Family Life

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Raising Mary: Birthday Parties Can Be Simple

Raising Mary - birthday partiesStay-at-home mom Tracy Cooper bucks the trend with a homemade party. The verdict? Four-year-olds aren’t that hard to please.

I think I remember my fourth birthday party. I was sitting in front of the birthday cake at the kitchen table, wearing a yellow blouse and black jumper, surrounded by a handful of child relatives. I think I remember – except that these details all appear in a faded, 1976 photo. Is it a real memory or one my mind projected from the photograph?
In preschool, Mary received several birthday party invitations. Without exception, the parties were held at indoor play facilities. I thought this was neat, but wondered if it was worth spending
big bucks on a two- or three-year-old. I was also surprised that a few of the invitations came from children Mary rarely mentioned, which made me think the entire class was invited. The big question: how can the average person afford to invite that many children to a professionally run party?
Mary was recently invited to the elaborate fête of a neighbourhood child, which was hosted at a gymnastics centre. Pizza was included, and the child’s parents had to provide only the cake and party favours. And no clean-up? I’m feeling that. We decided by age four that Mary would be mature enough to have a children’s birthday party instead of just an adult family party. (At one, kids don’t know what’s going on. Two-year-olds are moody and seem to randomly hit other children. At three, they’re starting to understand what a birthday is, but can be overwhelmed.) I wondered what was wrong with a party at home, with a cake lovingly baked from scratch and simple activities for just a few children. But to be sure, I looked into some of the latest birthday party options. You can get a clown to come and perform magic tricks. Or young women dressed as princesses can run a dress-up party and help the kids put on a show in your living room. You can rent the local indoor soccer field. And my personal favourite: a celebration at an art studio, with two instructor-led projects and all the fixings. The parties run from about $200 to $500. Ouch!
So we decided Mary was getting a party run by Mommy. I picked a colour scheme and my husband, Tom, and I spent two evenings stringing red yarn through tiny holes in co-ordinating paper cups for a ceiling garland. I bought a handful of favours from the local party store (miniature notepads, plastic sunglasses, stickers) and put them in brown paper lunch bags, which I hand-painted with kids’ names and tied with red yarn. I baked cupcakes topped with sprinkles and lollipops. There was pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, and the kids painted plain wooden frames and pictures at our dining table. I hired a teenaged face painter for $50 for two hours. There was juice and tea sandwiches filled with stuff like cucumber and cream cheese. And when I realized I hadn’t planned enough activities, the kids were, mercifully, happy to play with toys in the basement. It turns out four-year olds aren’t that hard to please.
But five-year-olds? That’s another story. My daughter has been planning her next birthday party since the morning after this one. Of course, she wants to invite every child in her class.

Published May 2010

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