Monday, 23 February 2009

It's my party and I cry if I want to...

Well, my girl is growing up. She got her first invite to a birthday party at nursery school today. In a church hall, so presumably one of these big ones (though, maybe they just have a small house?).

The whole birthday party 'thing' freaks me out. Friends with older children tell me about competitions between mothers over who's going to have the best entertainer, who's going to spend the most money, who's going to have the best hall, who's going to have the fanciest goody bags... And apparently it costs them a fortune in presents for all the parties they have to go to. And, if you do one of these big parties, it costs a fortune. Some people spend a grand, apparently. And even for a fairly low-key one you're talking a few hundred quid.

Is this true? Or is it all just part and parcel of the scare stories people tell you, like the blood and gut stories of giving birth, and the claims of continual sleepless nights for years and years. That last one does seem to have come true for us and, actually, now I think of it, there was a fair bit of blood and guts during R's birth. Damn it. I guess the parties aren't a myth either.

But is it like weddings? The media tells you that the average amount people spend on a wedding is £20,000. But how many people really spend £20,000 on a wedding? It's not necessary. We spent about £1500 on ours and everyone gave us money for the honeymoon, so we maybe spent £200 on it ourselves. And we had a fantastic and very memorable time for both. No-one said 'What an awful wedding, why didn't they spend more money on flowers and fancy cars?' (as far as I know).

When I was kid, we all had birthday parties. They were at the child's home and there was party food, consisting of sandwiches, crisps and pineapple and cheese on sticks, followed by jelly and ice-cream, and slices of cake to take home. There was a party bag, which would have the cake, a balloon and a one of those things you blow and they unfurl and make a noise (what are they called?). And there would be party games. Musical chairs, musical bumps, musical statues, dying flies, sleeping lions (?) and, of course, everyone's favourite - pass the parcel. And that was it. They lasted about an hour and a half. And everyone did the same thing. Surely that will do now? Won't it? Please?!!

So, if we do budget parties is R going to be ostracised, or teased? Will she not be invited to any parties, because we're not reciprocating in the correct way? Or will there actually be plenty of normal (old-fashioned?) parties and nothing to worry about?


  1. I did one party with an entertainer and it was rubbish. Do them at home and call it a retro party. I did and the kids loved it!

  2. Here's my party history:

    No party for either child when turned 1

    Decided to do a joint party at a softplay place for birthday 2 because I felt like I ought to. I shouldn't have bothered.

    Second son didn't get a party when he turned 2

    Son 1 had a pizza party for his third birthday. I went to massive effort making pizza dough, ordering pizza boxes the kids could decorate, giving each child a little rolling pin and apron instead of a party bag etc. It was great - the kids enjoyed it and I enjoyed it but it was a LOT of effort. Despite that I repeated it almost exactly the same for son 2 when he turned 3 as I had all the kit - only this time there was more charging about and fewer girls.

    Son 1 turns 4. I can't face the thought of a bunch of kids I don't know and having to get them to play party games. Filled me with fear. So I paid for an entertainer and the village hall, made food, made a spectacular pirate ship cake etc. Son 1 hated the whole experience. Dismal failure. Waste of money. Not to be repeated.

    Son 1 turns 5 - very nasty gathering of a few mates at the bowling alley. I felt that it was rubbish but they seemed to have an ok time.

    Went to a party yesterday - they had an entertainer but this was an old school entertainer and they just had a ball playing all the old fave games, had basic food on basic plates with basic party bags. And it was the best party we'd been to.

    I think go for traditional and the kids will love it. The fuss is put on for the other parents, not the kids. So screw it and do it traditional. Son 2's next party will definitely be party games, jelly/ice cream/ cake and home.

  3. I'm organising Isobel's first birthday party. It's in the pub because the adults way out weigh the chldren.

    But it's still stressful: function room or main pub area? So many people I'm making two cakes and even though there are few children, because I've bought Isobel a teepee I decided to make individual feather headdresses for the kids.

    And Isobel won't even remember it!

    You know sometimes I think I am my own worst enemy.

  4. Do your own thing at home. The kids will love it. Don't invite too many (6 is plenty), unless you have to reciprocate lots of parties that R has been to. And my top tip is this: keep it short. An hour and a half is all you need. If you run out of things to do, put on some jolly music ('I like to Boogie' from Billy Eliot is great), and let the kids dance. Tell them it's a dancing competition, and then give everyone a prize.

