Our youngest son will be turning 9 next week. It’s crazy. What’s crazier still is that late last week I decided we should host a surprise birthday party for him. Luke has been talking to us for five months about what type of birthday party he would like this year. Luke loves any sort of party, but a party where he gets to be the center of attention is the best kind of celebration on earth as far as he’s concerned. He offered us ideas about where we could host it, whom he would like to invite, and what type of food we should serve. He’s coached us on what type of gifts he would welcome (Legos, Legos, and more Legos) and what type of gifts would be eschewed (clothing, especially socks or underwear). His frenzied birthday party planning was heading toward a crescendo last week. I decided I could take it no longer. I told him that his father and I had decided that we simply could not spend money on a big birthday party for him or his brother this year. End of story. Being the resilient and optimistic child he is, with visions of a Lego avalanche persisting in his mind he simply replied, “But, I’ll still get a family birthday party, right?”
The longer I thought about it, the more I realized that denying Luke a party is tantamount to canceling Christmas. He’s been on honor roll all year at school. Last month, he was awarded Student of the Month, and we still haven’t celebrated that distinction yet. And, he’d been such an exceedingly good sport when I’d told him he couldn’t have a party. Honestly, the kid has earned a party, just not the kind of party he had envisioned. The pool Luke wanted to have his party at would charge us $185 for 15 kids to swim and for us to have use of a party room for one hour. Add to that, invitations, pizza, cake, soda, and paper goods and we’d easily surpass $250. Then there are the party favors. Don’t get me started on party favors. When did it become standard to give each party attendee a bag of treats? This blows my mind. We have to reward these children for getting free lunch and cake at a party? Still, it’s a common gesture now, so you have to add that to the party cost. Insanity.
Certainly a birthday party for a 9 year old doesn’t need to bring us to a second mortgage situation, I reasoned. So, I planned to do this surprise party in a way commensurate with the kind of party my parents would have thrown for me, back in the old days when people used to host parties at home with a cake mom made. I whipped up 15 invitations on the computer and mailed them with stamps we already had on hand. Then I ran to Target and bought the ingredients for cupcakes, got a couple plastic table cloths, some two-liters of soda, a few cans of Silly String, and plain, white paper plates and napkins. My spree at Target cost about $50. I then tackled the notion of gift bags. For that ridiculous overture I bought some recycled pencils and Hershey bars and packaged them together using curling ribbon I had on hand. We are going to splurge and order pizza for 15 kids, completely justifiable cost by my estimation because I have no desire to cook. When it’s all said and done, I expect this party to cost us approximately half what we might have spent otherwise, and we’ll still get the same result…an exceedingly happy birthday boy. Imagining Luke’s glee when he sees his friends gathered here for him when he least expected it makes it all well worth the reduced price tag. I’m not going to tell him that, though. I’m really good at keeping secrets. 😉