I loved planning birthday parties when the kids were younger. We had Thomas the Tank themed parties, pirate parties, parties at swimming pools and parties at pizza parlors.
When my youngest was in fourth grade, he made his guest list -- ten 10-year-olds. He wanted to bring into our home nearly a dozen boys with energy levels ranging from overzealous to overzealous on steroids.
Cost-wise that quantity ruled out a destination party like Chuck E. Cheese. And activity-wise it ruled out anything where the kids were allowed inside our home.
My youngest son’s birthday is January 18. We live in Minnesota. So, for parents of lesser constitutions it may have been a quandary, but our hardy family planned an outdoor party: an hour and a half at the park. We had the guests’ parents pick-up and drop-off there, so no wet rubber boots or sopping wet mittens would pass our front door.
My husband and I, as any good executives would, delegated the party-planning to our two able-bodied older sons. At 14 and 16 they had years of crazy, fun, active summer camp experiences and a keen ability to boss younger children around.
After days, well hours, of planning (all done during NFL games) the older brothers settled on one long game of Capture the Flag. You divide the group into two teams and hide something stealable like flags. The brothers chose white lacrosse balls, which we had in bulk all over the house. Their color led to the happy accident of making them tough to find in the snow. During the game players can be caught as they try to steal the treasure. When they are they are put in jail and their team needs to tag them inside enemy lines before they can escape back to their own territory.
We met the guests at the park then watched as the older boys separated the teams
and showed where the boundaries lay for each territory. Not surprisingly the fourth graders voiced varying opinions on the rules and the territories. My husband and I silently observed as the guests and our unpaid party planners negotiated.
Once the action began, the two of us who were old enough to vote returned home to make gallons of hot chocolate. Not having enough thermos bottles, my husband filled his 54-quart Coleman cooler with the hot, sugary liquid. We returned lugging the heavy cooler and carrying along marshmallows and graham crackers.
Later that evening at home, the thawed-out birthday boy said he’d enjoyed the party and I assumed the guests had too. So I was surprised when a Mom called the next day. “I wanted you to know what Isaac said about the party.” I heard a catch of something in her tone and I did a quick rewind in my head. Had something happened with her son when we’d left to make the hot chocolate? Was the boy unhappy and I hadn’t noticed when we returned?
“Isaac,” she continued, “said the party was complete chaos.” (A big word for a little kid I thought, but the young man has now proven himself via ridiculously high ACT scores.) “Pure chaos,” she repeated.
“He said it was the best birthday party he’s ever been to.”
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