  5. Tish and pish I say.
    I have been to parties where the goodie bags were so extravagant I was embarassed about the gift we bought and I remember the first week my son was in Reception a mum was flapping because she couldn't get the names of all the children in her daughter's class and how could she invite them to her party next week.
    We didn't even know her daughter!
    I say again. Tish. And. Pish.
    Last year my son had a swimming party. Best. Money. I. Ever. Spent.
    It cost me £60 and they got to splash around in the pool with inflatables for an hour then sat at the side having a homemade picnic and they all got a cupcake and a waterpistol in their goodie bag.
    Easy peasy.

  6. Don't do it at home! If you are anything like me you'll have to spend two weeks clearning up BEFORE the party and two weeks after, and it lets other parents inspect where you live, and they can be a pedantic lot! Soft play areas have always been my choice but my daughter will be 6 next birthday so I'll have little choice in the venue I suspect!

  7. Musical bumps? I'd forgotten that one!

    Sleeping lions? Dead flies? Huh?

    We've done a total of 3 parties for DD (age 9) and 1 for DS (age 6). We have started offering them a special family trip instead of a party - and bless their little souls they have been opting for the family time! It probably costs us the same for a Grand Day Out, with lunch and dinner out, as the party would - and it's much more fun for mum and dad!

  8. My girls are a year old at the weekend (or at least they would be, if there was a 29th this year). We have invited fifty of their closest baby friends to a sit down meal of rice cakes and Frutapura, where the dress-code will be cocktail baby-gros and lounge suits. Their cake is iced with edible gold leaf, and each baby will leave with a goody bag containing a diamante-encrusted Tommy Tippee cup and some pureed foie gras. I just can't believe that some parents aren't prepared to make an effort...

  9. Thanks everyone. It seems the consensus is that it's OK to not go along with the big fancy party trend. Which is great. Phew!

    For R's 2nd birthday, we went to the big park near the leisure centre and had a picnic. Family came and we also invited children and parents from the drop-in we went to. The invite said that we would be going there and having a picnic, it wasn't a party, but if anyone felt like coming along, too, they would be very welcome. We stressed that it was not a party, there should be no presents, there would be no goody bags or cake. There would be some healthy snacks for the little ones (akin to the ones they get at drop-in), but if the mums and dads wanted food, they should bring their own picnic.

    Quite a few turned up (about five children, most with mums and dads, some with just mums). And it was fine. Although R spent the whole time playing with an older child who she met at the park. And one of the parents had a serious dog fear, so was a bit concerned about our dog; who was walked around the boundaries of the park and kept away from the play areas.

    We also had a family party at home on her actual birthday, with stupid amounts of presents and a very nice strawberry and cream birthday cake, that I managed to throw together. And a trip to the circus a couple of days after. The trip to the circus will definitely be a regular thing, as it's an amazing circus and just the right time of year for it.

    We're fortunate that R's birthday will always be in the school holidays, so I think we'll be able to get away with small parties or just a few friends at a soft-play place or something like that. Though I'm sure there will come a time when she specifies what she wants!

    AA: Dying flies is where all the children lie on the floor wriggling their legs and arms in the air and the last one still wriggling wins. Sleeping lions (or possibly sleeping something else) is where they all lie on the floor and be completely quiet. The last one still lying quietly wins. (Some clever parent invented that one, to give them a breather, I would guess!)

  10. I just hosted a birthday party for my 7 year old in the San Francisco Bay Area. It was a home party and, yes, we played pass the parcel. This is my favorite game. It's like hot potato. When the music stops then pull off one layer of wrapping paper and read the activity on the card (such as "tell a joke". This type of party is cost effective and the kids LOVED it. I also used Jooners for a Gift Wish List Your birthday child will really want what they receive and you eliminate duplication.

  11. We do our fair round of birthday parties these days (kids 3 and 2 and a whole load of young family extended family members) and there does not seem to be any competition. Most of them really seems the same , none better than the next .
    I actually really miss house parties with games and fancy dresses, we don't have the room at the moment but as soon as we move we will be having traditional birthday parties then