Birthday survival games

Think you're alone in dreading your child's birthday party?

By Kathy Buckworth
Birthday survival games

Take solace in the fact that even Robert Munsch hates them too. “Things always get hyper at birthday parties.” Coming from him that’s saying a lot. He based his picture book Moira's Birthday on a party where unbeknownst to him or his wife, Julie; their daughter invited all of grade three to her celebration. Of course in his story, Moira invites all of grade 1 through to all of grade 6, six hundred kids and has to order 200 cakes and 200 pizzas to feed them all. Still his story has a happy ending, Moira does all the planning and when she receives over $800 in birthday card money, she covers the costs too.

Are there lessons that can be learned in trying to ensure a stress free and fun party which succeeds in eliminating some of the inherent “hyperness”? It could be a more serious problem than having 200 pizza boxes to get to the recycling curb. Kathy Kacer, children's author, (latest book Hiding Edith, Second Story Press), says hyper high excitement, an impending cold and a lack of sleep all contributed to the worst asthma attack her then eight year old son Jake Epstein ever experienced. In the middle of eating pizza, Jake, now star of Degrassi the Next Generation, had to be taken from his own party by Kathy and rushed to the hospital to be hooked up to ventolyn. Can we avoid disasters like this by eliminating some of the high drama of the parties?

Editor of Today’s Parent Toronto Helen Keeler thought she could by sticking to the rules and only having as many children at the party as the age her child was turning, an oft-quoted guideline for parents new to the birthday party game. She invited 2 children to her child’s 3rd birthday, and in her words “You have never seen a sadder, more boring little birthday party. The three of them just staring at each other and waiting to go home.” So maybe there is a happy medium to be found here – a number somewhere between two and 600 that both you and your child will be happy with.

Lesson #1: We need to be flexible on our birthday party “rules”, and plan the party to fit both parents’ and children’s’ needs

With a book called The Secret Life of SuperMom, you’d think, Kathy Buckworth, would have it all together during birthday parties – until the ill-fated pool party/sleepover I threw which featured warring factions of 11-year-old girls (the worst kind…second only to the mothers of the same girls, who chewed me out for “allowing” my own daughter to invite who she wanted to her own party.) Still makes me cringe. Add into the fact that I had planned this party, as well as my 9-year-old son’s for the next night, both sleepovers, and I had a 3-year-old and a 2-month-old in the house at the time – well my mental state was a little unstable to begin with. I figured if I wasn’t sleeping anyway…

Lesson # 2- Knowing something about the personalities of your invitees and the environment you will have them in is an important consideration

Combining birthday parties for either multiples or siblings with birthdays closer together on the calendar can be a good idea. Helen Stone has two children who have birthdays only two days apart. She has always tried to organize the parties for at least the same weekend, and one year she decided she was ready for the real “double-header”: two parties on one day. In Helen’s own words, however, she went a little over of the top…

“I had a very large blow up jumping castle delivered and set-up in my back yard on Friday morning for Riley's Saturday party. That Friday was a PD day so the neighbourhood kids spent the day in my yard. Saturday morning arrives, and, it's raining. Thankfully it stops just before my yard begins to fill up with two dozen 5 year old boys and girls. There is lots of mud, though, but the jumping castle is a huge hit. It turns out to be a glorious spring day. I serve hot dogs, cake, etc and then Riley's party is over. I am worn out. One hour goes by and poof, I have 20 nine year old girls in the back yard. They too are attracted to the jumping castle, which was not meant for Emma's party but it is there. Shortly after, two young women arrive with a huge boom box, and some interesting props ready to teach the girls hip hop dancing. I get to sit down and watch this. After Emma's party supposedly ends, so not to offend anyone, about 8 of the girls are asked to sleep over. More food, movies, games, laughter. I finally go to bed, before they do, and its 2 AM. I wake up on Sunday morning to find the girls in the back yard in their pj's bouncing in the castle. After a morning of pancakes, bacon and strawberries, I say "never again".

Lesson #3: Be aware of your own energy level

At least Helen was able to get through this intense party weekend without any injuries…unlike Georgie Binks’ smashing bowling party.

“At my daughter's tenth birthday we took 19 girls and my 5-year-old son bowling at Bowlerama. Everything was going fine until one of the girls reached her hand down to grab a bowling ball, and an incoming ball smashed her finger. It tore her fingernail off and broke her finger. My husband had to take her to emergency while I ran the birthday party with the rest of the kids. When I called her parents to tell them I burst into tears. We survived though - I still think my husband had it easier with hospital duties than I did all by myself with those kids.”

