Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Happy Holidays, Part IX

In my Family Of Origin, we have what we call Holiday Gulch. It falls in May and June, and consists of seven birthdays, an anniversary, Mothers Day and Fathers Day. Count the first week of July, and you add Independence Day and another anniversary. Over the years, graduations, baptisms and first communions have played havoc with the Holiday Gulch, providing a noticeable spike in sales for Hallmark.

Now, having added to my family, we have another Holiday Gulch, streching from October to the beginning of January. Eight birthdays, two anniversaries, plus Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. (I can hear members of my family counting even as they read this.) That much celebration is really almost too much for any person, but what's hardest about it is the way it's laid out.

After New Year's, many people are setting into their routines -- back to work, back to school. But starting last year, the first week of January has provided a new stress for me: John's birthday party.

People in my family have always made parties fun for kids. My grandma made great treasure hunts for our Easter baskets, and I remember my father putting together one or two on a rainy day. My mom threw awesome parties for birthdays and Christmas -- they moved briskly, they were loud enough to be fun but not so loud that they were out of hand, and everyone got to bring something home.

A couple of years ago, Mom gave me her secret to a good kids' party, and I am about to share it with you. You will have to find your own copy, but I highly recommend it. Go out and buy yourself a copy of "Betty Crocker's Parties for Children," copyright 1967. It ROCKS.

It's full of great game ideas, and nearly every game description has a paragraph on how to deal with the smart-alecky precocious kid who figures out the trick of the game. "If so, invent a rule that states..." I love that. A parent must have written it.

It's progressive in a matter-of-fact way. It has sections on how to modify games to accomodate kids with mental or physical disabilities. It's got some silly gender stuff, but for all that, it's surprisingly modern. Buy this book! I mean it!

What it WON'T do, of course, is take away all of your anxiety that you feel as you prepare your son's sixth birthday party. But it will help. Having a list of games in my hand makes my heart rate go down in a way that pranayama (yoga breathing) can only hint at.

John has not been invited to a traditional birthday party since he's started attending parties. They've all been bowling-alley rentals (where the parents stand back and smoke while the kids bowl -- meh) or massive rent-out-the-rent-a-center Hopper Popper extravaganzas. Yikes.

So I guess I want to do my part to keep the traditional birthday party alive. Six games (10 minutes a game, please God, otherwise I don't know WHAT WE'LL DO) in a nice progression between action and thinking, a goodie bag (filled with legitimate prizes -- kids aren't fooled by plastic whistles that don't work), then cake and presents and ice cream.

And then, when everyone goes home, a bottle of wine and a bath for Mom.


  1. You are a very brave soul! We had a party at our house for Sarah when she turned five. It was awful - kids crying when they lost games or didn't have a long enough turn, a pinata that wouldn't break until I practically had to drive over it with the car, and a noise level that exceeded jets preparing for take off.

    But other than that, it was fun.

    Since then, we have found parties to be more fun and relaxing at Chuck E. Cheese and a local roller rink. They are also both "traditional" for me, though. At the former, I got to play that rolling-the-ball-up-the-ramp (into holes in the target) game, as well as air hockey, to my heart's content; at the latter, I got to reminisce about my own days of roller skating to Air Supply, Kool and the Gang, and Foreigner. Of course, they didn't play any of that awesome music at the Roller Garden for Sarah's party. If she only knew what a loss that was...

  2. Oooh. Good luck with the little buggers. I *love* having parties but always end up getting paranoid right before them, so I don't get why I love them. But I digress. You go!
    One thing that can be a kind of fun, low-key indoor activity is painting t-shirts. I bought a pack of fabric paint markers at Michaels and at every party I just bring home a package of cheap white undershirts and let the kids paint them.