23 January 2007

the fifth birthday party: a cautionary tale

I've been meaning to write about James' birthday party for days now, but I wanted to be sure I waited until I had sufficient time to relay the horrors of a five-year-old's birthday party. Sit back and listen to my tale, but make sure the lights are on, because there is some mildly frightening material ahead.

Let me begin by saying that I can't blame the boys for everything -- some of it was due to my lack of experience in the birthday party-planning field. However, I can blame the boys for most of what happened.

We had three party guests: B. (a friend of James' from school); P. (a friend who went to school with James last year but is no longer there); and E. (a friend from the neighborhood). None of the guests knew each other, though over time they bonded through their shared interests and hobbies (namely, screaming, running, jumping, and wrestling). Everyone managed to leave the party alive, though I can't say the same for some of the poor balloons, many of which were the victims of excessive rough-housing.

The first lesson of the day was that simply allowing 4 young boys to be a room together is a recipe for trouble. The noise level, the energy -- I had a headache within the first five minutes. I thought quickly and devised a plan to trick them into settling down a bit, by proposing a game. Lesson #2: Telling the boys that it's time to play a game is smarter than asking them. Obviously the little banshees, who are perfectly happy shrieking and bounding around on the furniture, will not willingly choose to slow down. To their credit, two of them told me "No, thank you" when I asked, but still, I was looking for cooperation, not politeness.

I did eventually manage to convince them to participate in the game, though, by revealing that the game was a treasure hunt, and that there would be treasure for them to keep at the end. These were the thing I had to keep stressing to hold their interest. See, because I had thought it would be a clever idea to start the treasure hunt with a puzzle telling them how to find the treasure. But the puzzle was so much work and they really wanted to just play. I reminded them of the treasure that they could keep, so they did the puzzle. And then -- lesson #3: Do not assume that other people's children are as smart as your own child. That sounds mean, but I did assume that because James can read, his peers should be able to read at least a little bit. I know that they can't does not mean they're stupid. (But I did feel a little surge of parental pride at James' ability.)

But. James read the puzzle message and a mad-cap race through the house ensued. I had planned for the treasure hunt to take 15 minutes or so (it took me twice that long to create it!) but I underestimated these clever children, who found their treasure in 5 minutes or less. Their delight in the treasure taught me lesson #4: Do not distribute the goody bags until the end of the party, unless you are trying to increase the mess and confusion of the party. Doing the treasure hunt first meant that sticky frogs and flying discs immediately filled the air. This left me with the challenge of recollecting and redistributing everything at the end of the party.

Okay, I can't remember whether we did the cake of the craft next, but I'll post the cake photos here, partly because I'm proud of my little Yoda cake, partly to remember to thank Karen for the cake recipe (thanks, Karen! It was delicious!), and partly to provide photographic evidence of the carnage created by four little boys:

Yoda, before meeting the boys.

Yoda, after. Rest in peace.

Feeding them cake and popsicles did keep their mouths busy enough to bring us a little quiet (and I do only mean a little, because they still managed to keep talking and talking and talking). We were also given a little quiet while they concentrated on the craft I had prepared. Which brings me to lesson #5: Do not give paint to little boys, ever. Yes, little boys love superheroes, and yes, they love to dress like them, and yes, they love to paint, but NO, it is NOT a good idea to decorate superhero capes with fabric paint at a birthday party, especially when that paint requires 24 hours to dry. That's one lesson I wish I hadn't learned the hard way. And I'm pretty sure the other boys' parents hate me for the laundry troubles I caused them, because each of those little boys went home with paint on their clothes, and some with paint in their hair as well.

We opened birthday presents before the boys left, because I knew James was getting a couple of games that could entertain the boys until it was time to go home. Lesson #6: Do not attempt to teach young boys new games at a birthday party, because none of them will hear, much less remember the rules, and they will spend most of the game arguing over whose turn it is. We gave up on the games pretty quickly, which was a good move to stop the arguing, but it was a pretty bad move overall because I didn't have anything else planned for the party. Which leads to lesson #7: Do NOT, under any circumstances, leave young boys to their own devices! Someone will get hurt.

But the boys made it home in one piece, and I survived to write this harrowing tale of lessons learned, so that you may not repeat my mistakes. As I said to my mom after the party, thank goodness birthdays only come once a year -- that's not an experience I could stand to repeat anytime soon.


kim said...

Awesome Yoda cake. :)

Anonymous said...

I bet that the kids remember only the good stuff. BY the way reason number 238458 I love Heidi-she is the sender inner of peanut butter cream cheese marbled brownies.