Lesson Learned While Planning a 3 Year Old’s Party

I like birthdays. They are like your own personal New Year. But I don’t fancy myself a great entertainer; I find it more stressful than fun. I like small, but special, celebrations to mark another year of life lived and lessons learned. But now that my kids are school, we have been to a few parties. They are starting to see that not everyone feels the way I do. Some people like big, well-choreographed affairs. They’ve seen elaborate cakes in the shape of their favorite superheroes. They’ve been entertained by magicians and large play areas and they’ve received some pretty great goody bags.

So, I decided I would throw my 3 year old a party. He picked a theme (Disney’s Planes), and we are having it at the pool in our condo. Nothing too crazy but more than a special dinner with me, his dad and his brother. It’s my first “real” kids party (with school friends and not just family).  This is what I’ve learned.

1. Don’t invite the whole class. You will feel like you have to because how can you leave some kids out? You don’t want to hurt a 3 year old’s feelings. You want to be inclusive and treat people equally (which clearly is a thing of mine). Don’t think like this. At 3, they are not talking amongst themselves about the big party this weekend while the teacher looks the other way. Sure, maybe my son has mentioned something about his party in school but probably in the same breath he mentions the tiger he rides on, and shouts about the fire out the window. (We’re in a firefighter phase. I will not take him to a crowded movie theater.) This is probably the last year you can get away with not inviting everybody so heed my advice…

2. Don’t invite the whole class. I know, I know…but it bears repeating. Not only will they not really be talking about the upcoming party in any meaningful way, but also, there are probably some kids your child doesn’t really play with. If the birthday falls later in the year (like Feb./March) and you still don’t know some of the kids (or their parents), it’s ok to not invite them.  You may feel like you are offending those not invited but maybe it’s actually more offensive to ask someone to buy your kid a gift when they don’t even know your kids name.  Or, if you live in a particularly diverse area, blame it on cultural differences and explain where you are from, 3 year old birthday parties are traditionally kept small. Sometimes fumbling your way through diverging cultural norms is beneficial!

3. Party planning is a lot like teaching. Just as you need to enter into the classroom with your lesson plan for the ideal class, AND your Plan B, AND your plan C, AND your “in case of dire emergency” plan, you’re essentially planning multiple parties: the ideal party; the what if it rains party; the what if this is the day when everyone is cranky party; what if nobody shows up party! (Think it can’t happen? It did. To me. In kindergarten. My mom blames the teacher. But I’m fine. I’m over it. Clearly.)

4. Not only are you planning a kid party (with multiple contingencies), you’re also kind of planning an adult party too. I actually hesitate to complain about this because I’m grateful that parents will be around to watch their own kids. But even if only one parent comes, you’re numbers double instantly. Sure the parents may say they don’t expect to be fed but really, what kind of host would I be? So I will give them food and drinks, but I draw the line at adult goody bags.

5. I will never be late RSVPing to a party again. It seems party stuff comes in packages of 8 (the plates, cups, favors, etc.). I went to the store Monday with 16 “yeses.” Worked out perfectly! Can you believe it? I did. Then Tuesday, got a “sorry for not responding sooner! :)” But not to worry, I planned for a couple of extras just in case. And then I got another, “actually, we can come to the party now!” email. I hate to admit it, but I have been the “smiley emoticon will negate my tardiness” gal before, but never again.  For as much as you think, “well, everyone else has already RSVPed so one more isn’t going to make or break the party plans,” there are probably at least 4 other people thinking the same thing. Add in the accompanying parent(s) and suddenly you have to make yet another trip to the party store. 😦

6. Can someone please come up with something better than fondant to make fancy cakes? Does anyone actually like eating it? It’s like sugary cardboard. Right? Just to gauge if I’m the only one, I’m supplementing the cake with good old Betty Crocker frosted cupcakes. (I’m still not sure how I feel about the fact that I ordered a fancy custom cake, somehow it feels like buying a Halloween costume or an artificial Christmas tree.)

7. I should probably break down and show my kids Frozen. Elsa is everywhere. I guess the movie was kind of a big hit.

8. If you’re searching for a new career, get yourself involved in the kid party scene. It’s a complete racket. I’m not even talking about the over-the-top-more-like-a-wedding-day parties. I’m talking about an average, at-home party with a theme. The decorations, the aforementioned cakes, the goody bags, even the balloons. Maybe you can be the person who rids us of fondant. Or maybe you don’t mind leading kids games and can market yourself as a professional kid entertainer. Or maybe you can tie balloons like nobody’s business. Super crafty? Make decorations and market them as “completely customized.” Birthday parties are big business these days…and people are willing to pay.

The party is this Sunday. Sorry you aren’t invited but where I’m from, birthdays are usually celebrated with only kids in the same class. It’s a cultural thing, you understand.

3 thoughts on “Lesson Learned While Planning a 3 Year Old’s Party”

  1. Loved this Kathleen! I learned from a ‘seasoned’ mom that to have parties at the ages of 5, 8, and 13 is plenty and if one explains this to the child and sticks to it, it makes for an easier time going through this faze of life. Good luck and it does get worse I’m sorry to say.


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