Ben’s birthday celebration started Tuesday – on his “real” birthday – with our family celebration and a visit from his uncle (my brother) and family. The big party was yesterday. Last year, there were a dozen kids in his kindergarten class. We invited everybody, and then a couple of other friends as well. This year, his first grade class had some 22 or so kids in it. And we invited everybody again.
Fortunately, Ben didn’t want an organized event. No jumping place or laser tag or bowling for him. When we talked about it, he said, “Can’t I just invite everybody over to play? We hardly ever get to just play.” It’s true. Even in first grade, most playtime is regimented in some way. There are afterschool activities and teams and groups, but not much playtime. They don’t have two recesses a day like we did. Sometimes they don’t get recess at all.
We got a balloon machine kit for about $20 and it was good for more than thirty balloons. Balloons and ribbon were included (the hardest part was tying the knots). We attached the balloons with hair bands to the posts on the deck, and to the mailbox. It was easier to take them off and distribute them. I painted wash-off blue targets on the biggest trees, and the kids had those splooshy balls that splatt rather nicely if you soak them in water. We also had some big plastic balls, and binoculars, and a beanbag tic-tac-toe toss, and other likely things placed around the yard.
Other than the water-splatt action (which of course turned into everyone getting a bit damp), the most popular activity was climbing the fig tree. It was very funny to see how the boys and girls took turns doing that. First the boys swarmed the tree, and none of the girls would go near it. Then, later, when the boys were throwing things into the air, the girls lined up and treated the tree a bit like gymnastic equipment. John supervised for a while, just like a spotter. Then, our friend Michael took over and had them singing “Respect” while they were waiting for their turn. By this time, they had evolved the game into a kind of “swing and jump off” routine.
When things started to get a bit chaotic and crazy, we broke for the birthday cake ritual. We had a big cake, and plenty of juicepacks and water. Our friend Bonnie had brought gummy worms (a big hit at the end of the party) and salsa and chips for any parents who decided to stick around (yummy).
At the end of the party, each kid left with a balloon and one of the hacky-sack water-ball thingies. I think they were intended to be pool toys. There were no “gift bags” – when did that awful tradition start?
I think everybody had a pretty good time. No major injuries, lots of smiles and waves goodbye.
One of the kids ended up staying overnight, and Ben didn’t even open any of the presents until late this morning. Some of the presents were very cool, but it really seemed as though the part he liked was having everybody here.
He is such a social creature. I never really was, and it’s so fun for me to watch him. He greeted everybody that came in (even the girls) by name. When kids started throwing balls (and water!) at each other he quietly absented himself from the scene, and went to “plant an oak tree” with one of the other kids. He also gave instructions on the proper fig-tree climbing method.
Since I didn’t grow up having parties at my house or having birthday celebrations or anything like that, I don’t really know what the expectations are from the other kids or their parents. Some of the birthday parties have gotten competitive and flashy. For me, it’s about Ben being happy, and I honestly don’t think he could have been any happier if we had done anything else. He was grinning almost the whole time.
Nobody could ever have told me that I would so enjoy something like this, that I would so love being a Mom.