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My husband and I were both excited and fearful as our son’s 6th birthday approached. We were excited because our little guy was turning six and his exuberant energy was contagious. We were riddled with fear and anxiety as memories of last year’s birthday party played through our minds accompanied by the mantra of “never again.”

Last year’s “celebration” provided a rather harsh lesson; despite our university degrees and five years of parenting experience, we had absolutely no idea how to entertain and supervise ten little children for  3 1/2 hours. Unfortunately, Ezra had invited one young imp who possessed a sixth sense for knowing when adults don’t have the situation completely under control, and exactly how to make the situation worse. Here is just a partial list of the chaos that ensued: fights, throwing of food, crying, screaming and hitting from the boys; quiet, steadfast politeness and bouts of crying from the girls. The girls, several dressed in princess gowns, looked at us forlornly with their large doe eyes as boys ran screaming around them. The boys, inspired by aforementioned imp-child, ran in multiple directions, disregarding all of the house rules that had been laid out to them.  Due to short attention spans and division of interests, games for which we had budgeted 15 to 20 minutes were over in three to five. Thirty-seven minutes into the party, our list of fun children’s activities was all used up and we were at a loss of how we were going to make it to the other side. It took us three hours to clean up and a week to recover.

This year, we prepared for his party as one might prepare for battle: review of past mistakes, strategic planning, ally recruitment, flexibility in the field and a stockpile of munitions. First off, we didn’t invite any imps. Second, we smartly took the advice of my sister-in-law Tinca from the previous year; invite no more guests than the age of your child.  Regardless of the much more manageable ratio of one adult to three children, we enlisted the help of Jaana, who had two sons coming to the party, resulting in an empowering ratio of one adult to every two children! Ezra also showed compassion toward his female friends by not inviting them.

We came up with an extended play list of activities that ensured we would never be empty-handed, created a healthy food table with full access and then opened our doors.

I’ll admit that my detailed agenda didn’t go exactly as planned, but the party was an absolute success, void of almost all of the problems we had encountered the previous year.

The best weapon in our arsenal was flexibility. Our first planned activity was birthday 2013 011a snowball fight outside, but the boys lingered around the building blocks and found it much more entertaining to walk up the stairs to Ezra’s room, check out his toys and then head back down. Sometimes kids like repetitive actions. Or perhaps they like to explore the territory and see what sort of boundaries are set in place. Boundaries established, the boys were finally ready to proceed with the planned fun.

Sjoelen was certainly to be a hit. We had access to four Sjoelen boards in the basement of the church and we pictured a thrilling competition. In this traditional Dutch game, a player receives thirty wooden pucks, which he slides down a polished wooden game board, attempting to get them through one of the four slots at the end of the board, thus collecting points. He has two more turns to get the remainder of the pieces through. Usually, you’d have to wait your turn, but with four boards and six boys, it was a dream set up. Yet this old Dutch favorite didn’t hold their attention for more than 10 minutes.

I wanted to do the Monster Game next, something I plucked from my imagination involving my husband being attacked by six little boys at once, but for some reason, Arie Jan wanted to postpone this one for a bit.

Thus we tried a traditional game for which we’d budgeted no more than 10birthday 2013 018birthday 2013 027 minutes: throwing soft balls at stacked tin cans. Surprisingly, this lasted a good 30 minutes. Boys love the crashing sound of the tin cans clanging to the ground after they’ve demolished them with their forceful throws. And, they love to do better than the next little guy, thus they kept on lining up, wiggling impatiently for their turn.

And finally, the monster game. I’m afraid it was a much too dangerous environment for my camera. But if you ever need a method in which to entertain five little boys (the sixth guest hadn’t arrived yet), this was a hit. First, tell all of the boys that a monster is going to come into the room (point suspiciously at the father of your child). Let them know they will each get three soft balls to throw at the monster and a blanket to help hide. The monster will have five handkerchiefs hanging from his belt. If you hit him with a ball, he has to freeze for three seconds. That’s your chance to grab one handkerchief. But when he wakes up, he can also throw a ball at you and knock you temporarily out of the game. The boy who collects the most handkerchiefs wins.

When the boys heard the monster banging at the door, they were absolutely still. As he made his way into the room growling, they hesitated in their hiding places. But as if by some sort of internal clue, they suddenly attacked. Balls were flying everywhere and the monster was besieged by six little soldiers, all suddenly amazingly accurate in their throws. They all had collective amnesia on the rule about them also getting timed out if hit with a ball, and the poor monster was bombarded. When all the handkerchiefs had been collected, my husband had tears in his eyes from laughter and a grin large enough to compete with those on every little boy’s face.

When we changed pace and came back upstairs for cake and presents, the boys plopped down on the ground within close proximity to one another and worked on building blocks, forgetting all about the cake.

One of the best presents my son received for his birthday arrived the day before his birthday 2013 062party–three to four inches of snow. Thus the last official activity of the day, which was supposed to be the first, was a good old-fashioned snowball fight, in which everyone but the birthday boy himself participated.

Last year when parents arrived to pick up their children, they saw two shell-shocked adults who couldn’t push the guests out the door fast enough. This year when parents arrived, they found tranquil little boys sitting around the living room drinking hot chocolate, with tranquil hosts overseeing. Parents lingered for another half hour at the offer of hot chocolate and chatted pleasantly as the boys played quietly together.

This just goes to show; we can learn from our past mistakes and not only move forward, but do so gloriously.

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