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Birthdays and Permission to Celebrate Small

My middle son turned seven Saturday, and I had many vague ideas about some sort of celebration. We had lots of great thoughts about themes and, of course, I do love to bake a cake. We would do it!

But, as the day approached and my evenings filled with must-dos and my days filled with appointments, as I wore myself out by running in two separate Run for the Arts and dug in the school garden and then in my own, and as I realized just how broke we were until pay day, I kept putting off the planning and putting it off until... it was Friday night and the birthday was Saturday.

I apologized. I woke up and made him a homemade version of everyone's favorite: Starbucks petite vanilla bean scones (mine had whole wheat flour and lots less sugar, but we're keeping quiet about that). We had a little money, and we decided to spend that two ways: letting him pick out a gift and going to Little Big Burger. He got bacon (his favorite!). We came home and I got to baking the cake.

Cake out of the oven, frosting made, I heard the familiar pop-pop-pop sound of fireworks. It was Reed College's Renn Fayre, and there was just time! We got ready in record time and biked over just in time to see the end of a fantastic fireworky celebration. "It's my birthday, I'm seven!" Truman said to everyone he saw as we headed home. Home again, time for cake and singing, and everything was just fine. In the end? He had a great day, and mom did not have to spend hours feverishly freaking out over how not-clean-enough the house was and whether there would be enough hot dogs for guests and whether people would come and whether other kids would like the cake...

It was just us. And it was enough.

We'll do other big parties, especially this summer for my oldest's 10th birthday, but I was thrilled to let myself have the permission to celebrate small. How about you: do you feel the need to go big every time, or sometimes, do you go small and love it?


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My three kids are still relatively young - oldest turns 7 next month - and I've decided not to have birthday parties until they have their own group of friends, chosen by them. We used to have parties when they were very small, which mostly consisted of our own friends, but we have no family in town, so these days it would be a celebration with other kids we don't know well, and that feels strange. I think I will really enjoy planning and hosting celebrations as the kids choose who they want to celebrate with.

For now, they get to choose their dinner, whether out or home-cooked. Sometimes going to other parties makes them ask why they don't have them, but generally they don't seem bothered and are excited about their special day.

we do big and small. it depends on the kid, and the year.

my twins haven't had a big party of their own yet. We've typically done family only for them because there are two, and it's always awkward because one does have more friends than the other, and inviting makes people feel like they have to bring two gifts and... well, it's just awkward. This year, they turn 5 and want to invite their whole class. OK - well, you haven't had a big one yet, so let's do it.

My almost 7 year old has had large parties previously, but this year, has opted for a slumber party with 4 close friends. We'll have popcorn and watch a movie, and have cake, and that's about it aside from the all night giggle fest.

I say go with the kid, family and financial dynamics.

Of my daughter's 14 birthdays, she says her favorite was her 13th. That summer a friend of ours was running a food cart, and we had immediate family come to the cart pod for a celebration. I did cupcakes and brought single serve ice creams, and we all had meals from our friend's cart. There were maybe 8 of us total, our cart-owning-friend made a special dish for my daughter, the weather was incredible and it was totally laid-back and stress free. Easiest and cheapest party ever.

Last year she really, really wanted to go to the Melting Pot for dinner. I explained to her that dinner there would pretty much blow the party budget, and that she would only be able to invite grandma along (and me--mom--of course.) That's the way she chose to go, and nearly a year later she is still talking about that fun dinner, but her fave is still #13 at the food carts!

Sheryl, I'm having my own birthday party at the food carts this year also! No house cleaning, no cooking, and everybody can get what they like. I do like hosting parties and dinners, but somehow to do it for my own birthday seems like too much work some years.

But back to kid birthdays--we try to keep it low-key for my stepson, with a focus on family and family friends, mostly because he doesn't have a lot of close friends from school. Last year we had a picnic in the park with friends and then a family camping weekend (since we got him new camping gear as gifts).

This summer we are having our 4th annual berry picking party at Kruger Farm on Sauvie Island, and it has always been a huge hit! It's during the summer, so that helps get rid of the "invite the whole class" problem...it was like that for me too as a kid as I was a summer baby. Last year, I delegated the food making to a friend, and I was just responsible for the cake. It was shaped like the number 6 (the year before it was a 5, and the year before that my mom made a princess castle that collapsed in 90 degree car on the way over, but was still fabulous!). I am expecting to make a 7 this year. The kids have fun, the parents have fun, and we don't really have to worry about who shows up as there is plenty of room for sibs on the hay ride. I usually book it 2 months in advance and pay for it when I have the money (some usually left over from tax returns)so when the big day comes, the money issue is not at hand. I make music CDs as party favors, which pretty much takes all year, but my daughter just loves them, and people don't go home with a lot plastic crap.

So this is all ideal, but I don't know how much longer she will want to do this. She has had no doubt for 4 years now. I love it because it has nothing to do with house cleaning and when the party is over, it's over. And everyone goes home with berries. It's a win-win.

Our kids are in three year cycles at their Montessori school, which makes it easy to set a schedule for the "big" friend party to come at the end of every cycle. Otherwise it's just an extended family gathering on the closest weekend. They also get to pick dinner for their birthday night and there are presents of course. My son's 9th birthday was at Mt Tabor with Voodoo Donuts instead of a cake. The kids organized capture the flag and maybe a couple of other games, but it was just like a big play date.

As an event planner and having only one kid, we tend to go large. Even though I'm quite the hostess with the mostess (and can throw QUITE the party), I've discovered it works out to pretty much the same $$$ wise (by the time you've bought paper goods, snacks, etc) to have it at Big Al's, Oaks Park, Clackamas Aquatic, etc.

