I am not a Facebook-perfect mom. I love my kids, spend a lot of time with them, and even take lots of pictures of them (certainly more than my parents took of me, hampered as they were by old-fashioned Kodaks that served no other function and that involved the hassles of film and developing). But my snapshots are frequently out of focus, and I usually don’t think to upload anything to social media until months after the fact.
Nowhere am I more deficient in the Facebook mom arena than with birthday parties. It’s not just the failure to document and share the whole affair; it’s that even if I (or my husband) were a great photographer, our parties are never picture perfect, in part because they’re usually in our cluttered apartment that has clearly been decorated by two adults with minimal aesthetic (or handyman) skills.
We’ve done a few out-of-the-house parties over the years: a pool party, a gymnastics party—even one at Build-a-Bear. I’ve loved not having to do any cleanup before or after, but did not like the massive cash outlay, the feeling of being rushed, or the awkwardness of watching a professional run the show while I stood around feeling vaguely superfluous.
Our parties are usually fairly low-key affairs, but this year I took it down another notch. I’ve never been one for printed invitations, particularly not those old-fashioned fill-in-the-blank ones that require you to write in the same information over and over, but I usually do e-vites. This year, with only seven girls on the guest list, including four my daughter sees each day at school, it occurred to me there was no need to go through the whole pick-an-image-and-theme rigamarole: I could just type up all the relevant details, email them to the parents I know, and print them out for the other ones.
To save paper, I even copied and pasted the message so all the invitations could fit on one sheet, then cut them into little strips and handed them to my daughter to pass out. They weren’t beautiful, but they did the job, and I figured this way anyone who wasn’t invited yet accidentally witnessed the message-delivery wouldn’t feel bad about being excluded since it didn’t even look like an invitation.
With that taken care of, I kicked back (well, actually, I went to work and did all those day-to-day life chores) until a few hours before the party, when I walked around the corner to our local 99-cent store. There I scooped up paper goods, a “Happy Birthday” banner, some goodie bags, some candy, and the kind of Made In China favors that come four for $1.29. (In this case, fans and those plastic puzzles where you slide numbers around.) Total damage: $25.
I headed to the supermarket for cupcake ingredients, cake-decorating doodads (various types of sprinkles and toppings), and two kinds of ice cream, then went home, where I handed the 99-cent store purchases to my daughters, dispatching them to decorate the house and divvy up the favors and candy into goodie bags, while I got started on the cupcakes. (Meanwhile, my husband did most of the emergency house-cleaning.)
Now, you might be surprised that I make my own cupcakes, but here’s a secret: They are easy and cheap, and I don’t have to frost them, because, decorating cupcakes turns out to be a wildly popular party activity that keeps kids entertained for at least half an hour, more if you divide white icing into lots of little containers and let them color each one differently using those little droppers of food-coloring. Like Tom Sawyer and the whitewashed fence, I cross a task off my list while my little workers think they’ve scored a special treat. And no one is subjected to the clumsily decorated confection I’d have produced.
When our guests started to arrive, the cupcakes were cooling on the counter and the dishes were mostly washed. I let the girls entertain themselves until everyone had arrived, then brought them down to our apartment complex’s communal garden. They ran around and made lots of noise, while I ordered some pizzas for us to enjoy on a picnic blanket. After our lavish meal (we rounded out the pizza with baby carrots and ice water), I relaxed on a lawn chair while the girls played with hula hoops and jump ropes and did a few sack races with
the cheap burlap sacks I ordered online for last year’s birthday party.
As dusk approached, we gathered up our garbage and gear (9-year-olds can actually be recruited to help carry these things) and headed back up to the apartment for aforementioned cake-decorating extravaganza, followed by candle-blowing-out (since cupcakes are small, you have an excuse for not putting in a candle for each year) and ice cream. After which, my daughter ceremoniously opened her presents while I cleaned up. (A disposable or at least machine-washable tablecloth is a must if you’re going to let seven 9-year-old girls go wild with food coloring and sprinkles.)
By this time they were ready for the sleepover part—the part that’s annoying and noisy and doesn’t allow anyone in the family to get much sleep, but in which the kids are essentially self-entertaining.
In the morning, fueled with several cups of coffee and the knowledge tha we were almost done, I served breakfast (I actually baked biscuits even though it was a million degrees outside because, well, they were easy and a crowd-pleaser), had the girls get dressed and pack up their stuff, and sent them to the garden (with my husband) to play until their parents came to pick them up.
This bare-bones party cost $100 at the most (including the expense of ordering way more pizza than necessary) and required virtually no advance planning or Martha Stewart-y skills. But the best part was that my daughter and her friends bonded with each other and had a wonderful time, essentially getting to do what they wanted, with minimal parental interference or choreographing.
I even took a few pictures,which, who knows, I just might post on Facebook. Someday.