Last week Wifey came down with one of her patented ‘migraines’ which, strangely enough, seem to coincide with her drinking a bottle of wine the night before. While normally this would involve me keeping the boys out of her hair while she sleeps it off in a dark, quiet room, this time I wound up having to take my youngest to a birthday party.
For those without children allow me to impart this knowledge: Attending a five year old birthday party is about as close to torture as a parent can get. Not only are you swarmed by screaming children but you also get the lovely experience of awkward, stilted conversation with their parents who, by all indications, really shouldn’t be parents and who you will probably never see again.
If there is a Hell in any form of afterlife I can promise you two things:
1: I’ll be there.
2: It will constitute a perpetual birthday party with children whose parents let them do whatever they want. Most likely they use you as the pony ride, as well, but that’s just speculation.
But, hey, I’m here to help. Here’s a quick guideline for running a children’s birthday party. It’s comforting to note that things get easier the older they get. The worst is between the ages of 3 and 6 so I’ll focus on that age frame to minimize damage and keep your mental health in tip top shape.
You can thank me later.
Have A Plan: Party themes always go over well, but you need to have a plan in place. Simple, borderline retarded games to keep their feeble, easily distracted minds occupied for 20 minutes at a time are highly recommended. Even if you make something up like obstacle courses with chairs or Simon Says it will help enormously. I would also recommend one of those ‘Bounce’ places with inflatable slides and crazy gyms. They cruise right along and the kids are constantly entertained. Plus there’s no cleanup.
Keep It Moving: Let’s be honest, parents don’t like hosting any more than they like going to these things, so move things along. Keep in mind that children have the attention span of a sand flea and they came for three things: Fun, ice cream and cake. Fun just happens naturally when hapless, clumsy humans run around and bump into each other and, with the games mentioned above, everything should be fine. Just focus on getting the ice cream and cake ready about an hour into the party.
Party Favors: Believe it or not this is THE most critical aspect of any party. Every child must leave with a little something to make them feel like it was worth going. However, you have to be careful not to piss off the parents at the same time. One party gave every kid slide whistles and every adult the strong urge to shove those whistles into very inappropriate places. Think along the arts and crafts line. The best idea were mini Etch-A-Sketches which everyone loved. Magnetic games or even glow sticks work, too.
Use Common Sense: This last party was themed after Star Wars so the parents thought handing out huge, foam light sabers was a fantastic idea. Want to know what happens when you hand out large swords to five year old boys then pump sugar into their blood streams? You already know, don’t you? It was like a steel cage match with the ref unconscious in the corner. A complete free for all that – surprise! – ended with more than one kid crying.
Also, if any activity involves the children climbing a stepladder in order to hit something with a stick you might want to second guess what’s going on in your mental processing as something is misfiring. I’m of course referring to…
Lose The Pinata: Has any child ever left a birthday party asking why there was no piñata? Ever? Never mind that someone (most likely the adult running it) is going to take a pole to the head and/or ball sack, the effort it takes to get the stupid candy into it, but nobody even cares. Lose it and if even one person – adult or child – complains about it, I’ll personally drive to your house with a hand made one shaped like my head. If you want the kids to have even more sugar (or are trying to induce sugar seizures in an attempt to end the party early - which is freakin' genius!) then stick some in a small bag with the favors.
Allow Bartering: When we were kids, the best part of the birthday party favor bags (we called them ‘loot bags’) was the trading that went on after. ‘I got corn chips and a small Milky Way! I’ll take a bag of peanut M&Ms for them!’ This sets off an impromptu, auction like environment that is more fun than the actual party. I’ve noticed all the kids get the same thing. BOOOORRRING! Mix it up and let them fight it out. Plus it teaches them the value of a capitalist market so you can consider yourself educational (if snobby).
Watch Your Kid (Yeah, You!): This is for all the parents who consider a birthday party a free babysitting service. Everyone goes into these things knowing there will be at least one parent who lets their kid run wild or simply drops them off and runs for the hills. Don’t be that parent. If you kid is smacking other kids or single handedly trying to ruin the party, deal with it. Even if that means you dressing the brat down in front of everyone else. Part of being a parent is making sure your child can function in a social setting even if you can’t.
No Alcohol For The Adults: Normally I would consider this sacrilege, but this is a special case. For one thing you don’t want parents driving their high as a kite children home after letting them drink. But the more important reason is that adults tend to slip into socializing mode when beer and wine are introduced. This means parents are hanging out with each other and the kids are watching themselves. See where this is heading? Soon none of the parents give two shits what the kids are doing and ‘Lord of the Flies’ is being reenacted on the playground. Be responsible for two hours. You can do it.
Don’t Open The Gifts: Just wait until everyone leaves and have the birthday boy/girl open them later. Not only does it take fucking forever, but no other child wants to see the cool toys some other brat got that they didn’t. It’s cruel and always – ALWAYS – ends with ‘Dad, can I get one of those?’ or ‘I wanted that….WAHHHHHH!’ followed by a pouty, miserable ride home.
Those are the basics. Stick with those and you should survive with your sanity intact. I would also suggest telling your children not to make many friends or simply toss invitations into the trash when they arrive.
Sadly, many hand them out at school before you can intervene, so you’re going to be trapped at some point. Just keep this survival guide handy and remember that same kid will probably be wiping your ass in 40 years.
Payback’s a bitch.
Today’s distraction: Ten more tips for raising a child you shouldn’t have had in the first place.