Lesson #4: Make sure there is another adult on hand for moral support as well as emergency situations

You plan for weeks and weeks, have everything nailed down including the perfect location – or so you think. When Fern Mosoff gathered up her birthday party crowd and traveled a huge distance to get “the” wave pool for a fun filled splashing good time, she had to improvise when she found out that the wave machine wasn’t working. The kids had to satisfy themselves by playing in “calm” water. The next time, she made certain to ensure that her location would be in working order. Determined to find some birthday fun on dry ground, she made time consuming and pain staking arrangements with her school’s administration to use their gym. When she arrived with her excited crowd she found the school doors had been locked up tight. Thank goodness the outside school yard was available and the weather co-operative. Trying to have every detail planned, down to the last fun-filled minute is a good idea, but like Fern, there can be glitches to every plan…so Sarah Moore, Managing Editor of Today’s Parent found out, when she meticulously planned out her four year old son’s Griffin’s birthday party.

“It was the first birthday party we held where he invited friends (as opposed to just a family celebration). We had three girls and three boys. My husband and I had five or six games planned, which were dispensed with in the first five minutes of the party. This meant we were stuck with seven four-year-olds in our home for the next hour and a half (in miserable-weather March) with nothing to do. So while the boys ran across the back of my couch, the girls sat and coloured quietly at the table. I tried not to sound like a drill sergeant, so as not to scare the girls, while demanding the boys get off the furniture. Anyway, lame-o parents we are, we finally popped in a video for the last 45 minutes of the party. As one little boy sat on my husband’s lap, he wet himself (and, of course, my husband).”

Lesson #5: Murphy’s Law is alive and well at birthday parties – go with the flow and don’t overreact when it engages (A back up video is always a great idea!)

What about accepting all of your party planning limitations and just hiring professionals? Fool proof? Only if you decide not to overrule the professionals…

Tiziana D’Angelo, owner of Messy Hands Art Bus recalls a certain determined parent.

“There was a mother who really wanted to have her 3 year old's party on the Messy Hands Art Bus. We told her that our parties are geared towards kids 4 years old and up. She kept insisting that this group of children could handle the being on the bus on their own. Because she kept insisting and it was early on in our business, we said yes....bad mistake! On the day of her party, the birthday child who had turned 3 had many 2 year old friends. Because our bus can only accommodate 22 kids which is what she had, we could not accommodate parents as well, so the kids thought the bus was going to leave without mom & dad, even though we tried to tell them the bus doesn't move... anyway, end result, we had a bus-load of crying 2 & 3 year- olds. Although most kids settled down eventually with the painting of their plaster handprint, it was a stressful party for the parent, the guests and their parents, our staff, and most importantly the birthday child. As a parent, isn't the goal of your child's party to have him/her & the guests to enjoy themselves & have fun?”

Lesson # 6: Listen to the professionals – that’s why you hired them

“Professional planner” Carol Leddon-Cusson, owner of Amazon Indoor Playground and also know as the “Loot Lady” has been in the business long enough to prepare her staff, and parents for the inevitable hiccups which accompany most birthday parties. She says she often has to rush in for things like cake emergencies. She keeps a spare tube of icing on hand for misspellings and even a spare cake in the freezer for melted ice cream cakes.

Lesson #7 Keep extras and spares of everything, cup cakes, loot bags, balloons, prizes and activities

Cake emergencies, or “situations” can happen to anyone. Josey Vogels, well known columnist and author of five books, didn’t always aspire to be a writer – cake decorator was once at the top of her list…until she experienced her own cake, ahem, situation.

“When I was about 15, I decided that was my calling and took lessons from a woman in our community who was quite skilled. I decided to do a "Superman" cake for a local woman's 6-year-old's birthday. I couldn't get the blue on the cape to the right royal blue shade (Superman in a robin's blue cape just wouldn't do) so I kept adding food colouring until I got it nice and dark. Well, the cake was a hit, until all the kids went home with blue mouths and tongues. And that wasn't the only thing that was blue I found out later from some of the mothers that “blue diarrhea for days" was the common complaint! That was the end of my stellar cake decorating career.” And for that, we parents are grateful.

Lesson #8: Hire reputable professionals; get references if you can

For more help finding these professionals check our directory under birthdays & parties. Still dreading the celebration of your child’s birth? Remember that all the tellers of these disaster stories survived the birthday experience and you can too.

This article was originally published on Aug 03, 2009

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