and I made sure I was warm and welcoming to each child. It's not hard because they are all sweeties and really much less of a challenge than my special ed class of 9 teenage boys. 
    • At least one parent is keen to follow up with a playdate. I have confidence I can build further relationships with all of them now.
    Misses (not many, but live and learn)
    • Many colours of play dough. Looked pretty but in a few minutes all the colours were mixed together to make brown. Now I know why the daycare only puts out one colour at a time.
    • Pizza: the kids weren't that into it, and we had way too much left over and had to eat it ourselves. It was OK, but I think fried chicken next time.
    • Putting out new toys to share: AJ did great for the most part, and had no problem sharing her brand new dinosaurs. The  dealbreaker was a colourful domino set one of my friends gave her the day before. I think she just wasn't ready to share it. She wanted to play with it in her own way, and when her friends started grabbing the dominoes she was not happy with them. After some partially successful social coaching from me and the other parents, I decided the best thing to do was distract her with some snacks and make the dominoes discreetly disappear until the party was over. Luckily she easily recovered and did not get in a mood.
    The big win is AJ enjoyed herself, so did the other kids and I MADE IT HAPPEN. Woot! AJ has been dancing about  every since saying "I'm a preschooler!" Wait, how did that happen? Never mind, everything is awesome.


    1. Happy Birthday AJ! As an introvert with few friends with any kids in a small town where I am very much an outsider, I am so stealing your template for party planning when the time comes!! I've been starting to freak out a full 6 months early about Bubs#1 turning 3 and if I should have a party and how to go about it. Glad yours was a success!! Well done!

      1. I’m glad my story is encouraging! Good luck and try not to dread it too much.

    2. Happy Birthday AJ! Also, I'm impressed at the amount of effort you put in to make sure it worked out!

      1. Thanks! I do know my limits so I was able to work around them. Sometimes simple is good.

    3. Congratulations on throwing your first kid-centered birthday party! It’s a bit of a trip when you have a background of not celebrating (my birthday is December 27th, so I can sympathize). So congratulations on the success!

      Our daycare/preschool has a rule about inviting only select students. I can see their rational as I’ve been on the receiving end of being excluded, but 10 families where I don’t know the parents has been interesting. Still, there’s been bonding that has happened through some of these events. Wishing you many more happy ones!

      1. Thanks. Yes, I’ve heard of schools etc with the invite all rule. I can see the rationale and how select invitations could cause problems. Still, inviting AJ’s whole room would have been a terrifying idea for so many reasons. Maybe next year we will ask more people and use a space other than our house. I think the number for this year was just perfect.

    4. Interesting to hear about your early childhood experience in a cult Torthúil, you don't hear that very often! I didn't really enjoy parties as a child as I was (am) introverted and found communal games etc painful (still do - I burn with hatred for anyone who suggests charades, or karaoke, or basically anything game-ish). I still hate hosting stuff and don't like gatherings of more than about four people. I have mum friends who have a lot of social anxiety over throwing/attending kids parties and meeting other parents; it's easy as someone without kids to assume people just 'bond' over having children but of course it's not true... One thing about kids' parties I miss is classic birthday cake, iced with jam & cream inside, I bloody love it! Good luck

      1. Ha, thanks for sharing: it's good to know I'm not totally weird for having mixed feelings about parties, though as I explained my background explains some of it. I'm not that fond of communal games either although they can help to get people involved who might be shy on their own. I did not attempt to get the toddlers/preschoolers to play organized games (ha!) but they did just fine on their own. Hmmm, never had birthday cake with jam and cream, that sounds yummy! Yeah, I am not one of the people who bonds with others simply over having kids: I can make the small talk but there needs to be some kind of connection. On the other hand I can't find those connections without trying so I'm please I am trying harder!

    5. Way to go! Seems like you created a perfect balance of fun and structure. So glad AJ had fun!

      1. thanks! yes, sometimes it's best not to overthink it!

    6. Here from the roundup. I cheated for Suzy's fourth birthday party: we went to a trampoline place for 1 hour of jumping and fruit afterwards. 3 friends from daycare, 1 no show from daycare because I didn't have their number and they missed the invite.
      Because the minimum number of children I was paying for was 8 I also invited my sister in law with the 5 and 9 year old boys and Suzy's 17 year old half brother.
      And because the place was quiet some adults jumped in as well.
      Secretly relieved that we did not have so many children in our home.
      I have an anxious feeling that at 5 years the parents do not stay during the party anymore...
      Thanks for sharing.

    7. Oh yikes, I didn’t even think about the parents not staying lol! I mean, I’d be fine but it sounds like a lot more work. Well that’s two years away anyway. Thanks for the easy/cheat party ideas I love them!

    8. Well that sounds like a sucess overall!! Hope you continue to have fun birthday parties for her :) I used to always celebrate my birthday growing up and as an adult I often threw parties or went out with friends (dinner at a restaurant type thing). The past several years I haven't though. My birthday is also close to Christmas like you (I'm the 24th) so it can be so awkward like you say! People are busy or away and if I wanted a good turnout I had to postpone doing anything till January (after new years.) Past few years I've mainly just done a small family dinner nothing major. When we moved into our new house I wanted to have a housewarming event but we had loads of friends with young kids at the time and it just seemed too stressful. Also hubby is less into hosting events than me and finds it all stressful so we tend to just stick to smaller one or two couple dinners at a time if we have anyone over.

      1. good for you for celebrating even though you're on the 24th haha! Yes, as people get older they have different expectations of these things: I haven't celebrated birthdays with friends in a while either, now that I think about it. In fact AJ's birthday dinner (the adult version) has become an excuse to get everyone together. Which is kind of embarrassing to admit, but I don't mind if I achieve two goals at once lol!

    9. Congratulations, and happy birthday AJ! That's a huge accomplishment. My best friend tells me about birthday parties and her attempts to not have to host them (she offers her children a "family experience" for a weekend or a party, most of the time they pick the experience, at least until last year...). That's so interesting about your background. I felt badly for your situation with the friend, but you had really no say in the matter. I'm glad you conquered the party -- it sounds like a resounding success, even with the live-and-learns! (Hilarious about the play-doh, didn't think of that either!)

      1. Thanks! Yes it feels good to face fears. Yeah, I wish things had been different with my long ago with my long ago friend....partly because I believe she was later bullied at school (I found a nasty drawing and message on the wall of a washroom stall years later and I believe it targeted her....but if it was her she was no longer at that school so it was too late to do anything. It’s just always bothered me. But yeah,no choice in the matter. Now I do have choices though so it’s important for me to encourage AJ to have good relationships with other children....even if I don’t have a lot of experience from my childhood to guide me.

    10. Good for you for doing this! I always find parties exhausting because of cleaning the house, getting the food and theme organised, figuring out who to invite and then the clean up. But it is so worth it for the kid! I do think they struggle to share toys always! So that is par for the course at that age! But Nicky is getting better at that...

      1. Yup it’s all about having fun and a little bit of learning! I thought it was worth it too. It’s interesting to see how the children react in that setting as it’s not something I experienced.

    11. I'm so glad you all had a good time and AJ will grow up with these happy memories, and you get to make new ones. I wouldn't mind leftover pizza at all but that's me ;) The goodie bags are so cute!

      1. Thanks, and you are right about the new memories. It’s quite exciting to think AJ is now making long term memories.