Birthday Bonanza (and lessons learned)…

Last week we celebrated two birthdays at once (L’s fifth and a slightly early celebration for N’s third, with a big joint birthday party).  This year I felt strangely emotional about L’s birthday, five being a bit of a milestone and coinciding with his starting full time school.  And somehow managed to convince myself that this birthday needed to be the biggest, best birthday that ever was.

I was full of plans… he would be woken on his birthday to a room full of balloons and a tower of home made pancakes topped with a candle, and dinosaur-shaped toast.  He would take to school home made goodies for all his classmates, and come home to a mimi-version of the weekend’s birthday party after school, with a treasure hunt, lucky dip with home made prizes… the effort I put into this would be directly proportional to my love for my boy, indeed, my efforts would prove how much I love him, he is my best boy and deserves the best birthday, no?

Well, no.  Or yes and no, because he does deserve the best birthday ever, but not  in the way I thought.  I was seeing his birthday through adult eyes, and making that classic mistake of thinking that the hard way is always the best way.  I didn’t enjoy the days preceding his birthday at all, so stressed and busy was I.  And L watched a lot of telly while I busied myself preparing this perfect occasion.  The day before his birthday, the rainbow lollies for his class looked amazing but tasted like play-dough, I had not had time to make the space rocket N wanted to make him, I had not even brushed my hair…I realised this was not what I wanted, to dread  the birthday celebration and breathe a sigh of relief when it was all over.  I wanted some happy memories for me and all the children..

So on his birthday morning, L was indeed woken to a sea of balloons, but a candle in a pain au chocolat replaced the pancakes (he doesn’t even like pancakes, he thinks they’re Yorkshire puddings).  But he was very pleased with his birthday breakfast, just as much as if I had got up at six to make pancakes..

Here are the things he enjoyed most on his birthday:

  • Waking up to a room full of balloons (this was easy, and he thought they had arrived by magic)

  • Being allowed to choose the food completely himself for a tea party with his two partners in crime from school.  The food snob in me was almost embarrassed to buy this but he chose frozen pizza, fish fingers, crisps, chocolate biscuits, ice cream and blackcurrant squash.
  • Taking biscuits to school (I  binned the rainbow lollies and made shortbread).
  • A bandge from the pound shop that announced to the world that it was his birthday.
  • A very easy round cake covered in sweets, and a rendition of Happy Biiorthday from his family and friends

Happy Birthday L!

  • Having his friends to play with his presents (no structured activity, lots of hide and seek and present-opening).
  • A birthday poem the night before, which delighted him and he asked for again and again…

“When I’ve said my evening prayer,

And my clothes are folded on the chair,

And Mummy switches out the light,

I’ll still be FOUR years old tonight.

But from the very break of day,

Before the sun comes out to play,

Before the darkness turns to gold,

Tomorrow I’ll be FIVE years old.

FIVE candles on my cake

And FIVE kisses when I wake!”

This is in fact a poem I remember from my own childhood, proving its worth in the making of happy birthday memories, and how lovely to pass it on.

  • A surprise note in his lunch box:

  • And the time he had to read his new set of children’s encyclopedias (my little geek almost trembling with excitement as he cried “look, Mummy, these books teach you about the World!” (allaying nana’s fears about giving him a borning present, and confirming for me that children love learning unless they are taught to find it boring, or forced to learn in a way that focuses on performance rather than learning itself)

And playing on his new scooter (£10 from Tesco, N’s donated by a lovely friend whose daughter has outgrown it), proving that there’s no need to buy expensive presents to make a child happy:

And the things I enjoyed:

  • The excitement and joy that simply being five brought to L.  His beautiful conviction that his feet were bigger because he was now five, and his insistence that I measure him (and me stretching the truth to let him think he had grown in the night).  Telling him throughout the day “look how tall you are, you can reach the cupboard now” etc etc.
  • Seeing how much he loved having his school friends and what good friends he has made at school.  seeing him socially confident.
  • N’s joy at celebrating his birthday, with no jealousy.  This after I’d anticipated sadness on her part when he opened all the presents, but in reality she couldn’t wait to come home for his birthday tea.
  • A chapter of The Faraway Tree and reminiscing about the day at bedtime.

My lesson learned: the simple things make the best memories. 

