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Birthday Parties That Give Parents a Break

A mom shares why parties away from home are a great option.

I love planning my kids’ birthday parties. We spend hours browsing the aisles at Party City, get excited every time we get a new Oriental Trading Company catalog in the mail (those things come at least twice a week), and debate the merits of cupcakes versus cookie cake.

I hate actually having birthday parties. Don’t tell my kids, but I find that the party day makes me a stressed, nervous wreck. I want it to be special for my kid, but I also want my kid’s friends to have fun and be safe. I always have big plans of getting to know the parents of their friends during drop off/pick up time. Somehow focusing on those things while also serving up delicious, homemade goodies is just too much for me.

This anxiety has manifested itself in some pretty obnoxious symptoms, like snapping at my kids in the hours before the party and being much more outgoing and enthusiastic than my normal self during the party.

Last year, when the mother of my son’s friend told me after his party she worked at a preschool in the city, I misunderstood the name of the establishment and gushed, “my sister just loves that restaurant!” She was gracious when she corrected things, but still had that look in her eye that told me she was looking for the exit.

The remedy for my personality problem is to find ways to cut the party day stress. Once my kids were old enough to enjoy parties that included friends, we began hosting them away from home. We’ve had one relatively negative experience, and a couple of good ones. Here’s what I’ve learned:

Book the party in person. When you choose a date and put down a deposit, don’t trust that a phone call or an internet reservation will suffice. For one party, I called a local bowling alley to book a party and pay a deposit, and called again the week of the party to ask a few questions and make sure we were all set. I had at least a five-minute conversation with the person who answered and told me the party was booked and would be ready.

We arrived for the party and were met with blank stares and no record of our deposit. Our guests and we stood around for 15 minutes while the employees rushed to put our party together. Halfway through the party they found the record of our deposit and apologized kindly. All was well and the kids had fun, but I had a hard time enjoying the party after the initial stress.

Now I make sure that I take the time to go book a party in person, and I don’t leave without some record of the reservation.

Find out what’s allowed and what’s not. One of our best parties was at Glazed and Confused, where my daughter invited friends to come and paint pottery. The reservation process was easy and convenient, and my ability to choose what the kids would paint made it easy to stick to a budget.

In addition, Glazed and Confused allows parents to bring in food, so my daughter had fun decorating cupcakes for her friends the day before. I liked that in this way too, I could control the budget of the party.

It never hurts to ask. When my second daughter had her first birthday, we wanted to combine her party with a baby dedication at our church. I asked our pastor if we could hold her party in one of the larger classrooms in the church. It was a perfect fit, because there was plenty of room for our large family and nobody had to wait to eat after the service.

Our church doesn’t advertise itself as a party venue, of course, and several family members stuck around until the bitter end to help us give the room a good cleaning when we finished. But the convenience and the price made me so glad I asked for a favor.

Most years, we tend to invite family for low-key pizza and cake. So roughly about the time my youngest hits high school and declares that birthday parties are totally lame, I’ll have finally gotten the hang of the big celebrations.

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