• Thu, Oct 25 2012

It Took Me 3 Days To Recover From My 9-Year-Old’s Birthday Party

birthday partyI’m completely grateful that my daughter turned nine a couple of weeks ago. But, truthfully, I’m still recovering. Planning birthday parties should be fun, especially if they are for your own children. But to me, planning a birthday party is one of the most difficult tasks in the world.

I booked a place where two instructors would teach the 30-plus kids that I invited to sing and dance. Booking the place was the easiest part in the world. It was everything after that that was the biggest pain in the ass.

First off, you have to get every child’s parent’s e-mails and then send out the invitations and make it CLEAR the day, the time, and the location. This can take hours (at least it did for me) because my daughter has friends from school, her old school, family friends, and camp friends. Then, once you send out the e-mail invites, without a doubt, a few bounce back saying, “invalid address.” So I made a mental note (always a bad idea) of whom I had to call. Then you wait for the RSVPs, some of which come immediately, some don’t come for days, and some don’t come until two days before the party. Then I had to run around and buy loot bags, which was difficult because after the 15th RSVP, I just gave up keeping track of who was coming.Then, of course, the day before the birthday party, you need to make sure your child gets a good night sleep, because you don’t want them to be in a bad mood for their own party, which also is almost impossible, since they are so excited.

But all this is nothing compared to the actual day of the birthday party.

The day of the party, before I even woke up, I received e-mails from people who could now come, people who couldn’t now make it, and even one from a mother who said, “My daughter didn’t receive an invitation.” This e-mail was from a mother in my daughter’s class, who of COURSE was invited (I invited her entire class.) But, when I thought about it, she could have been on my list of people to call, because her e-mail bounced back and I never got around to making those calls. Oh, and then I also had to order a cake, which I did, but had to pick it up, along with ordering pizzas to arrive at a certain time. Then, of course, because it did seem that at the last minute, more people were coming, I realized that I didn’t have enough loot bags. And as we all know, kids love loot bags, and to them it’s like the best part of the party.

So not only did I have to order the pizza, pick up cake, get my daughter dressed, I had to go out and buy more loot bags. Not to mention buying paper plates, forks, cups, apple juice and decorations.

You can reach this post's author, Rebecca Eckler, on twitter.
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  • Sara

    Okay, let me start by saying that I’ve actually been really impressed with your last few articles. But I’d like to offer a different perspective–maybe helpful, maybe not.
    1) I wouldn’t do loot bags–to be honest, my experience is that they’re way more trouble than they’re worth and the contents usually end up in the trash after five minutes. If you want the kids to have something to take home, how about a table where they can make their own necklaces or something like that?
    2) Your nine-year-old is old enough to write her own thank-you notes. And yes, she should be writing them. Don’t do it for her–doing prompt, gracious, hand-written thank-you notes is a social skill that she’s going to need to develop and she’ll thank you for it when she’s older, even if she complains now. When I was a kid (by the age of six or seven), if I got a gift, I wasn’t allowed to play with or use it until a thank-you note was in the mail.
    3) Why not send out paper invitations? The email ones seem like a lot of hassle, what with the potential for typos, out-of-date addresses, etc.
    4) Your daughter should also be thanking you for throwing her such a nice party. Honestly, if I thew an elaborate party like what you described for my daughter and then she didn’t even thank me except to ask where her next party was going to be, we’d be having a long talk about gratitude and probably delivering some of her toys to a children’s shelter so she could get a first-hand look at how much she has to be grateful for.

    • Sara

      Oh, also–if a parent knows that her child has a food allergy, she should communicate with you well in advance of the party and offer to bring a suitable alternative. Showing up at the party and letting you know that Sally Sue has a life-threatening tree nut allergy, and oh by the way, here’s an Epi-Pen in case she goes into anaphylactic (sp?) shock, and can you name the ingredient list in the cake, is not okay.

    • Venessa

      1) Kids love loot bags. I have been to several birthday parties and every kid looked forward to the loot bag more than the cake. It might go into the trash, but it is something they love about parties. Plus, having a table to make something would be more expensive especially if it is a party for a boy..what would you do? hand prints on a plate? Planes?

      2) I agree! That is something basic I hope every kid learns. Even if they don’t want to write a card, send an email or call to thank the guests.
      3) Paper invitations do not work in this day and age if you have guests from all over the place. It wouldn’t be practical to expect her find addresses (with the risk of typos/wrong address here too) and mail the card or deliver them.
      4) So true!

    • Lily

      We don’t do thank-you notes. We also tried to do “no presents” parties, but since some people always showed up with them, and then other people would feel resentful for being made to look bad, and the whole cycle would start again, we moved to “toonie” parties. That’s where guests are invited to bring a toonie for the child, and/or a toonie for charity.

      Frankly, I can’t handle all the excess and material waste that goes with the typical birthday party. Handwritten thank-you notes just seem like more of the same. Sorry to say. I do agree with posters that it’s important to teach kids manners and not to be entitled, but I think there are lots of ways to do this, and we shouldn’t judge people for doing different things.
      Since I and my friend started with the “toonie” party, our entire neighbourhood has followed suit. The kids now show up with a hand-drawn card (folded over piece of paper) with a toonie taped to it. All the parents are relieved that they don’t have to shop and deal with crazy amounts of garbage and packaging and trying to find new places for toys, and the kids seem perfectly happy. These are all kids who are pretty well-off who have tons of toys and presents just from their relatives, and I find that the toonie party helps them focus on more important things, like the social aspect and the giving aspect.

  • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

    she HAS to send out thank you cards. HAS to. Not you, make her do it. You can address the envelopes but I’m a firm believer in the thank you card. I think it teaches kids to be grateful plus when people don’t send them out I hate those people. PLUS, it’s a good way to give your kids busy work and have them practice their penmanship. I am exhausted about your daughter’s party for you :( but yeah, make her send out cards, haha.

    • bumbler

      thank you cards are outdated, imo. Whenever I get one from a kid, I always know it was by the forced hand of the parent. Of COURSE the kid is thankful, and I’d be content assuming the parent sat on their bed that night and listened to them go on and on about how great the party and presents were, rather than the fuss of getting a card in the mail a week later that might as well read “look how polite and thoughtful I’m raising my kid to be”. If you want to do thank you cards I’d say go for it, why not, but they’re more nostalgic and archaic than they are practical.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      But what greeting card is ever really practical? Nostalgic and archaic practices are awesome IMO, in some regards. Kids are so ungrateful these days as it is.

    • bumbler

      “kids are so ungrateful these days” I couldn’t disagree more. Don’t let yourself fall into the smug trap of belittling modern children while awash in the glowing delusions of yesteryear. Kids have always been kids, and kids these days present the same spectrum of manners and rottenness as any other generation.
      The difference between a thank you card and, say, a christmas card is that no one could accuse you of being rude for not sending an xmas card, nor is it in reciprocation of anything, nor is it expected or required. Other greeting cards usually serve the purpose of simply saying hello, I’m still alive, I’m addicted to buying stationary and wish to share some with you, look at this picture of my family, etc.

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      ” I’m addicted to buying stationary and wish to share some with you” LOL!

    • Justme

      I’m going to have to agree with Vawter on this one. I think it’s a simple and kind gesture that goes a long way. And what’s wrong with raising your child to be polite and thoughtful by teaching them to send thank-you cards?

    • http://www.xojane.com/author/eve Eve Vawter

      Yay I am being agreed with! A sort of lazy thing to do, which can be really cute, is to snap a pic of the kid holding up the gift and send that off instead, either via email or regular mail, but I think the point is just having a kid acknowledge the thoughtfulness of a gift.

    • Justme

      Absolutely. I always had to write thank you notes for Christmas and birthday presents as a kid and now as an adult I feel horribly guilty if I don’t.

    • bumbler

      that’s a good idea and actually what I’ve been doing for years! My sister and some friends also do the same thing. It’s fun to see the kid enjoying the gift you gave them.

    • bumbler

      I was saying that parents are using thank you cards to falsely brag about how polite their kids are, when in fact the kid was doing it out of obligation and not inherent or learned politeness. Of course parents should be teaching their kids common and modern courtesies, but I don’t see thank you cards as one of them.

    • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

      Do you work outside the home? Handwritten thank you notes are still the gold standard for job interview follow-up. No, you don’t HAVE to, but everyone from those in their 20s to 60s notices and comments positively on candidates who do. However, I do think that it is rather over the top for a child’s party. The kid should write one to the mom. :)

    • lea

      bumbler all manners are learned, we are not born polite. All courtesies/manners/politeness etc are learned, but I don’t think that detracts from their value.
      I can see how you might feel thank you notes are outdated (and I agree that they are not as common as they once were), but I doubt that most parents are using them as a way to brag. That’s kinda sad you feel that way.

      My 2 cents worth on the issue is this- I prefer if I purchase someone a gift, that they open it while I am there. I’ve taken the time to carefully select something, and for me part of the joy of giving is seeing the reaction of the recipient. I know that there are times where this isn’t feasible, however, and so in these instances, where the gift is opened later, I think a thank you note (or text or email or even photograph like suggested above) is not only appropriate but good manners.

  • Andrea

    She will thank you someday. I’m 25 and my new favorite part of my birthday is telling my mum how much I loved all of my birthday parties growing up. Especially when she made the inside look like outside so as a January birthday girl I could have a “warm” weather birthday like my siblings.

  • bl

    Why would your daughter thank you when you’re teaching her not to thank her friends for the gifts?

    • fiver

      I completely agree. I understand that thank you notes when a kid is young is more the parent doing all the work than the kid (addresses, stamps, mailing, etc). Still, a child should learn the value of a thank you note- it shows the person you are thanking how much you appreciate them and their gift to you (and it lets them know you’ve received the gift, too).

  • bumbler

    Try adding a ” Please RSVP by mm/dd/yyyy” to your invites, and set it to be 4 or 5 days before the party. That way you won’t have as many last-minute guests.

  • Venessa

    I had so many of the same problems! I was trying to order food and arrange loot bags myself. Even though I specified that I wanted people to RSVP soon, I did not hear back from so many because they did not see the invitation/get my voicemail on time. So I ended up ordering a few extra loot bags. Then some guests call on the day of the party and say “Oh we have out of town guests, we can’t make it!”. I know it was a small thing, but I actually burst out crying because I was so stressed! I couldn’t take the news that I would have to move things around again because two of his friends weren’t coming.
    Next time around, I will book one of those places where the kids can play and the loot bags are arranged by the party organizers. I will just order some food and cake, sit back and enjoy! I have noticed that kids enjoy these parties more since they don’t have parents trying to control everything..and I won’t have to deal with 5 extra sets of loot bag contents at home!

  • Jules

    Honestly, that sounds like party planning from hell. I would totally feel the way you do. Maybe some things to do differently next time
    1) have a specific RSVP by date, that way you will have a pretty solid idea ( I say pretty solid because there will still be last minute adjustments, but they will be fewer)
    2) buy extra goodie bags to begin with (I know they can be pricey, but the benefit is less stress, one less thing to do) your daughter can have one or distribute to classmates that couldn’t attend
    3) Maybe buy the plates, etc at the same time you buy the goodie bag stuff
    4) also buy juice and order the pizza in advance
    I hope this is helpful. Just remember that you have a new baby and your working. It is absolutely going to get better from here and at the end of the day the party was a success. Cut yourself some slack :)

  • Alison

    Wait, are thank you notes for kid’s birthday really a ‘thing’? I’ve never heard of it before. It seems ridiculous to me, but by looking through the comments it seems like I’m in the minority. It wasn’t too long ago I was having these birthdays and attending as a guest myself (I’m 19) and I can’t remember ever sending or receiving a thank you note, nor my parents sending/receiving one. The same goes for the birthday parties I now attend for the various kids in my extended family. I’ve never been to a child’s birthday party where the presents weren’t opened during the party with the gift giver near by. I’ve been to plenty of parties were the gifts were set aside for later, which surely calls for later thanks yous and acknowledgement, but these were all parties of adults/older teens. Surely if someone gives you a present in person, you open it and you say thanks, you don’t need to say thank you a second time via a medium hardly anyone uses anymore? Especially at that age. I can’t imagine forcing a 7 year old to sit down and write a note to their classmate about a $15 gift.

    I can’t work out if this is an American thing (I’m Australian), a middle class thing (I have a working class background) or I’m just oblivious and bad mannered.

    • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

      I’m American and, although always wrote notes for presents from grandparents and aunt, I never was expected to do so (or received them) for children’s parties. As you pointed out, you tell the person thank you and it is a rather small gift. My relatives lived 800 miles away so were not present for in person thanks. Perhaps this is a new trend? If so, while I do like a handwritten note, I am very thankful to be too old to have to worry about trendy.

    • Rebecca

      We never did thank you notes for birthdays, but we usually only had grandparents, and the occasional aunts/uncles/cousins. I could barely be bothered to plan my own wedding so I really don’t see myself throwing a big expensive party for my kids birthdays.

    • lea

      I’m Aussie too, and no I don’t think you are bad mannered! The key is in the fact that the gifts were opened whilst the giver was still there, and hence the thank you was done in person (so negates the need for a note).

      I think the whole not opening gifts until later thing must be a new thing? Because it seems like the kids parties I’ve been to lately are all doing this, but this would have been unheard of (and rude, actually) when I was a kid myself.

  • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

    The entire class!!? Didn’t the rule used to be invite the same number of kids as you child’s age? Not sure if I think you are awesome or crazy. :)

    • rebecca eckler

      It’s kind of a nice rule at her school. You invite everyone or you have to sneakily hide giving out invites. Actually it’s not a rule, rule. It’s more of an unwritten one, so no one feels left out. It’s kind of nice because it builds a sense of community with her classmates. I’m sure it won’t last forever!

    • http://www.facebook.com/helen.donovan.31 Helen Donovan

      WOW, an entire class! Are they small schools? I had about 30 in my classes. I’m surprised it took ONLY 3 days to recover.

    • Sara

      At the school where I used to work, the rule of thumb was that if you were going to invite more than one or two kids from the class, you should invite the whole class. It’s up to the family whether they want to include school friends, but you couldn’t invite some kids from the class and exclude others. It still allowed for situations where a kid might have one or two close friends from school and want to include them, without the family having to invite the whole class and have a big, huge party when they might just want a small, intimate one.

  • Jen

    When we throw parties, we just buy enough goodie bags, food, drinks etc. for the number of kids we invited that way I’m not scrambling. I also put a note on all the invites that if the kid has an allergy mom needs to let me know and I’ll make sure i have a separate snack. My kid isn’t allergic to anything and i’m not forcing her to eat something she doesn’t like because some kid has an allergy. Of course we only do parties for “big” numbers (1, 5, 10, 13 etc.) otherwise it’s just close family and maybe a friend or two on the weekend. But I hate with a passion kids birthday parties (Including my own kids). So i only have to deal with a big “thing” every so often. I also have a rule each kid only gets to attend 5 birthday parties a year (otherwise every weekend I’d be at a party or buying gifts for kids MY kids barely know). But I’m difficult lol

  • Charles4man

    Why did this chick have children? All she does is whine and complain about standard parenting rituals.

  • Sl Melodrama

    I’m sorry but most of your frazzle seems to be self induced. You don’t sound at all organised and seem to have left a lot of things until the last minute. Obviously you’re going to be stressed out then.

    • March

      Way to shameguilt another mother. Are you this bloody sanctimonious with everyone, or just with people you don’t know?

    • Sl Melodrama

      I was neither “shameguilting” nor being sanctimonious. The author here has written an article, obviously inviting responses and input. From what she has written about how she handled the party and about the stuff she did on the party day itself :

      “But all this is nothing compared to the actual day of the birthday party.
      ……….
      So not only did I have to order the pizza, pick up cake, get my daughter dressed, I had to go out and buy more loot bags. Not to mention buying paper plates, forks, cups, apple juice and decorations.”

      Most, if not all of these could have been done the previous day which would have left her hands free.I don’t think there’s anything wrong with pointing out this fact in response to an article she wrote on the subject.

  • too many

    30 kids invited to your 9 year old’s birthday party is insane.

  • March

    Good Lord, THIRTY guests?! I am not surprised at all you found it a pain in the ass. Good grief what a nightmare. And exactly how much of this did your daughter specifically ask for? Next year you might want to be firm and say “Your choice: we’ll invite the whole class but then it’s just bowling (or something else simple), OR you get to design a programme but then you’ll only invite six guests.”

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  • Persistent Cat

    Why do children’s birthday parties have to be such a big, huge ordeal? It’s beyond ridiculous how they are turning into mini-weddings. And each kid’s party has to be bigger and more original than the next. Why the constant competition? I hate listening to parents complain about their kids’ parties, they decided to throw the party, shut up about it and stop making your kids more and more entitled.

  • OK523

    I have a few suggestions for you, if I may. Next time put an RSVP by such and such date if it’s really a big deal to know the exact number. Also, pick up the cake the day before and make as many loot bags as the amount of kids you invited just in case some jerks don’t RSVP and just show up. Get the apple juice, all of the paper ware, and have all of the loot bags ready the day before. Depending on how much advance planning you do you can have that stuff a week or more in advance. That way on the day of the party all you have to do is get the pizza, your daughter can dress herself since she is 9. If there’s a special outfit, set it out the night before. And maybe you could tell her to just invite people from one place instead of having to invite friends from all over and stressing about their e-mail addresses. And if you’re inviting the whole class at school just send paper invitations with your daughter to school to hand out. Also, other kids’ allergies are NOT your problem and it’s rude for the other parents to try to make it yours. They’re the parent and they need to make sure their kid is taken care of, not you. Don’t bend yourself over backwards for people who didn’t bother to mention it before the party.

  • Julie Patton

    You’re making things more complicated then they have to be. If parties stress you out simplify them. I usually use both paper and email invites. Paper for anyone that I can just past out an invite too. (School friends) E-vites for people I’m in long distance contact with. (Family or old friends I have their emails already.) and a note pad of who I’ve invited by the phone to keep track of rsvp’s

    I personally prefer smaller parties. I find with 30 + kids the child does really connect with their friends.

    Pizza places deliver for a reason. Also easy and cheap, a crock pot of hot dogs and some packages of buns.

    I think with loot bags it’s a better idea to just get extra. If you get consumables the extras won’t go to waste. (Edible items, collectibles or small toys that can just be added to a child’s stash such as lego, crafting items)

    Thank you cards are over the top. The loot bag is intended to be a child’s thank you! Put a thank you
    note in with the loot bag. You’re child can even prepare the note ahead of time. I’ve never received a second after the party thank you card one for a child’s party. I’ve often had the birthday child at the door passing out loot bags and saying thank you for coming to my party.

    Finally, it’s a good idea to stay nut free from the start, in Canada anyway. Most facilities targeted to children are nut free now. That said, a parent of a child with a life threatening allergy has no right to leave you with an epipen and the expectation that you will accept responsibility for special dietary restrictions. I’m say, I’m sorry I’m not trained in the use of an epipen for starters and let the parent review my food choices at their leisure. I also never turn away a parent who wants to stay.