I marvel at some people and their ability to throw a good party--the excitement they feel over executing every detail. That is NOT me.
In general, for a kids' birthday party you're supposed to choose the theme then pick out the matching invitations, the decorations, the plates and napkins. You have to rent a space large enough for a thousand kids, feed everyone, and give all the tiny guests adorable goodie bags. And let's not forget how generous and magnanimous toddlers are when one of them gets to open a colorful pile of presents and everyone else has to sit and watch.
I was imagining that overflowing trash bag of half-eaten food, juiceboxes, tableware, wrapping paper, and streamers after a birthday party, and I just didn't want that in my life. I wanted my daughter to feel special and celebrated; I wanted my guests and my daughter's friends to feel welcomed and comfortable; I wanted to cut down on excess and waste, and I wanted to be true to our family's values.
My daughter is a female toddler in America so naturally she is indoctrinated into the obsession with Elsa and "Frozen," and is enamored with Anna's special birthday celebration in "Frozen Fever" which looks like this...
Between the events of this little short film and the fact that she has BEEN to other kids' parties, the girl knows what's up and what's supposed to go down at her party. She knows there's supposed to be cake and candles and singing. You can imagine there's a entire "Frozen Fever" themed birthday party package, but I'm really not interested in having characters be central to our family celebrations OR in just purchasing a bunch of on-theme "stuff" for a party. I decided to go with the general colors and flowers and ideas of this storyline she likes so much and build something unique for her around that. Check it!
I'd like to point out that the dollars spent in this photo ran me around $7 for the flowers and that's it. The "table cloth" is actually one of Penny's twin sized fitted sheets (they make great tablecloths that will STAY ON when you have kiddos at the table) and the table runner is the runner that we usually keep on top of her dresser in her bedroom. The banner with her name on it is from my baby shower when I was pregnant with Penny which we have lovingly kept (our hostess ordered it from Etsy). I think the mismatched floor cushions and tuffets give it a colorful and whimsical charm, plus are fun and accessible for all the kiddos of every size at the table. (Our square cotton floor cushions were about $10 or $11 each at World Market when we got them. They go through the washing machine and everything). We also used our mismatched set of cloth napkins instead of paper--the more mis-match the more whimsy, right?
Now I promise I did actually test out a super-healthy alternative-flour literally-sweetened-with-beets cake recipe before Penny's party and it did NOT turn out well, so I had to go with Plan B and get a cake mix. There ARE awesome recipes out there so don't give up if you're set on a really good home made cake. If you're short on time or energy (or you're 32 weeks pregnant and you just can't even) this one is Pamela's Gluten Free Vanilla Cake (available at Whole Foods and on Thrive Market) and the frosting is an organic icing from Dollop Gourmet (Whole Foods). I ended up stacking two cakes into two layers to make sure we had enough. Luckily that whole shabby chic see-through look is kind of IN with cakes right now, so I went super thin on the frosting. I actually mixed about half the frosting with some of the solid rich fatty coconut milk on the top of a can of organic full fat coconut milk, which helped to reduce some sugar and make it spread thin and easily without tearing the cake apart. Fresh flowers and greenery were perfect cake-topper material without any added icing or extra cost.
I don't even HAVE enough little plates and silverware for large gatherings so I went the compostable route with some simple biodegradable paper products and some petroleum-free compostable spoons. Instead of a big to-do with food I had a little appetizer platter with cheeses, fruits, flax crackers, dates, dried peaches, nuts, etc, and some mason jars and glasses with water or seltzer. I find that for me personally when I take my daughter to events I'm constantly and silently dodging the sugar (the juice, the ice cream, the cake, the candies, the snacks). Water is fine. Water is great. You can just do water and all the kids will still have an awesome time, I promise.
This is our entryway which is essentially just Penny's play room adjacent to the big dining room. It's already pretty colorful, but we hung up this festive fabric bunting for some party flare (my mother in law made this bunting for my as a decoration for my first classroom when I was a teacher, and we've since hung it in Penny's room. I've seen equally adorable and festive garlands made with just strips of different fabric tied onto a string. It's durable and reusable!) As our party activity and in keeping with the sunflower-y theme, we painted rocks and flower pots. I covered a coffee table and a long bench with paper for activity space and put an old sheet underneath to protect the floors. I wish I was introducing you to a sweet new kind of organic acrylic paint that comes in glass containers or something--nope. Not today. But we did make off with these terracotta pots for about $1.25 each which I'm happy with. We also gathered some rocks from outside for $0. Easy peasy. After the party the kids took their pots and rocks home with their own packet of seeds to plant as their "party favor."
Another little key I want to mention is we kept our birthday party to about an hour and a half, and we're glad we did! (Trust me, the parents were, too). Grown-ups don't like kids' parties, and most kids (my kid) have a general limit on their sunny dispositions before calamity ensues. We painted and bopped along to The Beatles, we washed up, we had a snack, we sang and had cake, we played a bit, we were done. Originally we planned to have Penny's party at a park but the weather didn't cooperate, so a little hike would have been on our agenda, too. The short duration made me extra glad to have spent little and wasted little in terms of "party supplies." (Yes, those are some of Penny's original pieces hanging up in the background. They're $1,000 each if you want one.)
Lastly, we decided we didn't want to do gifts this year. The Holidays are bad enough trying to navigate a polite way of either declining gifts or trying to specify the kinds of gifts you'd like for your child to receive. It's just awkward and uncomfortable. We've been to plenty of parties with "your presence is your present" on the invite, and that's great, too. I wanted to start some kind of tradition for Penny for her birthday, so we asked our guests to scour their couch cushions and cars and sidewalks for pennies. We had a jar for collecting them, and we'll count out the pennies and let Penny choose how she'd like to spend it. Next year I think we'll start the tradition much sooner and collect them throughout the whole year, then let her "cash in" on her birthday. I'm not anti-presents, I just want our traditions to be special, unique, meaningful, and sustainable--not frivolous or compulsory.
(Baby pictures that you've never gotten around to hanging up make great birthday party decor, by the way.)
We had a great day celebrating our awesome little girl, and she felt SO honored and loved. There are a lot of ways to put together a celebration of our little ones and maintain our family values. If you're a crunchy mama, there are so many recipes and options for us and great examples out there. Lucky for us it's pretty "IN" right now, too. If you don't have furniture in your house, no biggie. No budget, no problem. Do the unconventional but very-YOU thing. Your children won't remember the paper decorations you bought or all the planning you did, they'll remember how they felt. They'll remember your traditions and your values as a family. And if YOU'RE stressed about your kid's party, it may be time to question some of it. It should feel nourishing to you. It should feel aligned with your core values. It should make you feel good. Most of what we're sold and told as moms makes us feel pretty terrible--we don't need to welcome any of that into our lives.
Do what makes you feel like this.