Kids' birthday parties are fun, lots of work - Valerie Baldowski

Planning a kid's birthday party gives me new respect for what my mom went through every Feb. 5.

My son's birthday was New Year's Day, but this year, my husband and I moved the celebration date back a couple of weeks to take a breather from Christmas.

This year, like last year, we chose the same monkey-themed kids' party franchise place. There are several locations, and last year, we had his party at one on the north side of Atlanta. I noticed then there was also a Fayetteville location. Well, I thought then, next year, I shall try the one in Fayetteville.

Fast forward to this year. I went online again to book the party, but the Fayetteville location, I learned, has since closed. Couldn't find the Atlanta location, so I guess that's closed as well. So, I chose the Douglasville location, quite a ways from where we live in Clayton County. Compared to Marietta and Newnan, that was the closest. I'm glad I only need to do this once a year.

Then, I turned my attention to deciding who gets invited to the party. I was advised by my son's teachers not to leave anyone out, to avoid hurt feelings. If one child gets an invitation, they all must. The same thing goes with Sunday School, at church. We couldn't stop at just inviting his best friend, invitations needed to go out to everyone. Fair enough. But it's expensive throwing a party for 25 kids. The higher the head count, the greater the cost. Plus, in addition to paying for the basic party package, pizza, ice cream and gift bags for each guest costs extra. Fortunately, not everyone invited comes, so the actual head count is significantly less.

I remember the lavish birthday parties my mother used to plan –– at home. She was a stay-at-home mom, so she had the time to do that. She actually baked the birthday cake from scratch, and frosted it herself. One year, she decorated the icing with M&M candies. Another year, she really outdid herself. She baked individual mini-cakes for each guest as well as the birthday girl, frosted each cake, and arranged them in a circle on toy plastic railroad tracks laid out on the dining room table, to make a "train."

The party had a circus theme, so she built tiny "cages" on each cake using toothpicks for bars, and put a small plastic animal in each train car, as if the animals were being transported to the circus. She even baked an engine and a caboose for the train.

But she didn't stop there. Every year, she would decorate the party area with streamers and balloons, make tiny place cards to designate where each child was to sit, provide party favors, arrange party games, like "Pin The Tail On The Donkey," and take pictures of the event. She would invite my classmates from school as well as the neighborhood kids, so these parties would have 10 to 20 kids running through the house. There would be a frenzy of gift-opening on my part, and my mother would do her best to keep up with which child gave what present, while reminding me to say "thank you" to each gift-giver. After the party, when all the kids had left, she would complain that she was tired and had a headache. I wonder why.

In retrospect, I still marvel at the gargantuan parties she threw every year. When my son was younger, I would organize birthday parties for him at home, but eventually, I reached a point where I decided to let someone else take over the logistics of party-planning. There's so much work involved, to me it's worth paying someone else to handle it.

The interesting thing is, when he grows up and has kids of his own, it'll be fun to sit back and see how he will handle the annual kids' tradition.

Valerie Baldowski covers government and politics for the Henry Daily Herald. She.