When we started talking about birthday plans a few weeks ago, the Little Overachievers were united on just one thing. They wanted to be pirates. And once they had made up their minds, they were determined to have a pirate party at one particular place with all of their friends. And I do mean ALL of their friends! Or at least all of their classmates. So I booked a location (no WAY could that many kids would fit into our tiny house!) with lots of space and a cool pirate ship to play on. Then I started shopping. I got a Jolly Roger flag, pirate hats, eye patches, plastic swords and all sorts of treasure for the kids to go find. (Have I ever mentioned that I love online shopping? No way could we have pulled this off with real world pricing!)
I had great plans! No. Scratch that. I had the grandest of plans!! We were going to set up a treasure hunt. I even made a bunch of treasure chests! I was going to give each kid a list of treasure to collect and then that would be their goody bag to take home. There would be a staged area for photos with an adult taking pictures of every kid in their pirate gear. We would have games and lots and lots of fun! Have I mentioned that we were going to do all of this in a time slot of less than 2 hours? Okay. Fine. So my plans were perhaps a little ambitious considering the 5 minutes of time that I was allowed to set up before guests were to arrive. Plus we were 3 minutes LATE to the party, so we had guests arriving before us!
I reluctantly lined up my treasure chests which suddenly seemed too obviously homemade - and not in a good way - to call treasure chests. (I am actually rather proud of myself now that I've adjusted to the idea of them being used as party props for a bunch of little kids rather than ready for a movie set as I had envisioned!) Then I tried to do an assembly line for guests to get their pirate gear and treasure. That was a very big reminder of why I could never be a teacher. (How do they handle having so many kids RIGHT on TOP of THEM?!) I had to resort to sending them all to play and calling them back to me a few at a time. They were allowed to select a sword while I labeled a hat and goody bag. Then they each filled their own goody bags from the kid-friendly treasure boxes. A couple of parents jumped in to help draw on beards, mustaches and tattoos with an eyebrow pencil. Eventually we got everyone dressed up. They were having so much fun already that it seemed silly to interrupt them with the games that I had planned. Their ideas were way better than mine anyway!
You are probably asking yourself why I would put myself through this when I had rented out a play place where they typically run parties while parents sit back and chat with other adults. Guilt. Plain and simple guilt. I have been to a whole lot of birthday parties in my life. There is one thing they all have: cake and ice cream. If not cake, then another favorite dessert. But the Little Overachievers don't eat like other kids... Knowing that we can't give them something as simple as a beautifully decorated, professional quality cake makes me feel sad. And feeling sad for my kids not being able to eat like their friends makes me feel guilty because they share their allergic tendencies with me. So how does a mom allay this overwhelming feeling? She compensates by throwing the best darned birthday party she can so no one will even notice the lack of cake!
I am not creative by nature, so I thought about all of the birthday parties that I attended as a kid and which ones were the most exciting. I should be able to duplicate one of those, right?! But I kept coming back to a party that I did not get to attend. It was in January of first grade, the Saturday after I had missed an entire week of school due to the chicken pox. My fever didn't break until Thursday night, so I wasn't allowed to go to school on Friday. According to my doctor and the school, I would have been allowed to return on Saturday if it had been a school day. But it wasn't. It was party day instead. I was sooooo excited to be well just in time for the big party! But my mom kept me home because she said if I stayed home sick on a Friday that I shouldn't be attending social events over the weekend because that would look bad. (Yeah, like anyone was going to think that my scabbed over face was from anything but the chicken pox?!) When I got to school that Monday, the only thing that anyone talked about was this birthday party. This was in the early 80s when every business that was worth my quarter had a PAC-MAN machine to play. The birthday girl's mom had rented out the local community center and put together costumes for all of the guests. Using the lines for the basketball courts, she reconstructed a PAC-MAN maze. Guests in ghost costumes chased each other around and even had the little "out" box where the PAC-MAN characters who had been caught had to sit to rejuvenate. It has been three decades and I am still bummed that I didn't get to go to that party!
So that's why my kids have to have the best birthday parties ever. Because when their friends leave, I don't want them talking about how awful it was that there was not even any cake or ice cream. I want them thinking it was THE best party EVER, and not even realizing that we didn't serve them anything more than juice and a lollipop made with Overachiever-safe ingredients. For what it's worth, I think we may have achieved that.
Our guests greeted their parents with mustaches and tattoos and smiles. Even the girls! They immediately started telling tales of sword fights and walking the plank. I hope that when they see all of their friends on Monday that they are still smiling, even if their parents do refuse to draw on new mustaches.