I was prepared to be all “but my baybyyyyyyy!” about Goldie’s second birthday – I’ve done this once or twice before, as you may recall – and so this time I came prepared with a mandate: I would remember to take a minute every once in awhile to stop being a hostess and just be with my kids. It’s so easy, when you’re the one throwing a party, to get caught up in cooking and serving drinks and answering the door and making sure you talk to everyone…and then boom: the whole thing is over and everyone is gone and the dishes need doing, and you realize that you just spent the past several hours running around like the proverbial chicken and completely forgot to notice what was happening.
You want the day back.
This time I decided I didn’t want to want the day back; I just wanted to have it. So instead of running around with a camera, I took a bunch of photos before most of the guests arrived, and then left my camera where others could pick it up if they wanted to. Instead of cooking, I ordered pizzas and bought supermarket cupcakes. (I am a blogger. This is like the ultimatest blogging fail ever.) And then, about an hour into the party, after everyone had arrived and been handed a drink, I started to notice that I was puttering, looking for glasses that needed to be refilled or bowls that had been emptied or guests who looked like they had no one to talk to…and I just stopped. Empty glasses could wait; swimming with my birthday girl could not.
For my entire life, the hours leading up to a party have been characterized by an extreme desire for a nap. I know you’re supposed to be all excited and wheeee friends wheeee cocktails, but for me, planning a party has always been like prepping to run a marathon: it’s cool and all, but UGH RUNNING. What I’ve realized, having these birthday parties for my kids these past few years, is that a lot of this exhaustion comes from wanting to make everything perfect for everybody; wanting everybody to leave having eaten everything they wanted to eat, having experienced everything they wanted to experience. What I left out of that equation was always me. Which is, to some extent, as it should be – I do think that when you’re hostessing, the guests come first…but “me” is now “us.” It’s about our family; about them – not about whether the basil got limp because I tossed the pasta too early (THE SHAME).
I’m starting to realize that it’s much more fun for everyone – and especially for my kids – if I can set it up…and then let it go.
Towards the end of the party, I was swimming with Goldie and a couple of neighborhood girls who were wearing those stuck-together mermaid fins that you can buy, and she became completely convinced that she was swimming with real (!) live (!) mermaids (!!!). Soon afterwards she wanted a bath, so I took a quick look around, saw that everyone seemed happy, or at least alive, and escaped to the bathroom with my newly-anointed two-year-old.
And so, while cupcakes were getting mashed into my kitchen floor by tiny feet and my fondant starfish were melting into mush, I sat on a toilet with my feet up on the side of the tub, and I got to see my baby girl flip her feet around in the air and say, “Look, mama! I’m a pink mermaid.”
- Octopus Cake (sorry, I mean Under The Sea Cake)! And cake pops made from the bits that were cut off the cake to smooth it down before icing it. And seaweed, because mermaids.
- For more substantial stuff, I decided to be lazy, because whipping up adorable hors d’oeuvres for thirty people is not how I typically get in a “party” kind of mindset. I made a huge batch of my default feta-olive-tomato pasta, some caprese salad, and a batch of Party Meatballs (Trader Joe’s meatballs heated and tossed in a mixture of grape jelly and BBQ sauce; sssssh because it’s so good). And then I ordered a couple of large pizzas, because MAN can children ever eat.
- The final touch: I picked up a bunch of cupcakes from Safeway (and then stuck cut-out whale tails on them so that they’d look arguably not-from-Safeway). They were neon-colored and painfully sweet, and were obviously the most popular item.
The Decor: My friend Elise – who runs my favorite children’s boutique and does party planning around the Bay Area – and I decided that we’d work together on (and share the cost of) the decorations, and then use them for both our daughters’ (separate) birthday parties. We cobbled together the party decor using a mix of things we already owned and a few items bought off of Amazon – and the total cost of the setup (including entertainment, but minus food and drinks) was around $100.
Here’s what we did:
- Dotted inexpensive nets with starfish, and then hung them on walls and draped them over tabletops.
- Tied twine around the mouths of green, blue and white mason jars that I already owned, and filled them with a mix of grocery-store filler greens (like four bucks for a massive bunch), and then added faux flowers and little sparkly pom poms to them as accents. We also hot-glued more starfish (starfishes? starfi?) to sticks, and tucked them in between the leaves, which was a finishing touch that I loved.
- Created a centerpiece using wood rounds and cake plates, and used them to display the mason jars and the prettier foods.
- Tossed a string of fairy lights across the food table, and then hid the little on/off box in a tin bucket filled with seashells.
- Made a bubble chandelier, because Elise is the kind of person who actually does this sort of thing rather than just thinking “ooh, cute!” and re-pinning it. It was so cool that it needs to have its own post (coming up).
- Used some kind of obscure laser-type machine that Elise owns to print out the words “Happy 2nd Birthday” in fancy cursive, and then strung them up in an empty picture frame with fishing wire. (I know.)
- Pulled every single even vaguely seashore-themed out of my garage and into the party area. Woven baskets (for sunscreen and pool towels), oversized conch shells (which we filled with flowers), ancient lace tablecloths that look vaguely like nets, pink-and-gold confetti…whatever I had that made sense, we used. Which may not be the most cohesive way to decorate for a party – but I think it’s totally the most fun (and, helloooo, the most affordable).
- A Mermaid Manicure Station, because my daughter has decided that her nails must at all times be both pink and sparkle-adorned, and also because we were expecting a handful of pre-teen girls. And also because a Mermaid Manicure Station sounded fun.
- A Dress-Up Station, because I thought a basket full of boas and sunglasses and tiaras and such sounded like it couldn’t possibly be a bad idea.
- A handmade shell tiara, which Elise made and which isn’t technically “entertainment,” but which becomes so when a two-year-old decides to try to put it on.
- Eating, which also isn’t technically entertainment, but which my daughter literally did not stop doing for five hours (strawberries! frosting! ALL THE CHOCOLATE THINGS!). Whatever floats the birthday girl’s boat, right?