We’ve celebrated 13 — nearly 14 — kiddie birthdays so far between our two children, and we have learned a LOT. We’ve figured out which parties are the most expensive, which parties require the most effort (before, during and after) and which parties we swore we’d never repeat.
There’s the house party, which can feel incredibly claustrophobic and requires cleaning your house twice — yuck. There’s the rent-a-venue party, which is typically the biggest party and can make your bank account weep. And then there’s a third kind of party, which has become our favourite — the “outing.”
We started this tradition last year, and I don’t see us changing it anytime soon.
Last year we took our daughter and a few good friends to Clay Cafe to paint pottery, and it was awesome. We took our son and a few friends to the local rec centre for rock-climbing and a swim, and we just repeated that this year for our daughter’s birthday.
Since it’s not a “party,” we’re not shelling out the hundreds of dollars to book the party room and rent the leisure pool. We’re just paying for a family day pass (or two family passes, depending on the number of friends).
We met up in the lobby and the kids went rock-climbing first. All I had to do was stand by and take pictures to text to their parents. (My husband helped by hooking and unhooking the kids to the auto-belay system, which he seemed to enjoy.)
Once their arms started to get tired, we made a group decision to move to the pool. I felt like a teacher, making everyone line up and walk slowly to the change rooms. Quick — another head-count! Did we leave someone behind?!
I helped them get into their bathing suits and slowly, slowly, we trooped out to the pool. I tried to keep them all corralled by playing Duck Duck Goose, but it didn’t last more than a few minutes. Some of them wanted to jump into the deep end, others wanted to dive for toys, and others bounced around on noodles pretending they were riding horses.
My husband went on unofficial lifeguard duty in the deep end, while I stayed with my friend in the shallow end. As our little guests splashed around, I counted them constantly. I’d catch my husband’s eye, hold up a few fingers to show how many kids I had in my “possession,” and he’d nod and hold up a few fingers to show how many he had.
When the numbers added up to the total number of guests, we were golden. When they didn’t add up? Well, we’d both start hunting for the missing ones.
Oops, she was on the ramp — got her!
Oh, he was standing on the edge — got him!
Wait, where’s … oh, she was ducking under. Got her!
Aside from obsessively counting the kids every 30 seconds or so, it was a pretty calm swim.
Fifteen minutes before the party was scheduled to end, we rounded everybody up and got them changed. It’s much harder getting into clothes — especially tight ones — when you’re all damp from swimming. I literally broke a nail tugging up someone’s leggings, but before long we nudged them into their shoes and herded them out into the lobby.
Since we weren’t an official party, we didn’t have access to the party room. No problem — I’d made “portable” snacks using $2 clear plastic tackle boxes from the Dollar Store. The boxes were loaded with Goldfish crackers, Oreo cookies, granola bars, Fun Dips, suckers and gummy worms.
Some of the parents had arrived, and others were on their way, so we handed out the boxes to the hungry little swimmers. The kids loved opening up their boxes and deciding what to eat first. When they had an empty wrapper, they just stuffed it back in their box — easy clean-up! — and moved onto the next snack.
What about birthday cake, you ask? I skipped the cake and made cake pops — candy-coated balls of cake on lollipop sticks — that the kids happily ate in the lobby and walking out to their parents’ cars. (I’d sent them home with a second cake pop plus ones for any siblings waiting at home, because I’m a parent and I understand jealousy.)
If we’d gone the traditional route, I think we would have spent about $350 renting the pool and the party room — once you factor in that you need to purchase food from the in-house cafe.
Our daughter had a blast, her friends all loved it, and it was one of the most affordable celebrations we’ve ever had.
Now that’s what I call a successful not-a-party party.