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C'est la Vie: The Anatomy of a Birthday: Brain

Birthdays are work! When you are a child you have no idea what it takes to put a birthday together and rightfully so. When you are a mom, oh, you know all too well. So let me start out with this thought: do you feel obligated to have a full-blown party each year for your child? Don't.

It is more than acceptable to only have a "party" every other year or even less frequently. Maybe you would rather have family gatherings and only invite children's friends for big birthdays like turning 5, 10, 13, or 16 - whatever birthdays you feel are most significant. Keep in mind that when you don't have the party with friends it frees you up to do other great things with your kids. Let me give you a couple of examples.

On my daughter's birthday last year, she just wanted to go to a hotel. So we made a reservation at a fun hotel in downtown Denver and just she and I went to spend the night. We went out to eat, stayed up late playing games, and walked around the block to Starbuck's in the morning. You would think I took her to the moon - she was so delighted!

For our son's last two birthday's he opted out of parties for family events: a camping trip just for him and a water theme park to which he invited just one friend. These were both incredibly fun and incredibly simple. Plus, rather than spending money on lots of food, decorations, and treat bags, we were able to put the difference into a special gift that he really wanted.

Now that we've dealt with that, you need a plan. If your child is old enough, ask them for some ideas of what they might like to do. On the other hand, even if your child is old enough it might be better just to feed them some ideas that you know will be fun and not over-the-top. If your child is really into a character, movie, or book, that's great. It's easy to find paper goods and pre-made favors.

Not pre-made party favors, but surprisingly inexpensive to make

Some creative ideas take more time to pull together, but it is possible. One year my daughter wanted a Candy Land birthday party. I don't need to tell you that it was next to impossible to find anything "Candy Land" to accessorize with! Instead I chose to focus on the candy theme and create a few distinctive activities including something as simple as a coloring table with printed sheets of the Candy Land characters.

Beyond picking a theme, you'll need to decide on how to layout the party, both the time activities will take and the places that will be designated for each. Make a list of supplies well in advance so that you have time to find particular items and so that you can wait to find everything at the best price. Party stores are often over-priced, so remember to look at craft stores or discount stores. And don't underestimate what you already might have on hand!

I used table cloths, tea sets and servers I already had on hand. Then purchased additional tea cups and saucers at Goodwill. The only paper were small plates and doilies!

Now about invitations... Can I encourage you to take a few extra minutes and create a hand-made invitation? Go ahead and purchase a pack of blank cards and envelopes (again, the craft store is a great place for this). You can find them in plain white or a wide variety of lovely colors. In the same aisle, chances are you'll find stickers, die cuts, or some kind of three-dimensional decoration. Keep with your theme. Allow your child to help if they are able. Use your own handwriting or type your message on the computer.

And while we are on the subject of invitations, let's think through the appropriate number of guests and frankly, who should be invited. This is your chance to step-up and be a parent. If you don't want 12 kids at the party, you need to make that decision. As difficult as it might seem, sometimes the best thing to do is keep parties small. If you're renting out the skating rink then by all means invite the entire 4th grade, but if you want to keep things simple I highly recommend something on a smaller scale. When dealing with younger kids I once heard the rule "only as many children as the number of years old they are turning." Well, this might work until they turn 6... then parties can turn too big fast! Think about who your child enjoys being with most. Who will play nicely together? Ask the questions that best apply for the benefit of the birthday boy or girl.

Okay - there's still a lot to cover this week! I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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