About a week before the child's birthday, I suddenly remember that we ought to have a party. I tell myself that next time I am going to remember this ahead of time. OTHER PARENTS plan birthday parties MONTHS ahead of time, and what kind of parent am I? Then I tell that inner You Suck as a Parent voice to go to hell.
At the grocery store, I buy a couple packs of tacky birthday party invitations. I would let the child pick the design but I can never get a child to come to the grocery store with me. Mainly, this is because I won't let my children buy refined sugar disguised as healthy snacks. According to my youngest child, I am the only parent in all of Traintrack Village who is not willing to buy Weird Sticky Sugar Dyed Red and Sold by the Foot.
So I have to choose the invitations myself. And the options are often dreadful. I try to find cards without much text because I have a low tolerance for cartoon puns. And merely looking at the cards sends me into a rant about gender stereotypes, leading me to mutter angry things to other shoppers who take one look at me and push their carts very quickly into another aisle. This could be another reason my children don't like to shop with me.
Then I look at the calendar to pick a Saturday for the party. Usually, because I've waited too long, the party comes about a week after the actual birthday. Sometimes a few weeks. I used to worry that this sort of neglect was traumatic for the child, but I have since discovered that no one really cares about the date. And if I am wrong, well, every kid needs something to talk about in therapy some day.
Next, the child and I sit down at the kitchen table and write out the invitations. The most important part of the invitation is to write: "Wear play clothes that can get dirty" on the bottom of the card. Otherwise, we will get some girls wearing party dresses who won't play games because they don't want to get their dresses dirty. Honestly. I am not making this up. We still get the fancy dresses sometimes, but I have learned to keep sweatpants and such on hand for the girls to change into. Usually once they have changed their clothes, they will happily trudge through the pond like all the other kids. I really should write, "Wear shoes that you can afford to ruin" on the cards but I've always worried that that would scare some of these young parents.
Next, we take five minutes to plan an activity that we can do outside. Something simple. Water balloon fights if it is warm. Going down the front hill on inner tubes if it is winter. Relay races. Scavenger hunts. In the warm weather, anything that involves mud and water is popular. The extent of our planning is merely to choose an activity ahead of time; spontaneous games often result.
What is funny is that the activities I choose are usually at least a hundred years old, sometimes thousands of years old, but some of these younger parents (and by that I mean anyone who does not have grey hair and at least one kid in college) are always congratulating me on coming up with new ideas. One time when a parent came to pick his child up from a winter party, he stood and watched the kids go down the hill on black inner tubes and said, "Where ever did you get the inner tubes?"
"At the auto parts store," I answered, stating the obvious.
"At the auto parts store?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes," I said, "They are the inner tubes of truck tires. We blew them up at the gas station."
Then he started going on and on about how clever I was to think of using inner tubes for, er, inner tubes. Yes, these young parents are easy to impress.
When it comes time to buy stuff for the party, my choices are simple. I never waste money on paper plates or paper napkins or any of that insipid birthday party stuff. I don't like to buy disposable products, especially disposable products that promote dreadful gender stereotypes, and I don't think kids need that stuff anyhow. How many kids come home from a party exclaiming about how cute the napkins were? Really. That would have to be the dullest party ever. We just use real plates and cloth napkins at the party. Well, actually, the cloth napkins don't get used much. These are not Martha Stewart's kids we've got here.
And the food? Halfway through the party, Spouse goes out and picks up pizza and soda. We do have cake and ice cream, of course. Here is where I have a confession to make. I am the shockingly horrible parent who does not make a homemade cake for my child. I don't even order an expensive bakery cake personalized with the kid's name in order to make up for my guilt of not having a homemade cake. I buy a couple of frozen Pepperidge Farm cakes (often on sale, 2 for $5) and put candles on them. I would feel guilty about this cheap and easy shortcut, except that I don't.
I used to feel guilty. Then one year during some kind of insane Susie Homemaker spell, I said to one of my kids proudly, "I am going to make you a homemade cake this year." He said, in a hurt voice, "What? I don't get a Pepperidge Farm cake? But it's a tradition!"
So that's the party. Parents drop their kids off, many of them exclaiming how happy they are to get an afternoon to themselves. (We will often invite a younger sibling to stay and join the party which makes the parents even happier.) The kids mill about in the living room while I make sure I know all their names. Then we go outside for some kind of crazy activity. When they come in, everyone is hot and sweaty, or cold and muddy. We eat pizza and cake. We sing happy birthday. We drink gallons of soda. We open presents.
Then everyone goes outside again. I give every child a ziplock bag. I go upstairs to an open window, and throw candy out the window. The kids scream and yell and run around picking up the candy. I throw more candy. They scream and yell and pick it up. This activity goes on for about half an hour. It could go on for hours if I let it. You can entertain children endlessly by throwing candy out an upstairs window. Our household has become famous for this particular birthday tradition.
The day ends with another tradition, the sleeping monster game. Spouse lies on the floor of the living room and pretends to be a sleeping monster, complete with dramatic fake monster snores. The kids try, one at a time, to sneak past him. He wakes up from time to time, grabbing at their legs, sometimes tackling a child. Much screaming and giggling and running around ensues. So far no one has gotten hurt during the playing of this game. Well, unless you count my husband. He has taken some kicks to sensitive body parts.
When parents start arriving, I usually try to get my child to stand at the door and say polite things as the other kids leave. Spouse limps around the living room picking up crumpled wrapping paper. The parents try to get their kids to say thank you. I provide plastic grocery bags for clothes that are too wet to wear home, and apologize for the white socks that will never get clean again. It's all good.
As my kids have gotten older, they have outgrown the birthday parties, of course. Teenagers would rather gather at night to jam and play monster. But With-a-why is still young enough to see want this kind of daytime party. And his birthday is in October.