Birthday Planning Secrets
by Alexi Wilbourn
“Welcome to Pixie Hollow” the banner will read, displayed in front of a 12-by-12-foot white tent draped with winding vines and greenery. The girls will be given the opportunity to change into intricate, colorful fairy gowns and decorate their own fairy wings, while the parents will be whisked away to the “mommy room,” complete with desserts, beverages and movies. Everything about the scene sounds like a fantasy movie, right down to the life-sized fairy greeting everyone upon arrival. Except in most movies the fairy isn’t handing out passes for the 18-foot water slide in the back yard.
From the biggest bashes to the smallest celebrations, most parents know that children’s parties require some planning. Yet even the best-laid plans can hit a snag or two, leaving the host with a roomful of kids and the need for some quick, creative ideas. With preparedness for parties being key, some “birthday veteran” moms share their party successes, mishaps and advice.
Mother of Charlie, 4, and Cooper, 1
The biggest consideration for Lindsey Upchurch of Woodstock when planning her son Charlie’s party is the weather. She’s had surprisingly hot weather in mid- September, so even though last year’s inflatable moonbounce party was a success, Upchurch learned to hold future parties earlier in the day. This year, Charlie’s birthday party will be at a local playground, “which is always hit or miss since you cannot reserve the space,” she says. Upchurch plans to arrive early at the park and is hopeful that everything will work out well for the birthday boy and his approximately 25 guests. Since the party will be held in the morning, she plans on serving coffee for the adults, doughnuts, muffins, juices, water and some fruit. This type of spread is also a budget-friendly option. Upchurch chooses to bake cupcakes instead of a whole cake to make life easier. “I have a cupcake stand and usually buy plastic rings and use different colors of frosting,” she says. “This year we are having a Star Wars theme, so there will be black-and-white cupcakes with Storm Trooper and Darth Vader rings.” Her party favors will be inflatable light sabers and candy from a piñata. This is also an affordable way for the kids to be entertained for the duration of the party, costing less than $3 a child. Because Charlie’s party will be at a playground, Upchurch doesn’t plan on additional games, though she may bring bread for the kids to feed the ducks at the nearby pond. In case of bad weather, the pavilion at the playground is covered. Other than that, Upchurch has no backup plan. She is confident that 4-yearolds will have fun running around outside, pretending to be Jedis with their light-up light sabers, even if it rains.
Mother of Foster, 9, Luke, 8, and Nora, 3
Keri Michaelis of Johns Creek learned her party-throwing ways by watching her mother own and run a successful catering company for 12 years. Michaelis was taught that a great theme with attention to detail could create fantastic parties from the smallest of budgets. With three children of her own, she learned quickly that creativity goes a long way in throwing a successful party. One of Michaelis’ favorite birthday parties was for Foster, her oldest son. The theme? Racecars. A far cry from the easily accessorized Spider-Man and pirate parties, this theme undoubtedly would send many mothers heading for the hills, frantically scanning the aisles of the nearest party supply store for activities and decorations. Unruffled by the request, Michaelis put her imagination to work, giving each child a spray-painted cardboard box, stickers, and black paper plates. The task was for each child to create his own “car,” using the stickers to customize it and the paper plates as wheels. Ropes were fashioned as suspenders so the kids could wear their cars at the party, complete with racecar driver helmets to race around the neighborhood. For the food table, Michaelis used a black plastic tablecloth and masking tape to make it look like a roadway, finishing the spread off with a handful of Matchbox cars.
Mother of Cody, 9, and Karli, 5
Cake In the Box Norcross bakery founder Trenise Grill is known as the “party guru” among her friends and family. She’s been planning parties for nine years and will make it her profession in November. Her most recent project? The aforementioned “Pixie Hollow” Tinker Bell party for her daughter Karli’s 6th birthday. Besides the water slide, wing decorating and fairy costumes, Grill is having a candy buffet, a manicure/pedicure station, and face painting by the girls themselves. “When adults do it, it’s cute, “ she says. “When kids do it, it’s fun.” Fully aware of the weather possibilities when having an outside party, Grill always decorates her entire house with the particular birthday theme in case activities have to move inside. One feature at her children’s birthday parties is a fully decorated, themed “mommy room.” Grill likes to encourage parents to stay at the party so that they’re present in case their child needs them. Parents have the choice of staying with their kid and joining in the festivities, or enjoying time with other adults with a movie and snacks. This also ensures that the parents pick up the kids on time at the end of the celebration. On-the-spot thinking can come in handy when hosting a party. Even extravagant parties don’t always go as planned. “We had a party where we had miniature horses and ponies – it was like a huge petting zoo,” Grill recalls. “But apparently none of the kids liked the miniature horses and ponies. They were all deathly afraid, even of the clown, so we turned it into a ‘Gymboree’ party. Parents sat down, playing games with the kids.” Grill planned Karli’s 5th birthday, a princess theme, four months in advance, noting the importance of planning early to avoid later stress.
Jean Marie Bridges
Mother of Sam, 8
When planning a party for her son Sam, Jean Marie Bridges of Buckhead explains: “It’s mostly about what he wants.” Although a self-proclaimed party-planner-extraordinaire, Bridges was given a seemingly easy task of organizing a pool party for Sam. She was delighted in the idea of such minimal required effort. “Not much planning is needed for a pool party,” she says. “You give the kids some pool toys and they have a great time in the pool.” Unfortunately, Bridges’ fears of rain came true the morning of Sam’s 8th birthday party. Though still hoping that the afternoon forecast was wrong, she sat Sam down and explained to him the need for a Plan B, also letting him think that he was helping craft the backup plan (his part mainly involved helping clean up the basement for the possible guests). As expected, the skies opened up around 5:45 p.m. that day, and the party was scheduled to start at 6 p.m. Bridges had sent out an e-mail notifi cation to the parents that morning about proceeding to her home, not the pool, in case of rain, so every participant was able to still make it to the festivities. The new theme was a “Sports Round Robin.” Plan B, from the kids’ perspectives, was a hit, according to Bridges. “We really did just wing it,” she says. The basement consisted of different game stations, including table tennis, air hockey, a mini-basketball goal hung on the door and some indoor games. The eight boys were divided into teams, switching stations when prompted. The parents loosely kept score, and the winning team emerged victorious with the prize of Snickers bars. As a former Girl Scout leader, Bridges is used to “herding” children and knows that you should have activities planned, especially with boys. She also adds that, with boys’ parties, the dads tend to be the chaperone, so “management of fathers” should also be addressed. Luckily, the Round Robin party was a success and, although he would’ve preferred the original pool party, Sam had a blast.
Affordable Goody Bags
Most party guests (and their parents) expect goody bags upon departure, so here are three themed ideas that won’t leave your wallet feeling thin: