Confession: I am a party planning addict. I’ve always loved a good theme and I can seriously get down with Pinterest…so much so that I get a teensy bit carried away. It’s an problem, y’all. I love decorations and favor bags and details like embossed spoons, and I want to cover the world with birthday glitter and confetti!! So, while Pinterest is a great resource, it’s kiiiinda like birthday party crack for a recovering addict.
Shoot, before Pinterest was even a thing, I got carried away with parties. I had a friend growing up whose mother always made elaborate birthday cakes…she created a coral reef out of cake once, and an archaeological dig cake another year. I’m not kidding when I say it was phenomenal. So, naturally, when Maggie was born I declared that I would make every single one of her birthday cakes and they would be spectacular and we would have elaborate parties with excellent themes and mothers everywhere would sing my praises and my name would go down in birthday party hiiiiistory!!
The cake thing lasted, oh I don’t know…a year? I made an owl for her first birthday and almost died from the stress. Combined with decorating, organizing invitations and freaking out over gifts and food and flow, it was just too much. Because, there’s the thing: I’m really not a detail person. I have a hard time hammering everything out without having a meltdown because I simply plan too much in too little time, with too little attention to the teensy details of how long things are going to take.
And after a few years of melt-downs in which I didn’t enjoy my child’s birthday at all, (’cause I like doing something that didn’t work over and over and over…don’t talk to me about the definition of insanity.) I decided that something’s gotta give. It’s not fair to my children or myself to have me freaking out over ten gazillion tiny details. While I love the intricacies of themed flatware and have an undying love for swagged table linens, I’m just not a detail person. I’m not. I love ’em, but I have a real hard time pulling it all off.
So, segue to this year…(smooth, eh?)
truly selfish Christmas gift, I gave Maggie a copy of Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. I wanted to read her first chapter book out loud to her and thought it would be pretty approachable since she loves animals and Garth Williams did such captivating illustrations. Also, I like a good cry.
Oh, man was it a hit! Maggie was SO into the book and actually slept with it for a while, which filled my little librarian heart with joy! I was even more excited when she asked to have a Charlotte’s Web birthday party…I may have planted the idea in her head. Okay, I did. But it was awesome and she loved it and I’m not sorry at all.
So, I wanted this birthday to be special for Maggie since it’s the first one she’s really had a part in planning. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t get carried away, and I feel like I hit my stride this year! I was able to have a really great party and enjoy myself!
Here’s what we did:
Outsource – If somebody can do it better than you, let ’em! It’s all well and good to make things by hand if you can. Shoot, you might even save money. But will it turn you into a raving lunatic? Mayhaps. I have neither the time, patience, nor skills to create every single party detail myself…like I kept telling myself in years past. But! I have friends who do have the time, patience and skills! So, my first words of advice are utilize the connections you have.
I started with invitations. I don’t necessarily mind generic invitations, but I really prefer custom invites. Call me a stationary snob, but I like fancy invitations. Now, due to some Pinterest/Facebook stalking I realized that my college friend, Jennifer, runs an Etsy shop called the Prettiest Print Shop. Please go there and oogle all of the prettiness. Go. Now.
Now that you’ve oogled and now want to throw a carousel party, did you see that, for an incredibly reasonable price, Jennifer will custom design invitations/stationary/amazing things for you. Did you see that I said they’re custom made? As in, she makes them from scratch, sends you a file and you print to your little heart’s content.
Also, I should add that turn-around on these custom invites was super-fast! Jennifer was apologetic that it “took so long” but she was able to whip these out in four days…while she was also throwing a magnificent birthday party for her own daughter. I really can’t say enough great things about using Jennifer’s shop. Best decision ever.
Here’s how ours turned out:
And I bought a cake. Not sorry. Best cake ever.
Pace yourself and pick one thing. Now, I’m about to get a little crazy here, but one way to pull off an adorable party without acting like a crazy person is to live on the wild side and plan ahead. I know, I know…I thought it would never work, too, but trust me on this one.
I started collecting ideas about a month out so I had a bit of a plan once we got closer to the actual partay. I clearly gathered more ideas than I could possibly pull off, so that’s when I preceded to do not all the things, but only a few of the things. (Mind blowing, right??)
I like hand lettering things. It’s cathartic for me so I knew making some cute banners would be an enjoyable task. I made two. I used fine point Sharpies, card stock and some blank invitations I bought last year when I was delusional enough to think I could make fabulous invitations by myself. Seriously, y’all.
I also made the favor bags, but thanks to the dollar aisle at Target, they were a breeze. I lucked out and found tiny burlap bags and little gift tags that I put each child’s name on. Thinking that everybody would be sufficiently sugared up by the end of the party, I just filled them up with cheap bubbles and hopping frog toys. I also gathered up all of our broken crayons and melted them into mini cupcake liners to make “soda cap” crayons (Wilbur goes to the fair after all) and, because it’s cheap and easy, Mags and I made orange play dough and shaped it into carrots. Sounds kind of time consuming, but it was seriously SO easy.
Picking one thing also means delegating and letting others help. I let my husband be in charge of the food. He’s much more prepared to cook for a crowd than I am, he’s a better cook anyway, plus he had just purchased a new smoker and wanted to try it out. To which I said, be my guest, good sir! Sure, we served smoked ribs and pulled pork at a Charlotte’s Web party, but we love irony, so it worked. It was also delicious.
Aside from food, I knew I wanted to have some kind of a “pigs in mud” themed activity and tossed around a zillion ideas from painting things to playing with pudding to doing actual mud (not every idea I have is good, not even close). Anyway, I couldn’t ever decide and was starting to get stressed when my mother-in-law stepped in and offered to make pig shaped cookies that the kids could dip in warmed up chocolate frosting. I let her and here’s why: she makes the best butter cookies in the history of mankind, I like eating cookies, I like not being crazy, she likes helping and she’s very good at it. Win, win, and win.
Another part of picking just one thing is not over-planning. We didn’t do any other activities or games because these kids present were all four and under. If I’ve learned anything from doing library programming it’s this: events take longer than you expect. It takes time to move people through food lines and the execution of activities is always more time consuming than you think it’ll be. I’ve also learned that people don’t need or expect a three ring circus. One activity is more than enough…just being together with friends and family is special so there’s no need to add extra stuff to it.
I think the thing that made this party the most enjoyable for me of all I’ve done is that I let go of my preconceived notions of what parties are “supposed to be” and let my child take the lead. When Maggie’s best friend, Ella, showed up and they were both super-excited about opening the gift Ella chose, I let her open it right then and there. Sure, you’re “supposed to” open all the gifts at once. But that’s no fun and birthdays are supposed to be fun. When Maggie told me she was feeling overwhelmed and that she didn’t want to play with all the other kids, I let her play with her new cash register from Ella. Forcing her into stressful social interactions is not fun and birthdays are supposed to be fun. When Mags told me a few days before that she didn’t want everybody to sing to her, I was fully prepared to announce to everybody that we would not be singing Happy Birthday. Sure, that’s what you’re “supposed to do” but sometimes being sung to by a room full of people is scary. It kind of freaks me out, to be honest. She did decide to go ahead with the singing, though.
Overall, this was the most fun I’ve had at one of my kids’ birthday parties ever! What are your tips and tricks for throwing a pain-free party?