Birthdays, part 2

Zoe celebrated her fifth birthday last week and really, really wanted a birthday party. So much so that she began planning it sometime around December. So far, we have celebrated the girls’ birthdays with a family get together, or a very small gathering of a few friends (following the rule of thumb “as many guests as the age you are turning.”)
I’m not a big fan of parties for little kids. I don’t think children should receive a ton of gifts, and especially not all at once; I don’t think kids really enjoy each other’s company in such a large group in a hyped up setting; and don’t even get me started on party bags. But Zoe has a cluster of girls at preschool whom she adores, and I allowed her to invite all 9 of them to our (very small) home to celebrate. The challenge was to hold a party that meet Zoe’s expectations for what a party is supposed to be, but was also true to our family values.
Cool and rainy weather meant we needed to plan indoor activities. I really didn’t want to play games that would lead to someone, or everyone, crying, and I didn’t want to do any crafts that involved lots of plastic, um, crap. So, we started by gathering in a circle and singing four songs of Zoe’s choice. While I played guitar, my husband Keith recorded the girls singing. He spent the rest of the party burning cd’s for each of the girls to take home as a party favor. Then we made necklaces out of noodles that the girls and I had colored the day before with food coloring (see that nice spread up above?) and Ella, my six year old, invited each child to make a spin art painting.

Zoe decided she also wanted to play pin the something on the something, but had a terribly hard time deciding what exactly she wanted pinned onto what. (At one point, she stood across from a sidewalk construction project and suggested we play “pin the cones on the road.” Really.) Finally we landed on “pin the flower on the stem.” In a moment of real inspiration, I drew a stem for each flower, (instead of that one donkey butt), so everyone had a chance to “win.”

May I also boast about my homemade ice cream cake? I grew up on carvel cakes, but when I stood at the supermarket, staring at these $20 cakes full of ingredients that are better suited for a science lab than a child’s tummy, I decided to make my own. A tray of brownies, a half gallon of vanilla ice cream, and a few crushed m&m’s later (did I mention some homemade whipped cream on top?) we had a delicious cake for less than half the price with ingredients we could both pronounce and digest.

We ended the party with a paper bag pinata decorated by the girls, filled mostly with newspaper, and some (forgive me for sounding self-righteously and nauseatingly pc here) fair trade organic earth shaped chocolates that went into the party bags, along with the cd and the spin art.

In the end, it was a lovely little party that stayed true to most of my values. While I still think nine presents is too many, Zoe was very gracious and is sharing everything quite nicely with her sister. Tonight, she sent this to her guests.

And if you think I’m under any illusion of being the perfect mommy, know that I am blogging instead of paying attention to my girls who are supposed to be in bed, but are instead jumping up and down upon the bed.

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Jennifer in MamaLand

posted April 27, 2010 at 10:12 pm

What a gorgeous cake! I did this myself for ds1’s 2nd birthday. It turned out amazingly well, plus – as you discovered – you can customize the flavours and colour scheme as much as you want.
Lest you think I’m the perfect Mommy, I never did it again. :-)

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Sarah Buttenwieser

posted April 27, 2010 at 10:58 pm

i love the party.
we stole this idea (but one you might like for some other year) from a friend: one year we made party bags by finding little “stuff” in the house. i mean we could open a sticker store. we have plenty of little animals (plastic). you know? & i have a huge # of pencils (earth loving ones) from a years ago b’day party.
it was a lightening of our household’s load by spreading the well, the tchkotchkes (which i do not know how to spell).

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Hannah @A Mother in Israel

posted April 28, 2010 at 4:51 am

Since you mentioned M&M’s, we won’t make assumptions about free-range chocolate and perfect mommyhood.
Mazal tov on her birthday! My mom used to make ice cream cake.

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posted April 28, 2010 at 9:36 am

Your values are in the right place!!! Wish I was there! Sounded fun!!!

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Minnesota Mamaleh

posted April 28, 2010 at 3:48 pm

amy, lovely post! i love birthdays, celebrations, etc but am, too, mystified at the best way to do the party-thing. i like the idea of being inclusive but at the same time think much is lost with a *big* gathering. i love including the girls (for now and brody later on) in the planning. you learn so much about what’s important to them and often it’s not what we’d think! i seriously burst out laughing at your last line of the post. no judgments here, lady. no judgments at all. well done and thanks!

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posted April 28, 2010 at 7:30 pm

So nice to read the many ways you balanced providing Zoe with a what she wanted and keeping the party within limits you could live with! I’m glad there are other people out there thinking about these issues and providing models for alternatives.
One thing we’ve done for several years now is ask partygoers to bring items for an organization of the birthday boy’s choosing. So far we’ve collected books for kids, pet stuff for a shelter, and food for a food shelf. My son still gets presents from the relatives, but we avoid what I consider unneeded presents and he gets to practice celebrating tzedakah as part of his birthday. I hope this helps us navigate his Bar Mitzvah when that time comes.

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Frume Sarah

posted April 29, 2010 at 5:07 pm

Really it was the violence that you encourage with the pinata that gets me :)
Come on…every other mama seems more perfect. I recently apologized to my kids that I wasn’t as nice a mom as a close friend of ours. Without skipping a beat, my son said, “guess that’s why those kids aren’t very well behaved.”
We’re all in this together.

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posted April 30, 2010 at 10:52 am

I am with you on the party thing! We usually just have a few friends over but it is hard when you don’t want to leave anyone out. And I agree, the kids don’t really have fun with large gatherings. In fact, I’ve been to and given birthday parties where the birthday girl/boy wound up crying and upset! I avoid those cakes that have all those ingredients too!

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posted May 24, 2010 at 9:27 pm

So lovely, Amy! I am going to make one of those ice cream cakes, yum

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