birthday party, old-school style

When you live in New York City, you can outsource just about everything child-related. And I do mean everything, but most of all? Birthday parties. In any New York City neighborhood, there are dozens of storefronts dedicated to giving your child (and all seventeen classmates you are obligated to invite, at minimum) the best pottery-throwing or robot-making or Broadway-babies-rendering birthday ever.

So what do my kids pick? All three of them? Every single year?

A party at our house.

Which, I hesitate to remind you, is an apartment, with long-suffering downstairs neighbors who can really only be expected to tolerate so much.

And so, while I wear our “house parties” like a badge of my laid-back non-Manhattan parenting style, that is only after I beg, BEG my children to please reconsider whether we can’t have their party at Chuck E. Cheese.


Yesterday was Maggie’s fifth birthday party. “I’m having a cowgirl party,” Maggie had announced months ago, “and it’s going to be at our house, and it will be everything cowgirl.” As the party neared, and I pressed her for details on just what a passel of cowgirls might do for two hours that didn’t involve running around our apartment and screaming, she repeated: “Cowgirl stuff, Mommy.”

At this point I turned to the When Did I Get Like This? Facebook page:

Once again, I am sorry this is turning into the Why I Love Facebook Blog, but seriously y’all: I had 50 ideas in 50 minutes.

Pin the Tail on the Donkey! Hot Potato! Simon Says! Button, Button, Who’s Got the Button!

I made a list of all the least-messy-sounding ideas (nothing involving frosting or glitter glue, sorry). I was all set! I had hours worth of ideas! Freeze Dance would take up about 45 minutes all by itself, right?

Cut to me, in our living room. Twelve five-year-old girls in bedazzled cowboy hats stare up at me.

ME: Okay, everyone! Let’s do Freeze Dance!

ALPHA GIRL: I hate dancing.

ME: Does everyone know the– rules…

All the little girls have turned and looked at the Alpha Girl, sitting on the couch, arms folded.


I turn on the music. No one dances. I break out in a flop sweat and consult my list.

ME: We’ll do Freeze Dance later! Line up everyone! Line up! Let’s play… Button, Button!

It occurs to me I have no idea how to play Button, Button. Nor do I have a button. I look at my watch. I have another hour and forty minutes to go before we can cut the cake.

It is a bad idea to be both the host of the party and the entertainment for the party. If you’re the mother of bride, you hire a DJ. You cannot take twelve little girls, one at a time, to the bathroom and to the kitchen for drinks of water, when you are also overseeing and judging the pass-the-pumpkin-with-your-feet relay. Perhaps you already know this. I’m mostly writing this for myself to read before next year’s party.

But we survived, and we had a ball (at least my kids did).

We kicked it old-school, and I’m proud.

How about you? Do you still throw parties for your kids with pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey and fruit punch? Or do you save your sanity and go to the local bouncy castle wonderland? 



{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

The Tired Mother October 23, 2012 at 1:52 pm

It depends on the kid. My oldest daughter had a party at home, and it was a nightmare, because the kids were so badly behaved. My son has had two big successes where everyone, including me, had an utter blast, and it was largely because the boys were all so sweet. It really is the luck of the draw, and how prepared you are with stuff for them to do-because they’re switching games every 15 minutes. And extra adults on hand really helps!


Pop October 23, 2012 at 3:46 pm

My mother never let me have a birthday party.


Courtney October 24, 2012 at 6:15 pm

Ha, this is great! We have “home” parties because my kids still take naps! So if there is a meltdown, they can just go to sleep:) Well, my daughter has recently stopped taking naps, but it still seems more relaxing to have the party at our house. It’s not an apartment, but it’s still a pretty small house – the house gets really hot from all of the people in it, and I might swear and yell too much during party prep, but it’s usually pretty fun! We have winter birthdays, which can be hard, but we do have a yard. So I kick the guy relatives outside to drink their beverages and the inside is for women and children and old folks. Oh, that’s another thing! Since the kids are still so young, parties have been for families and friends of MINE and my husbands’s, and just a few friends of the kids. Some day that will change, and I think I will be sad! ha ha.


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