We celebrated our daughter’s fourth birthday the other weekend with a big Disney princess dance bash at a local studio. It was a great party and I think everyone enjoyed themselves, but you know what?
Let me set the scene. There were 40 children on the guest list, including younger and older siblings, and I think 30 kids was the final guest tally. Plus parents, of course, since most of the kids were four or younger — add one or two adults for every couple of kids, and you’ve got a lot of people. Everyone was laughing and chatting and oohing at how cute the kids looked dancing under the flashing disco lights.
There was even entertainment! I hired a lovely Rapunzel impersonator — er, I mean “I flew in Rapunzel from that island with all of the floating lanterns” — and she was fantastic. She performed on stage alongside our daughter, played games with the kids and even painted their nails and applied temporary princess tattoos. They followed her around like adoring ducklings and it was awesome.
But, you see, there’s a formula to a big party: you either spend more money for doing less work, or spend less money as long as you’re willing to do more work. I opted for a few conveniences — like buying pre-cut fruit — and a few cheaper solutions — like making the cakes myself — so in the end, I feel like I spent a lot of money AND put in a lot of time …I did my usual last-minute we’re-not-going-to-have-enough-food panic and
I did my usual last-minute we’re-not-going-to-have-enough-food panic and brought two huge fruit trays, a veggie tray, a full block of cubed cheese and enough chips, cheesies and crackers to easily fill a bathtub. Plus different varieties of pop and juice, and a sick amount of disposable napkins, plates and cups.
I made the equivalent of four cakes — 48 cupcakes and two rectangular cakes pushed together to make a square slab — and yes, I used cake mixes but the buttercream was homemade.
I made some of the decorations but then felt I had to buy the perfect pink and pink (disposable) tablecloths and matching pink and purple balloons. Oh, and coordinating napkins because the jumbo-sized bag of white napkins weren’t that pretty. And, believe it or not, this was me “not going overboard” with decorations like I have in previous years.
I underestimated the physical toll it would take to get all of the party supplies out of our house — where they were scattered in piles and bins around the main level — down to the van, and then up several flights of stairs in the venue. Did I mention my husband was sleeping off the night shift and it was just me and the kids dragging everything?
I think it was around the 16th trip, lugging a bin loaded with 2L pop bottles, that I wondered what had possessed me to think this party was a good idea. I was sweaty and achy and still had eight or nine tables to assemble.
Prep aside, though, the biggest thing was that I couldn’t really connect with any of my friends — especially the ones who drove an hour to get to the party. I’m pretty sure I spoke to everyone for a minute, but not much more, and the whole thing felt like an uncomfortable, anxious blur. I felt like a bad friend. Wasn’t this one of the reasons I didn’t have a traditional wedding?
I was flitting around the room, turning lights on and off, coordinating Rapunzel’s entrance, tending to the music, refilling bowls, taking pictures, pouring drinks and slicing cake. I was checking the time on my phone to see when we should do the cake, when we should open the gifts and how much time was left until I could sit down.
This wasn’t our first big party, either. We’ve had six others, between both kids, and none of them have been small. So why did I do it? Why did I invite 40 kids (plus parents) if I knew it was going to be expensive and time-consuming and anxiety-inducing?
It would be easy to say I did it for the kids, who love inviting every single friend and have a blast running around big venues. I could also blame it on my job and the need to create cute crafty content to get more pageviews.
But really, I chose to have a big party because it was me who couldn’t bear to do one on a small scale. I wanted to pick a new, exciting venue each year — the gymnastics club, the indoor playplace, the dance studio. I had to have a fun theme and go all out. I couldn’t leave anyone off the list. I took “the more, the merrier” too far because it made everyone happy and, hey, that’s what a party is supposed to be about, right?
We’ve done the big party thing and now, I think, we’re done. Our oldest turns six in June and the venue limits him to nine friends, so he’ll choose his closest buds and that will be it — as much as it pains me. Pizza, cake and even treat bags are provided so I don’t have to bring anything but snacks and drinks — and as much as I’ll be tempted to go above and beyond, I won’t.
Because it’s his party, and it’s not about me.