Birthdays that don’t break the bank (anytime)

June 7, 2009

This morning we put up the Christmas tree. Yes, you read that right! S. has a birthday in two weeks, and when I asked him what theme he wanted, he replied that he wanted to put up the Christmas decorations. Specifically, he wanted the tree and the angel and wreath window lights. Then, after he’d thought about it awhile, he decided he also wanted Christmas cookies. And the big ghost that hangs above our patio on Halloween.

Because it was such an unexpected request, I had to think for awhile before acquiescing. I mean, who in her right mind would agree to put up a Christmas tree at this time of year? But he was so cute, and so earnest, that I granted his request. We only used the top 1/3 of the tree (and I’m thanking my lucky stars that we bought an artificial one last year, ’cause where would I have found a real one in June???) and thus we got by with only 1/3 of the ornaments. Timewise, though, it took about the same as the full tree, since we had to figure out how to get the top section to stand in a support designed for the base.

But now we’re set: The birthday presents are below the tree, the sugar cookies shaped like trees and angels and stars and snowmen are in the freezer, and the ghost is in his place above the patio.

If your kid won’t go for a Christmas theme — and I admit I’m probably one of the few “blessed” in that way! — let me tell you about M.’s birthday. He invited his classmates to the house for a massive water fight. We had to postpone once due to the weather, but the second time was the charm: a sunny, humid afternoon that was just right for keeping the soaking-wet kids warm without dry-roasting the adults seated in the shade.

We asked the kids to bring their own weapons (thus saving the price of buying guns for everyone) and wound up with a mishmash of guns, balloons and buckets that worked out really well. The neighbors loaned us their hose, so we were able to have two adults working to keep the weapons loaded with liquid ammo. Two hours and two snack breaks later, a few of the kids had broken off for the more quiet slip-n-slide option at the other end of the yard, but most were still heavy into the water fight.

Of course, that option only works if you have a big yard that can be doused and trampled! Here are some other tips for successful parties that I’ve heard and seen recently:

  • Time travel.  Prepare a time capsule for the birthday boy or girl, with lots of photos and some favorite items from 2009.  Their friends can bring small items to contribute too.  It’s kind of a retro idea, but one that’s new to the kids — and from the sound of it, they really dig it.  The party’s theme could be either the future, in anticipation of opening the capsule in a decade or so, or the past.
  • Share the cost. Several of M.’s classmates have birthdays in close enough proximity for them to do joint parties, and that has worked out well.  A few weeks ago, for example, we attended one at a big sports rental hall, complete with balls and bouncy houses. The hosts were able to share the cost of the rental and the favors — and we parents were thankful not to have two parties scheduled within in a short time frame.
  • Free concerts or playgrounds. Just last night we happened to be in Lafayette Square, where enterprising parents had turned the evening’s festivities into a celebration of their second-grader’s birthday. If you’re using a city picnic shelter, you’ll have to reserve in advance, of course, but you can also simply picnic — or, if you live close enough, have the kids adjourn to the backyard for cake and ice cream after they’re done at the playground.
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