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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

Planning Epic Kids' Birthday Celebrations

There is nothing more fun than celebrating with family and friends – luckily birthdays give us an excuse to bring everyone together and have a great time! But like most things worthwhile, it can take some time to make sure the day is special. I just went through the process myself as my youngest turns two this week.

I have a few rules of thumb for birthday parties.

Make it fun for the adults. I take the easy way out and have champagne (ok, prosecco) at my kids’ party. I advertise on the invite that there will be cake and champagne. We usually schedule the parties for late afternoon to encourage fun times. Every year, my husband tells me I get too much booze. Every year, the parents drink it all. And some years the party continues well past the end time as the fun times continue over last-minute ordered pizza.

Get as much help as you want. I can bake and have made some epic birthday cakes in my time (do you see this robot?!)

But I don’t like spending that time away from my family or work. So, I always look around for local bakers to make some epic cakes. This year, I even asked our babysitter to join us so she could keep an eye on the kids. I also hired someone to pick up the cake and party supplies and help me set up and clean up. I don’t have a support network where I am, so this was the best option for me. But if you are lucky to have family or friends that want to help, let each person oversee something – the cake, the invitations, decorations. And be ok with whatever they decide or come up with.

Create your own family rituals. Ours happened by accident. It was four days before my kid’s 3rd birthday when Sydney went into complete COVID lockdown. The poor boy had spent his 2nd birthday in complete lockdown in Washington DC, and it broke my heart. I was desperate to create such an epic day, he wouldn’t even notice that his party had been cancelled and everyone was stuck at home. In the four hours I had before the lockdown went into effect, I went to the toy store and got all the greatest stuff. I then put together a treasure hunt, that involved the places we could go to in lockdown. Family and friends made him video clues and he had a treasure map – we went to the neighbors’ house upstairs, the grocery store next door, the coffee stand, beach, and park. Everyone played along. There was a narrative that connected the presents he would find at each place, and each other he could play with a bit at that location (plane at the beach, balls at the park).

I was happy to find he had a great day – so much so, that the kids now think birthdays equal treasure hunts! I enjoy thinking through where to go and how the presents fit together – so this is something we don’t outsource or delegate.

Pay the set-up costs. I keep a checklist I use every year for the birthday parties. Find a venue. Send a digital invitation. Order the cake. Get food, decorations and balloons the morning of. Get toys for treasure hunt. Plan the hunt and make the map.

Put it all together. I also keep information about venues, party supply shops or bakers I like, in the same place. All year long, when I see cool toys, I add them to a list on amazon so by the time my kids’ birthdays come along, I already have great ideas about what to get them (and for other kids too, if you need to get good presents).

Produce reminders. I book the venue and cake two months before – and send invitations a month before. I set reminders for these tasks.

Performance notes. I keep track of how much stuff I need (like how many bottles of champagne per RSVPs) – what people ate, what they didn’t (salsa is not a great snack in these COVID times apparently). I also record who I invited and who came because sometimes I'll forget people in the moment (if you want, you can keep a separate contact list for such occasions). Here’s where I note that its best not to wait too long to cut the cake (one hour) and that for young kids, two hours in the afternoons (3:30pm-5:30pm) is the best time. I don’t do goody bags, and I don’t take the time to write thank you notes (I send out an email to everyone). If these are things you want to do, best to add to your own checklist. This year, we are also trying not to open the presents friends gave us all at once – instead, since our boy is small enough not to really know what’s going on – we are dragging it out, so he has a new toy to keep him occupied every 2-3 days. Still trying to decide if that’s a good idea!

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