Originally published on Sweetspot.ca
Although it's been a few weeks since my son turned four,
we tend to have the birthday party for his friends a few weeks later.
This gives the moms (especially me) time to recover from holiday
burnout, while giving me a bit more time to get my act together.
This past summer, we went camping as a family for the first time. Nate
was in love with the idea of sleeping in a tent. But he was more
enamoured with the concept of marshmallows becoming a food group. So
when it came time to plan this year's event, I thought, "Why not throw
up a bunch of play tents and serve hot dogs and marshmallows?"
So we went with a camping theme. Here's how it went down:
Rental Space: The local community centre provided a perfect room to let the kids go wild for $30/hour.
Pro: Letting kids run amok and not worry about what gets smeared on your couches.
Con: Dragging all your party supplies, plus your two snow suited kids, down the street.
Play Tents: Ikea has very affordable playtents -- even more
affordable if you get them second hand, or have party guests donate
theirs if they have one. For a real budget option, drape some sheets
over available chairs (just not the 300 thread count ones).
Pro: A simple busy-making prop for the kiddos -- especially if Dad plays"bear" and chases the kids from tent to tent.
Con: A few accidents as kids clambered over each other or
struggled to get through small openings at the same time. (Fortunately,
the community centre had those blue gymnasium mats -- which we thought
to spread out after the first goose egg was hatched.)
The Menu: Oh sure, we put out some healthy options, like veggies
and dip or cheese and crackers, too. But at a birthday party, I still
firmly believe it's all about the food our parents saved for special
occasions. Chips, party mix, gummy bears, marshmallows and hot dogs for
the main course. (The community centre had a kitchen, or else it would
have been a very un-camping party pizza.)
Pro: Everything gets eaten; little food waste.
Con: The kids are super sugared up, making for lots of high pitched squeals. (Ouch.)
The Cake: I had the idea of having a S'mores cake and found this recipe on Epicurious. The icing directions weren't too clear, so we (meaning my sister who bakes and not the alchemy-challenged me) opted for Fluff
on top. It was the best cake I've ever tasted. Another easy option
would have been to make one giant S'more by layering graham crackers in a
baking dish, topped with chocolate chips and marshmallows and then
broiled in the oven for a few minutes.
Pro: Far too good for the kids, this cake impressed the adults at the party to no end.
Con: Fighting over the last piece could get rather heated.
The Loot Bag: I don't know about you, but I am sick to death of
getting dollar store junk that adds to the clutter in my house (and
often accumulates under my couch). So each year we burn CDs of
theme-appropriate songs -- as well as Nate's favourite's from the past
year -- to give as a thanks to all our guests.
Pro: We create a musical history for our son, provide a
soundtrack for the party and give guests take-home memories to last
until next year's party.
Con: It's a bit time consuming. J and I are musical snobs and
coming up with the playlist is almost as dicey as trying to get that
last piece of S'mores cake. Plus, I'm a procrastinating perfectionist
(Photoshopped labels at the last minute) and he's a
no-frills-if-it-means-saving-time kinda guy (Black Sharpie marker
hastily scribbled when my plan takes too long).
All in all, good fun was had by all. I think the age of four is probably
when your memories begin. I hope we cemented something nice in Nate's
mind. If nothing else, his "girlfriend" showed up. But that's a story
for next time...