The weekend brought the party.  My one concession to making life easy had been to hold the party in a leisure centre and not try to decorate a village hall as I have in previous years.  yet I wantded to make the food myself plus a few handmade touches that would make the party personal top my children.  the one thing they wanted was a bouncy castle, so we settled on a theme of “Bouncing Birthdays”.

Here are L and N, kangaroo and ballerina respectively:

And again:

The ballerina’scostume was straight from the shelves at Matalan.

The Kangaroo costume designed by moi.  I sewed a piece of brown felt to a brown T-shirt to form a pouch, and inserted a stuffed kangaroo.  I cut out two simple ears from craft foam and sewed them to the hood of a brown hoodie.  The tail was created by cutting two bits of felt, filling with upholstery wadding and sewing together.  I attached this to a belt so that it could be removed for playing.  Brown trousers added, and voila!  I was pleased with the result, after having worried when L decided to go to the party as a kangaroo.

Aunty J sent face paints as a birthday present, which really added to the fun:

And we created a very cute baby rabbit costume for F by sewing a white pom-pom tail to a pair of tights, and adding a hat with ears (again by Chateau Matalan)

The dressing up, which some people consider a faff, is something i would definitely keep in the plan – the effort is rewarded in making the party feel special and memorable to the children, and it really didn’t take very long.  This is worth the effort in my book – that, and the cake…

Buzz Lightyear’s space rocket, for L.

L has been excited about a space rocket birthday cake pretty much since last year’s pirate ship.  I really wanmted to make a 3D standing-up rocket rather than a cake cut into the shape of a rocket, and the only way I could think of doing it was to stack round cakes on top of one another and dowel them, creating an enormous cake like a wedding cake, difficult to transport, leaving us with a lot of cake to eat (not necessarily a bad thing!) and potentially dwarfing N’s cake.  Until I found a tutorial online that suggested using a transparent plastic cup on top of a cake baked in a pudding basin, topped with an ice cream cone.

http://www.coolest-birthday-cakes.com/coolest-rocket-cake-20.html

So this is what I did, adding a lego Buzz Lightyear and using Buzz Lightyear’s colours.  The pudding basin is coated in green fondant, the ice cream cones coated with buttercream, then white fondant, then sugar dyed blue for added glitter (and a nod to L’s favourite colour being blue).  The board is coated in purple buttercream with white chocolate stars, and lego alien added for effect.  The purple buttercream was then used to embellish the cale and hide the join between cake and cup / cones.

I can’t take any crredit for N’s cake, since she designed it herself.  But I will say that her idea came from my wedding cake book, when i was making this wedding cake for my sister:

Shameless showing-off!

So, N decided that she wanted a chocolate cake in the shapwe of a number three, iced in pinky-purple (her current favourite colour obsession) with daisies (her current favourite flower) and multicoloured flowers.  Here is my husband’s  creative interpretation of her instructions:

And very happy it made her too!

Not many photos of the party due to not wantiong to post pictures of other people’s children, but therte was lots of bouncing and playing.  However, I have to say that next year it’s the village hall again for us – I never want to feel rushed, and the staff did keep trying to deflate the bouncy castle before the end of the party to allow them to tidy up and go home (since we were the last party of the day)…and I had to be a little bit “assertive”… and when we brought out the pinata, they did keep asking me how long it was going to take.  Also, the hour and a half slot did feel rushed, which only made me stressed, and meant I didn’t get the chance to talk to anyone during the party.

We managed to make our own party bags though.  Brown paper lunch bags served us very well with a printed label.   I had planned to let the children decorate the bags but we ran out of time – I don’t think it mattered.

We made a colouring / activity book using free online printables (colouring, join the dots) plus a simple wordsearch containing bounce-related words.

L and N enjoyed making recycled rainbow crayons with old broken crayons by breaking them up, melting them down in silicone cupcake cases and letting them cool and harden.

Breaking up crayons

Arranging them in cases before heating in the oven…

With added glitter, rainbow crayons all round!

These actually looked even better out of the cases, so I wish I had a picture.

We added a fun sized chocolate bar and a slice of birthday cake.

All in all, a successful party, but we won’t repeat the leisure centre experience.  Party in the hall next year, but with one key difference.  The things I spend time on will be the things that matter to my children, things they will notice and remember.  And on the birthday itself the only prop I will need is a paper crown, since my plan is that I will make the child King / Queen for the day and let them choose everything we do.  I have already started by asking N what she would like to do on her real birthday, next week.  She would like to eat chocolate and make a donkey!  I think we’ll have a lot of fun…

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