Parenting Gone Awry, School

Birthday Party Theme: Obscure Minimalism

Last Saturday, Sean had his first ever birthday party beyond the standard cake and ice cream at home with family and friends.

Last school year, we attended approximately 187 birthday parties thus making him fully aware that he was being rooked out of a party and that his mother was somewhat of a slacker in this regard.  So this year, we agreed to a class party.

Earlier in the year, Sean attended a birthday party at a nearby gymnastics place and it worked out well, so I totally copied and rented the same facility.  Why re-invent the party wheel? I see no reason.

So then this past week I spent my spare time trying to pull together the details for said party.  I really had no idea where to start.  Although I’ve attended kidlet birthday parties, I guess I wasn’t paying attention. There were midget barbarians and cake and that’s all I remember. I self-medicated with icing and the rest is a blur. 

So I set off to Party City looking to get a clue and buy a party. 

When I got there I trolled up and down the aisles looking for shindig supplies and hoping what I needed would become apparent and jump in my basket.  I settled in a row that seemed to have boy party stuff.  I stood looking at a wall of party hats and party favors and party napkins and all manner of party crap supplies wondering what in the heck I was doing.  Another mom was in the aisle filling her basket like one of Santa’s elves.  “I have no idea what I’m doing,” I said more or less to myself. 

“What’s your theme?” she asked helpfully. 


She nodded expectantly. “Batman? Spiderman?” 

“Well, I really haven’t decided on a theme just yet,” I lied. 

A look of horror came over her face.  She seemed shocked and appalled by this bit of information. 

“Well, once you decide on a theme, you can decide on a center piece,” she chirped.  

“Oh,” I said and nodded knowingly as liars often do.  It had not occured to me that five-year-olds would give a flip about a center piece. 

I stood there for another 30 minutes scratching my head and looking at “themes” from Batman to Sponge Bob.  Nothing seemed right.  By design, Sean has no idea who any of those characters are.  I finally decided the theme was Birthday and the center piece would be Cake. And for a creative and unexpected touch I would have balloons.  

I ordered 15 theme-less balloons and left the store. 

Fun and cake was had by all the midget barbarians in spite of the lack of theme. 

However it is highly likely that I will not be put in charge of class parties any time soon. 

See? There is an upside to being incompetent.

48 thoughts on “Birthday Party Theme: Obscure Minimalism

  1. “I finally decided the theme was Birthday and the center piece would be Cake. And for a creative and unexpected touch I would have balloons. ”

    That will be my b-day mantra from now on.
    Too funny.

  2. LOL
    You have the right idea. Kids don’t care about all that stuff. Who needs it? My kids are going to have a no-gift party this year. Their birthdays are right before Christmas so they get inundated with junk, er, toys. We are going to have the party-goers bring a still-packaged toy as a “gift” to be donated to the local children’s hospital. And my kids will just have the enjoyment of the games and food. 🙂 And I won’t have to deal with stuff. Everyone wins.

  3. Sounds like a good plan to me. I have birthday number 5 to start planning for my little guy and I’m having a hard time with it too. He loves all the “characters”, but some of his friends have no clue, and I don’t want to offend anyone! I think going generic sounds WONDERFUL!!

    * * * * *
    The no-theme theme was just fine given that Sean is not into any particular character and the kids could not care less.

    I bought multi-colored balloons, plates, napkins and forks and mixed them all up. It was festive. I bought a multi-colored “cupcake cake” from Walmart, so it could just be pulled apart and I didn’t have cut and serve impatient kids. I bought Sean his own teeny tiny cake because I don’t like the idea of him blowing out candles on everyone’s cake, especially during cold season. I bought a cheapo Wal-Mart cakes instead of from an expensive “name” bakery (who have the best cakes!) as some suggested I do because I know kids take one bite and throw it in the trash. The barbarians sang happy birthday, ate cheap cake and we called it a party.

