Dixon turned six (SIX!) over the weekend and his party pretty much rocked, if I do say so myself. It was a combination Survivorman/Star Wars party and as far as I could tell, everybody had a blast. And there were exactly zero fights.
Now that I have a few of these birthday parties under my belt, I feel pretty confident in my ability to organize a good one. And how do I organize a good kid's party? I'm glad you asked. Here are my tips:
1. Kids Create Great Themes.
If all of your boys' birthday knowledge comes from the party aisle at Target, you'd think that all the parties were Star Wars, Spongebob or Angry Birds-themed.
The reality, of course, is much different.
Dixon loves Target as much as the rest of us - he can't resist paper Star Wars napkins - but like other kids his age, he doesn't get boxed into just one theme. Take last year's party, for example. Here's the image we used in the invitation:
That's right, the theme was Indiana Jones/Pirates of the Caribbean/Star Wars/Lego. Inclusive.
This year? Star Wars + Survivorman. Obviously.
And isn't that more fun that Spongebob?
2. Keep It Simple.
The party is for kids, not for other moms on Pinterest.
Throw a couple balls in the backyard, or some crayons and paper in the playroom, and you will be in great shape.
Or, if you're feeling ambitious, create a "shelter" for the kids to decorate (how else were we going to turn Survivorman into an activity?). My handiwork:
It's burlap draped over tomato cages and "decorated" with plastic leaves that I scattered around the yard before the party. High concept, huh?
Ugly as anything, but the little ladies loved it...and the boys liked it, too. And as it turns out, tomato cages are pretty sturdy!
3. Get Used to the Glitter.
Dixon is a very lucky boy because I do not decorate his cake. I'm not much of a cake-decorater, you see. But you know who is? Alicia.
For the past three years, she has come over on the morning of his party for some one-on-one cake decorating action. Here's the team with this year's cake:
And what's that cake, you ask? It's the Luke Skywalker trapped in the wampa cave on the ice planet Hoth - from Star Wars. With some personalization:
Dixon is in charge of the cake's theme - and he plays an active "sprinkles" role in the decorating process. After he and Alicia finished decorating, our kitchen floor was more glittery than Studio 54.
Decorating with Dixon can be a challenge for Alicia, who is a very careful and restrained decorator when left to her own devices. But it's hard to resist Dixon's enthusiasm for sparkle.
Here's a close-up of Luke in the wampa cave (the cave is made from rice krispie treats):
Complete with red sanding sugar "blood" - and a dead body.
Because nothing says "happy 6th birthday" like a bloody skeleton. Apparently. (This is where I admit I do not really understand boys - Dixon could not have been more thrilled with the cake.)
4. Don't Overthink the Menu.
In most situations, I am all about overthinking. I will happily spend all day Friday shopping and chopping and cooking fancy hors d'oeuvres for a quick afternoon happy hour. But there is really no reason to go all gourmet for a houseful of kids.
Clear out the Trader Joe's dip aisle for the parents and order enough pizza for everybody. Just make sure you buy the good dips (I love the caramelized onion dip with TJ's ridge cut potato chips, the spinach and Greek yogurt dip with carrots and pita chips, and the blue cheese and walnut dip with celery). And order from a decent pizza shop, even if they don't deliver (Fortunato's is our go-to).
5. Parents Are Party People, Too.
The biggest expense at this year's party? The booze bill. Not that we drank everything I bought on my most recent trip to Wells. But we might have.
6. Keep It on Schedule.
As all my friends know, I am a sucker for spreadsheet schedules. For most parties, I create a timeline, starting three days out, that outlines what I need to accomplish in 15 minute increments.
Yes, I'm kind of crazy. And no, I never completely stick to the schedule.
Since I don't do a wild amount of cooking for Dixon's parties, my pre-party timelines aren't so intense. But I am a stickler for during-the-party timelines. This weekend, the timeline looked like this:
3 PM - Guests start to arrive
3:30 PM - Chase the kids out of the basement and into the backyard to play Survivorman
4 PM - Cooper picks up the pizzas
4:20 PM - Pizza for everyone
4:40 PM - Time to sing and serve cake
5 PM - Parents pick up the kids
This year, during parent pickup, Dixon ended up opening presents. That was nice, since he was able to say thank you right away, and his friends were excited to see his reaction to their gifts. In the past, when parties were bigger, he opened gifts after the guests left, just so we didn't spend the whole time on gifts.
The party didn't end at 5, of course. The last guests (Kyle and Mary) didn't go home until about 9 - Dixon conked out an hour before they left:
7. Say Goodbye with Starburst
It's so easy to create a goody bag that's a hit with kids: Just add candy. Doesn't even have to be a lot of candy, but it's better to give the kids lots of small pieces than one big thing.
Because while it's fun to eat the candy, trading it is even more satisfying. And a five year old can make eight individual Starbursts go a lot farther than one big bag of Skittles.
8. Brace Yourself for Thank Yous
Now that the wrapping paper has been cleaned up and the cake is (nearly) gone, we've moved on to the thank you note portion of the program. It is way less fun than the rest...but it's arguably the most important part.
This year is especially tough because Dixon can write, but he doesn't know how to spell anything by himself. Though I want to just write the notes myself, I know that's a bad idea. So the Sharpie-scented slog continues.
And when they're all in the mail? It's time to start planning for next year.