Were parties before I had kids really as easy as I remember? All you had to do was call some friends, shop, cook, clean a little (maybe just the bathroom), light some candles and voila! A blowout for the record books.
I get all misty remembering the carefree days way back before Randy and I were married when we had (nearly) 31 flavors of ice cream for my 31st birthday (our address was 3114); when I whipped up an Indian feast for a crowd of friends who have since moved hundreds of miles east, west and south; when we watched Night of the Hunter projected on a sheet in our back yard.
Children's parties should be easy-peasy, right? Kids don't give a damn if you forget to set out the raita.
But as I'm planning my daughter's sixth birthday party, I feel like there's a minefield I'm tiptoeing through - okay, not with any really dire consequences, it's more like a minefield set with firecrackers - but I am walking gingerly none the less. For children's parties there's a whole different set of expectations and sensitivities.
Consider the all important goody bags. Grownups don't expect take-aways (I'm new to the world of swag) but you can't disappoint the kids. I do hate to think of buying and circulating more plastic c**p from China - feels like bad karma. The mom who called them "baddy bags" got it right on the money. Deciding what to offer our guests is its own little agony. I loved handing out tiny potted flowers last year - hauling these to a pool party this year just won't work logistically or thematically.
And of course I want to be green as possible, but each decision carries its own bin of anxiety - I'm using washable linens and tableware and trays, but the bleeding-edge organic cake place was, ahem, less than happy with my unexciting decoration request. Latex balloons are biodegradable, right?
Do I invite siblings? Ouch, this one's tough.... I love the baby brothers and sisters of Mia's classmates, but I don't know them all. They could double or almost triple the guest list, the chaos and my stress level. Here's a brain teaser: Since my girls are in mixed-aged classrooms, the birthday girl has a three-year old classmate who has a six-year old brother who is in the birthday's girl's sister's class. Got that? Now what? Invite the boy who is in the birthday girl's class? Invite the brother who is closer in age to birthday girl? Invite both? The last is the solution, of course, but there are imperfect decisions like this to make for nearly every invite.
Strangers are friends we have not yet met? For grown-up parties (where nobody's buying or selling), you don't usually invite a bunch of people you don't know. Now I am delighted to make new friends. I would just prefer not to meet other parents in my wet and skimpy clothes. (What were we thinking when we scheduled an October pool party? Bad weather and a messy house is what we were thinking. No, it was, it IS a good idea. Stay the course, Cindy, stay the course.)
No booze, sigh. Alcohol's social lubrication can smooth over the most awkward of getting-to-know-you conversations, but I do have to stay on my toes when blindfolded kids are swinging bats or making poking motions with donkey-tail pins. Deep sigh.
Gifts or no? My "No Gifts Please, Your Presence is Our Present" on invitations has always been summarily ignored. I think I understand why. The two times I took this suggestion on an invite and showed up at a party with only a card, it was like a bad dream or a Bridget Jones movie - you know, the one where she's the only one who came to the party half-naked? And both times I got a thank you note for gifts we did not give. And had to call the mom and explain. Are you cringing yet?
Big picture. Our daughter has had six sweet years of love, health and growth. I know I don't have to be the perfect hostess. Once I tiptoe past these little firecrackers, we'll celebrate on the other side...where the important stuff is making our guests feel welcome and all the kids laughing and splashing and everyone singing the song together and the hugs goodbye.