    I did fix up some nice goody bags (with weird stuff like a tape measure) which Sean handed to each child as they left and thanked them for coming. He even shook hands with one or two of the parents. Even though it was his day, we wanted him to practice good manners and focusing outward. Thanks you notes have been written and are sitting in the mailbox because I’m obsessive about that kind of thing.

    It was all good, but hoping I can skip next year and go back to family and friends at home.

    But I fear I may have let Pandora out of the birthday box.

    ~ AM

  4. I totally understand what you’re saying here … it was YEARS before I let my daughter discover Chuck E. Cheese, and by the time I did, she was almost too old for it. LOL We usually have a “theme” of some sort at our “at home” parties, but I rummage around the house for it like this: One year we did the “Madeleine” birthday party. She already had a Madeleine doll, I got some helium balloons and tied them to Madeleine’s wrist, and set a Madeleine book opened just so behind the doll and balloons. Ta-da! Instant centerpiece! 🙂

  5. Children’s parties just get more and more expensive and competitive don’t they? My son is seven this weekend and he has to settle for some fun at home with 5 of his closest friends. Our ‘theme’ is birthday too LOL!

    I right a Christian blog for mums – I hope you’ll have a look!


  6. oh I am all about the theme party. I just love a good party; kids or adults. But I’m not into the “store bought” themes. For Little speaks 2nd I had a “fiesta” for BigSpeak’s 5th it was memorial day so it was an “All American” theme, complete w/decorated bikes and a neighborhood parade. It doesn’t have to be expensive for a “theme”, plus I think it’s kind of fun. But, truth be told, it’s more for me than for the girls.

  7. It seems that everyone just keeps upping the ante as far as kids parties go; it’s getting out of control. What ever happened to Pin the Tail on the Donkey and Musical Chairs?

    I’ve tried to do away with the goodie bags, too because who needs more trinkets and/or candy?

    You did good.

  8. Theme? Centerpiece? For preschoolers? That’s just absurd. We did a party for my 3-year-old just because this will be her last year as an only child and my bedrest has been hard for her. We had it at our local MyGym and got a great discount because we’re members. They would have taken care of everything, but we’re Kosher (and so are all of our guests), so we supplied the food, plates, and cutlery. There was no theme, just lots of pink and green. The kids all had a blast.

    I think it needs to be reasonable and about what the birthday child likes. I was a dancer and prissy, so one year my mother took me and 2 friends to see Swan Lake. Afterwards, we went to a “fancy” restaurant for supper. It was my favorite birthday ever.

    It’s so easy to get sucked into the “competitive parenting” idea that you’re cheating your child if you don’t have Hannah Montana sing Happy Birthday to them. Thank goodness for y’all like-minded mommas to remind me I’m not a grinchy jerk.:)

  9. I think this is worse in some areas than others, too.

    In central Austin (home of the hippies), it would be about the all-organic party and who could do the best vegan cake. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. 😉

    In other parts of Austin (and parts of Dallas I could name), it’s all about who can throw the most money at a party.

    I’ve always been much more concerned about my kids enjoying their day with their friends than that sort of thing. Creating memories > spending cash.

  10. You are right kids don’t care about that kind of stuff…it is mothers putting all kinds of pressures on other mothers to throw a “memorable, fun, never been done before birthday party”.
    I have learned in my many years of throwing birthday parties…they want to have fun with their friends and cake. That is it! Easy.
    Milford, CT

  11. I managed to weasel out of a “real” party for the 4th birthday she just had (just had the usual family party, no little friends yet), but she’s already been obsessing on Chuck E. Cheese’s (and other similar facilities around here). We may have to cave next year as far as THAT goes, but as far as “theme”, the birthday theme sounds good to me!

  12. You had the party at a gym so you had a theme! It was gymnastics!!!!

    With 5 kids ages 11-18 we’ve done lots of parties. And we’ve never had a center piece other than a cake. We did have many themes over the years. My son who turned 18 last month was into pirates for many years so we had that theme twice. Since his birthday is in October, the cake I remember best was the one that I made in the shape of a pumpkin (two bunt cakes one upside down on top or another) with a pirate face.

    It’s amazing that your son doesn’t know the “characters” because he goes to school and associates with other kids. I know a missionary family whose kids were tested in order to be placed into school and they were thought to be mentally deficient because they didn’t know the Sesame Street characters. My own kids knew so much about shows they weren’t allowed to watch by playing with neighbor kids.

    I could write much more on the subject of kids parties—-I always tried to do them on the cheap! But then maybe I should get my own blog! HA!

  13. You’ve got me laughing again!!

    My favorite quote – “By design, Sean has no idea who any of those characters are.”

    That’s the way it is in our house, too.

  14. lol…some of my friends have kids that are a few years older than mine…so I’m totally stealing their ideas 🙂

    …i’ll give them credit IF someone asks

  15. Now that’s my kinda party! I don’t remember having birthday party themes at my parties growing up…do you? And they were just as memorable and special, if not more, than making Strawberry Shortcake the center of it all. I like what ya did! A lot!

    * * * *
    I don’t remember ever having a birthday party. I come by my “slacker mom” status naturally. But my mom was tons of fun in much more important ways and I hope I am too! ~AM

  16. Aye Matey….I thought for sure it would be a pirate party! My son was into Pirates and we live 2 miles from the beach so when he was about 6, we had a party at the beach complete with Pirates, a treasure chest, treasure maps and cake…..all that planning…you would have thought they would have been in heaven….Nope…they ignored all of those plans and props and played on the (gasp) swingset and slide for hours! I learned that lesson fast! No more theme parties. And never ever ever did I have the barbarians at my house for a party. Always a free county park or Chuck E Cheese or something like that.

  17. “I finally decided the theme was Birthday and the center piece would be Cake.”

    This is the funniest thing I’ve read in a long time. I get such a kick out of your blog. I’ve given up on MSM and moved on to AM!

  18. Oh… we call that a “friends party” and we have them when the kid turns 6, 10 and 16 around here. Then families that have friends party for EVERY kid for EVERY year annoy me. LOL

    You did GREAT mom — keep the the good work (but not EVERY stinkin year). °Ü°

  19. You are, as ever, right on track. Mine are crazy for themes (is that genetic?) but don’t know the boy characters, either. It’s nice to see we’re not the only ones – I was beginning to wrorry that mine would be in that ‘deficient’ testing range. They’ve learned what they know from other boys’ parties and the marketing geniuses – still have yet to see an episode of any superhero show…:shrug: Thanx for the great start to my morning 🙂

  20. I once had a party for the kids followed by a party for the adults all for one kid! While the kids parties the adult men put the Christmas decoration on top of the house and tied it down!!!! Then the kids went home and the adults (more)came and we partied till late!

    Kids want to run. Adults want to … well you know. (You are a redneck aren’t you?)

  21. I cannot wait until my little one has her first birthday! My in-laws only ever have family parties for anyone and everyone, and don’t think about actually doing something fun for your birthday like going to the beach because you’re going to grandma’s house and your mother’s making your cake…. I’m sorry, I got carried away. Anyway, my husband and I decided that the baby is going to have her birthday party at our house, and as she gets older she can have friends and maybe even a theme. Now, if I can only think of a way to break the news to her grandma…

    * * * *

    Oh yes! Have a big celebration with friends and family to mark that first birthday at your house. Oh the memories you’ll make and you won’t regret it. ~ AM

  22. Oh, I am SO with you on the party thing. I absolutely hated giving birthday parties for my girls when they were younger. The whole thing stresses me out–like I care what little girls think of me. Crazy. So early on we instituted an every-other-year birthday party policy. The girls just got used to saying “it’s a party year” or “it’s not a party year.” They aren’t too scarred today because they didn’t have parties every year.

    Besides, not every kid actually likes parties. My middle daughter, the quiet one, decided after her disaster-of-an-eighth-birthday-party that she just didn’t want to have parties anymore. She didn’t like them. So we started taking a friend on an outing for her birthday (when it was a party year)–like going to a museum in Chicago and out to dinner–things like that. Much better, in my opinion.

  23. GOOD FOR YOU! In my opinion, all you need for a party is enthusiasm. If you are prepared to be atmosphere provider, then you don’t need a theme.

  24. Oh my gosh.. that made me laugh! I have a friend like ‘said lady at party store’. I am the one saying ‘uh huh’ and raising one eyebrow at her! LOL Our ‘centerpiece’ was always the cake too. Kids don’t give a rip about that stuff. They want to play and eat icing.

    I did do a pajama party bd party once when she got older. but not overnight. They decorated pillow cases with fabric markers and I made cootie catchers with questions and Bible verses etc on them for the girls to do with each other to interact… instead of competing. Thats about as creative as it gets for me.. and I had help just to do that! LOL’re on the right track, AM!

  25. We didn’t start having “real” birthday parties for my oldest unitl he was 5. Then I let him decide what theme he wanted. I went totally overboard at Party City the first year. After that we scaled down all of the stuff bought for the party. I don’t even do goodie bags. It is usually junk that just gets tossed.

  26. “There is an upside to being incompetent.” Bill Cosby completely agrees with you [smile].

    And while there is no need to be themed in a the consumerism aspect, I did love my pirate and fireman party as a kid. My mom used Legos that I already had and put the ship on the cake. We also dressed up (complete with marker scars) and did a few theme-applicable games. It was a blast.

    But buying themed junk? No thanks!


  27. Awesome theme! I usually use a strategy as opposed to a theme. And that is I have a cooler of beer and an extra pizza. Then I invite parents to stay. This was I am not overcome dealing with the little hoodlums all by myself.

  28. I too had no idea that children’s birthday parties needed themes. And we avoided them until the year my children turned 6. And they wanted a “theme” so desperately. But with boy/girl twins it was tough to come up with one theme…or even two themes. So, we had “Thomas the Tank Engine Meets Cinderella at a Hawaiian Luau.” Feel free to use it anytime you want. Happily, they reverted to the tried-and-true Birthday theme this year.

  29. Ha! I was falling over laughing. We are having our son’s first birthday next week (family and close friends) and my good friend who I love ask, “What’s the theme” and I said theme…oh yes the theme is “B turns 1. We too will have a center piece that is a cake! There also will be balloons and this time around (he’s has an older sister who is moving into the world of themes) the gift I give to him will be the box that holds his car seat…anything else would be a waste!

  30. You rock! What exactly are these kids learning by these extravagant parties anyway? That they are the center of the universe. Oh, please help us when this generation of kids gets to the real world!
    I have 3 of my own. We do a family thing every other year and a SMALL party on the off years.
    Jenny from VA

  31. The pull-apart cupcake cake idea is brilliant!! There is nothing worse then waiting for cake. But I do think that themes are a great way to personalize their party. Throwing someone a party is kind of like giving them a gift. If they are not into anything then it doesn’t matter, but I do like those parties that revolve around what they love to do, like the rented wooden train, for a boy who loves trains, or the Dino park for a kid who loves dinosaurs. Its doesn’t have to be expensive to be personalized.

  32. With three children, who are now grown, we had a “friends” party every other year for each of them. I almost always had the party at home, with a friend or two helping me out. It was a drop your child off party, so I wasn’t obliged to entertain parents and kids at the same time. I must admit, I never invited the whole class, just their closest 10 friends. Sometimes there was a theme, but a simple one. Usually there was a pinata and bobbing for apples, or make your own sundae, or learning the hula.
    I always made sure that after they opened each present that they got up and personally thanked each gift giver. They also had to great each party guest at the door and thank them for coming and again for the present at the end of the party.

  33. I am soooo on the minimalist bandwagon. My kids don’t get anyone at their party unless they actually ask. Which has only happened twice.

    And they don’t seem to be traumatized. In fact, they seem to have been made to feel pretty special. 🙂

  34. Although I dont get carried away with it, I like doing themes as it gives the party direction and it’s like decorating a room, it’s fun once you come up with ideas that are homemade – it doesn’t mean spending lots of money at the party store. I have made lots of theme cakes involving making monster trucks with donut tires or the bat signal out of licorice, ect. At our last kid party I set up board games that had to do with the theme that all the kids took turns playing, but those Spongebob games were also his presents, as that’s what the birthday boy was into at the time.
    themes can be an expression of their personalities. On the other hand, I was mortified that my Mom gave me a Barbie- themed party for my surprise 40th birthday party, I have three sons and no daughters.

  35. I loved the phrase “midget barbarians”. As a Sunday school teacher, I’ve had more than a few of those pass through my class.
    Happy Belated Birthday, Sean.

  36. In three weeks my older daughter is having a slumber party for her 14th birthday. Ten girls will descend upon my house, devour pizza, talk non-stop about boys, and never slumber. Last year, the dishes rattled in the kitchen cabinets from all the energy in the room. But, I would go through 10 teenage slumber parties a year,rather than plan a party again for a child in elementary school. I cringe at even the thought of the angst.

  37. I just found your blog about a week ago and I love it! This post makes me thankful that I’m not the only one out there who thinks the party thing is insane. We just had a 60th birthday party for my husband’s mom and the theme was – get ready – Happy 60th Birthday! Haha!

    However, I tried the minimalist thing with the upcoming Thanksgiving party at my son’s PREschool and it went over like a lead balloon. Apparently I have to have food, a craft, a goody bag and so on… To even suggest that the craft be a cookie they can eat instead of a picture frame made of foam junk that ends up in the trash was a sacrilege!

    Thanks for the smile today – oh, and your ode to MTM had me crying!

  38. This post makes me smile. This year for Susie’s birthday we had yet another family party. The last time she had a party with friends was when she was 2!! Ha! Tell Sean a big Happy Birthday from us….we don’t do big parties either, so I would have been lost with you in the party store. 🙂

  39. Your theme is the best one yet!

    We have had quite a few where we just have bright colored plates, napkins, balloons, etc. Who needs a THEME, anyway?

  40. I don’t do themes. In fact, I rarely even do parties, I prefer just having family to a house full of wild kids.
    And I am glad to know that you are obsessive about thank-you notes, because I thought I was the only one left on earth who makes her kids write them. We NEVER receive thank you notes from anyone when my kids have attended birthday parties amd given a gift. Where have good manners and common courtesy gone???

  41. People frequently ask me “Is Anja into Dora?” I must look at them like they’re wearing a shirt covered in poop, because:

    A. I don’t even really know who Dora is.

    B. She doesn’t watch TV, so there’s no way she would know who Dora is.

    C. She’s ONE…is she really into anything except sleeping and eating and carrying around a stuffed animal?

    I can’t wait for the mass marketing targeted at kids to start hitting the target in my family. Just. Can’t. Wait.

  42. I love the minimalist party ideas, I don’t ‘do’ tv in my home and my kids are doing just fine without all the ‘must have’ tv commercial driven ‘must have’ gear !
    (I homeschool though, and note that public schooled cousins get heavy pressure to ‘fit in’ by the age of 6 – horrid !).

    I would like to wail a bit to Jenny of the ‘birthdays too close to Christmas’ kids –
    If ANY of your kids have birthdays in the rest of the year, please, I beg you- treat them ALL the same !

    My birthday is near Christmas, and my siblings’ in the summer- they got parties and gifts and I got the present marked ‘happy birthday/merry christmas’ – and no party – the folks were too busy…

    To a young child, the unfairness was very obvious, and so heartbreaking…

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