I find myself longing for the birthday parties of my youth. They were simple and fun. There only needed to be cake, ice cream and friends to have a great time. One of the birthday parties I loved was at a friend’s house in a tent outside their house. It was a banana split party so every child brought a banana and prizes were given to the “oldest” banana, the “youngest,” biggest,” “smallest,” you get the idea. As a parent I now find myself losing an entire weekend day to one of my children’s friend’s birthday parties and sometimes I am completely drained afterwards.

birthday cupcakes

Over the last two years we just started moving our kids’ parties to outside venues. We’ve entered the three ring circus that are kids’ birthday parties and I sort of wish we could put the lid back on Pandora’s box because now we’re stuck in the cycle. The whole process of spending weeks researching venues, paying deposits, ordering cakes and sending out invites is exhausting. I miss when they were little and we called friends or did a Facebook event and said “Hey, join us at our house for some food to celebrate our child’s birthday.”

Party Disaster

My oldest daughter Hannah’s party last year was a disaster, but taught me a great lesson. We decided to have it at our town pool since her birthday is at the end of August. I paid the deposit, she invited all her friends from summer camp, ordered $75 worth of pizza not to mention the cake, drinks, party supplies etc. As soon as we got there we were informed that the pool was closed as they had no lifeguards. They had trouble retaining lifeguards with kids going back to college or working at different local pools. But nothing prepared me for finding out fifteen minutes before the party that our whole theme/entertainment just went down the tubes with no time to change it.

Box Car Race Saves The Day!

Thankfully my husband built these awesome cardboard box race cars for a fun race inspired by the one we participated in on our camping trip just a few weeks earlier. We set up little flags for the track, a pit area and fun pit stop activities. In the first lap our cars had to stop to get their windshield cleaned (kids got squirted in the face with water and then dried with a towel). Then they had to stop to get a fill up (the kids had to drink some water). Then on the last lap they had to stop to change their tires (the kids had to put on a pair of my old sneakers and try to make it around the track without stumbling). It was a simple idea that saved us from having absolutely nothing to do for her party as we were counting on the kids swimming all day. I’m not going to lie, it was hotter than hot, but we even convinced the parents to run the race and we managed to pull off a decent party.

Kids Bring the Fun

It taught me that we really don’t need to go so crazy with kids’ birthday parties. Kids bring the fun with them. We’re the ones who try to control everything. We stress about how beautiful the cake looks, if all the food will stay hot, if too many people will show up or none at all. We put our very high expectations on our kids. But the truth is, they already have everything they need in us. We love them and we are giving them the gift of celebrating how much they mean to us and how they changed our lives when they were born.

The Express Party Plan

This year we’ll be on vacation at the Jersey shore during her birthday so we hatched a plan to make her party less of a hassle. We discussed our ideas and gave her choices. I think it’s important that she be a part of the process. We’re going to take her to a water park on her actual birthday while at the shore. That’s her big gift and I’m actually glad it’s not anything that’s going to be forgotten about within the month. She still wanted to celebrate with her friends, which is tricky with camp being over and school not having begun yet. So we decided to do an express party in September so that she could celebrate with friends.

Could Less Mean More?

We’re going to make it clear on the invite that this is going to be a cake and ice cream party. We aren’t going to spend a boat load of money on food. We’re also not going to go crazy trying to come up with party games and activities. They’ll be no bouncy houses or fancy entertainment. We’re going old school this time. It’s just going to be some sugared up kids, playing whatever they want.

The best part is that it’s not going to take all afternoon so parents can actually keep a good chunk of their Saturday to spend with their families. After all, working parents don’t get a ton of time with their kids to begin with and we don’t want to take a whole day from them to celebrate our child’s birthday.

Hannah just attended a birthday party at Hoopla in Middletown. It was an hour-and-a-half of choosing their favorite flavors of frozen yogurt and toppings and she absolutely loved it. All the kids got a bracelet and they could eat all they wanted for $4 per child. So guess where Hannah’s having her party this year. That’s right, no muss, no fuss, but just enough Hoopla!

Could you get on board with the idea of an “express” party?

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama can be found writing on her blog The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent Magazine when she’s not wiping poop or snot off her three adorable kiddos. This frugal, “tell it like it is” mama has NO time for drama, so forget your perfect parenting techniques and follow her on Facebook or Twitter for her delightfully imperfect parenting wins and fails. Her work can also be found on Money Saving Mom and Mamapedia.