Last year she was only permitted three guests because we went to Wings and Waves ($30 per person, plus food) AND I was unemployed. This year I'm thinking just her BFF, but staying the night at Great Wolf Lodge (yes, we like water parks).

Speaking of parties and such, working on a huge project/surprise for the hubby's B'day (yesterday) for when he returns from visiting his mom in FL.

I have a budget as well. Some years the kids choose to party with friends .....other years the "fancy meal out with one guest" option is a great choice, too.

Having been little in the South, my kids also had lots of backyard parties even with early winter birthdays because the weather was so warm and dry there.

We have always had the huge Backyard bash for our August birthday girl. Lot's of money, lot's of work, lot's of stress. This year she announced she wanted a "camping birthday" We go camping several times each summer anyway and at least once with extended family so I jumped at the idea. I've reserved 3 campsites for her birthday weekend, one for us, one for the grandparents, and one for her favorite auntie. So come the first weekend in August we will be singing happy birthday around the campfire with "Birthday S'mores" just family. And instead of presents I think she just might be getting the bunk bed she has been talking about for ages....

I would love to have the recipe for the vanilla scones.

I, too, have an August child and an only child -- *and* I love to plan and throw parties. I work in a creative industry, but don't always get to use my full range of creative talent, so my brain really gets spinning on birthday themes. Now that she's almost six, I find the "which friends and how many" issue to be worse than the party planning. That stresses me out FAR more than making crepe paper flowers by hand. :) All of that said, we went to a friend's birthday party and it was so simple, so sweet and relaxed and unstructured ... I'm keeping that feeling and image in mind for next time.

I applaud all of you who resist the temptation (as I, myself, have not really been able to) to go big, big, big for birthdays. Case in point: my husband and I just rented a train (yes, full sized, fully operational diesel engine with caboose) for my son's 5 year party.

It was expensive, truly wonderful, and my train-obsessed son was possibly the happiest boy alive last Saturday.

On the other hand, I (perhaps paradoxically) stood my ground and resisted the urge to buy or make all the kids party favors. Where did that tradition come from, anyway? Isn't it enough to supply cake, food, and festivities? Where did someone get the idea that every kid has to go home with a gift of their own? It sort of reminds me of how every kid seems to have to win a trophy these days. Could we just accept and explain to our kids that it's Kid X's birthday, and he gets the gifts, not you?

Next year, I think we will go back to family party in the backyard with one or two friends invited. My son doesn't actually do that well with all the commotion, anyway. He prefers a smaller crowd.

SJ, I think the party favor bag was invented by the Dollar Store. Just like mother's day was invented by Hallmark! ;)

My two children are 3 years and 9 days apart in age. I knew from day one I did not want to be throwing two birthday parties within a week from each other each year. Thus, early on, "we" (mostly I) established a policy that you get a real birthday party only for odd birthdays. Like the story told by an earlier poster, my kids seem to get just as excited for their "non party" years (in which they can have a playdate, dinner out with a special friend, an ice-skating date) as for their party years. I love the arrangement and how it enables me to focus differently on each birthday each year.

Another thing we started early on is a "no gifts please" policy for friends attending our birthday parties. We have about 5 family members who buy our kids gifts, and that always seems like more than enough; I honestly can't imagine making space for another 8 or 10 gifts after party-time. I've always been a bit surprised that, even though my kids often attend parties where gifts are given, they don't fuss a bit about our no gifts approach. I think it's in part because they are less than fond of writing thank you notes!

I have enjoyed doing two small but very fun parties for our son so far and both were simple and inexpensive, under $100. Both have included a small group of friends (5-6 families, parents and kids of all ages) and my parents, and revolved around a 11-1pm party time with brunch served. While all the food was made by me and with 1-2 additional dishes by my mom, we did banana muffins with cream cheese frosting for yr 1 bday and the activity of "kid frosted" sugar cookies for yr two instead of cake and ice cream. I'm not really into big traditional parties per say for birthdays (though as a kid, sleepovers with pizza and cake were the norm), but the short 2 hr party with breakfast food has worked so well thus far, we will definitely be doing it again for yr 3! Favors this past bday was a colorful paperbag with stickers, bouncy ball, fruit snacks, and silly straw - did not break the bank and the kids (ages 2-6) were thrilled for their favor bags, way more excitement for those than I would have guessed, so I'm glad we did them!

SJ, with you on the party-favor bags. Drives me nuts. (And, well, I have to admit your train thing was fairly spectacular. Eye-poppingly over the top? Sure! But neat nonetheless!)

We mix it up. Regardless of small numbers/at home or more kids/out-n-about or family only or none at all, I spend a lot of time thinking, worrying, and bothering about the day. I dream of when they are old enough to do the "invite one special friend to dinner" routine. Ahhhh!

Re: favor bags... we've done book exchanges in lieu of gifts/favor bags, and that went over really well. Other years, we've done things the kids made (we had them decorate pots and plant a flower one year). Hula hoops can be bought by the case through the dollar store. Cheap and by far the best party favor we've given. The kids love them, they are active, and used. I like doing favors, but try to stay away from the little plastic garbage.

Our kids love birthday parties (in whatever shape or form they make take-big, small, simple, fancy, casual, friends & family, just family, etc.), giving and receiving presents and giving and receiving party bags (and we don't judge what others put in the party bags). A birthday is a day for kids (and adults) to feel really special--it's the celebration of another year of life!

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