During my years of mixing with prep school mummies, I was constantly amazed by the amount of money thrown at kids’ birthday parties and the competitiveness involved in the planning.
One year a mother paid for the whole class to go to Disneyworld Paris for two nights - no kidding! Another spent weeks talking about ‘the Party of the Year’, getting both mums and kids excitedly speculating what it might be. The result? The hire of a ball-room at an exclusive members-only club. The kids were way too young to appreciate the splendour of their surroundings but quite enjoyed dressing up as Princes and Princesses for the occasion. The entertainment? The usual bog-standard, charge an absolute fortune, whip the kids into a frenzy, take your money and run kind. Hey, at least the mums were impressed!
Party bags became more and more ludicrous as the years went by. My son received as parting gifts; a very expensive PC game, full Lego sets and gift bags bulging with expensive tat that ended up stuffed in drawers. Whatever happened to a slice of cake and a balloon? Sometimes the party bag contents exceeded the amount we spent on the birthday gift! (and we weren’t mean).
Private school fees left little money for frivolities on our part, so there was no way we could (or wanted to) compete. Over the years we became clever and each party became a new challenge. My son left his prep school with a bit of a reputation for a great party. I think the kids had all got so bored with same entertainers doing the same thing year after year. They were fed up with yet another bowling extravaganza with the requisite chicken nuggets, flat coke and soggy chips. By eleven they were jaded with the whole idea of yet another disco in a posh rented venue and they were craving something different.
On a couple of occasions, when our son wanted to have the whole class to his parties, we had to concede and rent the local church hall or sports centre - but those parties haven’t gone down in history as his best parties - it’s the celebrations done on a shoestring that are still talked about.
So if you’re looking for ideas but don’t want to break the bank, here’s some that we’ve executed over the years.
PUPPET SHOW - not for the faint hearted and quite a lot of work but great fun and the kids had a ball. We did it when our son was four and totally addicted to Sooty and Sweep. Hubbie built the stage out of old wood off-cuts (think Punch and Judy sized), we painted it in garish colours, bought the puppets and started on our script. It took up an awful lot of nights in rehearsal but kids of that age are very forgiving so, if anything went wrong on the day, they didn’t notice.
CLOWN & CRAFTS - I made up lots of Plaster of Paris figures for the kids to paint (in the garden!), gave them cupcakes to decorate and spoon dollies to construct. Hubbie performed as a clown at various intervals with disastrous balloon modelling, squirting flowers and shaving foam pies. It was slapstick at its best and I have such a lovely photo of my son on my mum’s lap, red-cheeked with laughter, holding his little stomach in delight watching Daddy fall face first into a ‘cream pie’.
DINNER PARTY/QUIZ NIGHT/TREASURE HUNT - By the time my son got to nine he was beginning to be a little more selective about who he wanted at his birthday. When he said he wanted a sleepover for six we thought we’d combine it with a dinner party. His chosen theme was black and white so I set to work on my table arrangements complete with champagne bubbles, party favour boxes and coordinated serviettes etc. His five friends, 2 boys and 3 girls, arrived dressed in black and white and the fun started. Over dinner (served by waiting staff of me, mum and husband dressed accordingly) they chose to listen to (of all things) the Beatles! And they knew every word to the most obscure songs. They happily blew their bubbles, shouting “Smashing fizz and super partay!” - obviously taking lessons from their wealthy parents! Then the quiz began with three teams (calling themselves bizarre names such as “Pigs of the Underworld”) battling it out against each other. We made sure we had a variety of rounds - some fun, some challenging and some active. We hoped we’d worn them all out enough to sleep but the birds were just about beginning their dawn chorus by the time they settled.
Breakfast was accompanied by yet more Beatles combined with Bingo (!) and then we set off to complete the treasure hunt we’d set up earlier around the neighbourhood. Six exhausted kids had a great time.
MURDER MYSTERY - My son has grown up with us hosting and attending many murder mysteries so, when he said he wanted to host his own for friends, I set about looking for a suitable one. Impossible! The closest I could find was circus-themed but after I’d purchased it on eBay I found the material unsuitable for ten year olds. Not one to be beaten, I rewrote it, taking out the unwanted pregnancy, miscarriage and carnal knowledge and turned it into an appropriate script for kids. Our guests, Strong Man, Ring Master, Bearded Lady, Tight-rope Walker, Snake Charmer and Ventriloquist, arrived to the sound of circus music and me dressed as a complete plonker (hula skirt, frizzy multi coloured wig and usherette’s tray) handing out glow-sticks and magic calculators, shouting “Roll up! Roll up! Get yer cheap tat ‘ere!”. The ‘murder’ and questioning took place over dinner in a makeshift ‘big top’ in our garden - quite atmospheric with candles as the light started to fade.
So as you can see we’ve had a go at a variety of unusual themes. Now our son tends to enjoy a party with just family and his closest friends. For the third year running he’s requested a ‘Challenge Party’ - five rounds of daft tasks such as picking up as many frozen peas as you can with a straw in a minute or balancing pennies on your elbow.
The winner gets a scratch-card but nobody has ever hit the jackpot. Hoping we might get lucky soon as we’ll need to be forking out for an 18th in a few years and I somehow don’t think a puppet show will cut the mustard!
In “Diary of a Mummy Misfit” you can read about Libby’s attempts to cut -corners and save money. She also starts up her own party business in an attempt to exploit the ‘Meemies’. Buy on Amazon for Kindle, PC or Android. Now also available in paperback at Lulu.