At the time of writing my fingernails are yellowed from the turmeric I used to dye cotton ribbons for my very-nearly-five-year-old’s birthday party. If it sounds like the stuff of an over-achieving do-gooder on a mission to prove a point, well, believe me I’ve thought that about myself too. But I love dyeing things. And I love to delight kids with simple projects that celebrate nature. For me the project wasn’t very much more complicated than setting some pots to simmer on the stove while I answered emails.
Faye turns five this weekend. Up until now, her birthday parties have been very small family affairs. We’ve had tiny gatherings of whatever family could join us, plus cake for celebrating. Last year we walked her five play-school classmates down to an ice cream shop during school hours and called that a party. This year there’s a far larger class of adorable pre-k students to invite and gather. And, no surprise, there are expectations and opinions to navigate, too. Faye’s been to more birthday parties in the past year than in the entirety of her young life before it and she hasn’t missed a beat.
In case it’s helpful for anyone else throwing a kid’s birthday party for a whole class of kids, here are a few things we’re doing to host a simple party. They check the boxes of being festive without compromising too much on our general efforts to do things with little waste and low-impact. (Forays into natural dyeing very much not required, but so fun!) No surprise, we’re taking a tack that’s a bit more on the side of letting our freak flag fly, than it is on the side of falling in line with expectations. But we’re not flouting every birthday party convention either.
We live in a small one-bedroom apartment in New York City. Hosting twenty-plus children would be a considerable feat (though I’ll never say impossible). We’re headed to a nearby park with a big field and a few picnic tables instead.
One and half hours feels like it will hit the sweet spot of not too short and not too long. (Time will tell!) We’ve scheduled our party to fall after lunch and before dinner. We’re hoping it provides ample opportunity for small kids to have lots of fun, but we’re glad it cuts out the need for serving lots of food and contending with the attending supplies that would require.
Giant bubbles, a fairy march with beribboned hand-kites (birthday girl’s request), and a small catalogue of old-fashioned party games to break out should the need or mood arise. A rousing game of Fairy Says? A relay race with silk scarves? A game of fairy, fairy, gnome (to the tune of duck, duck, goose)? We’re not planning to keep a firm schedule, but we’re heading in with enough tricks up our sleeves to keep kids occupied.
+ Decorations: With any luck, we’ll have blue sky and green grass and the shimmering backdrop of New York City. A dropcloth will cover the table and if we get around to it, a handful of farmer’s market flowers will mark the spot.
+ Food: There seems to be an unwritten rule that children’s birthday parties need to have pizza, but we’re going rogue. We’ll have a bowl or two of popcorn for anyone who needs a nibble and berry-decorated cupcakes for a birthday treat. We’ve asked kids to bring along their own water bottles but we’ll bring a small stack of recycled paper cups and a large jug of water just in case. Cupcakes will be served sans plates on small recycled paper napkins.
+ Goodie bags and party favors: Faye had strong feelings about giving her friends goodie bags and so we chatted about what that might include that’s exciting but not wasteful. We landed on giving each child a colored pencil fit for a fairy and a small paper bag of gummies, which we found locally in bulk. I’m hopeful the tiny handful of candy won’t be too imposing in terms of sugar and that the pencil will be put to work. We’ll be making hand-kites from wooden rings and all of those dyed ribbons—stay tuned for a tutorial, if that strikes your fancy—so each child will get sent home with that small toy, too.
+ Gifts: None, please! We understand that giving is a love language, but we neither wanted to make people feel like a gift is the price of admission, nor do we want Faye (or our apartment) to be overwhelmed with gifts. We decided to draw a firm line. Instead, we asked that each child bring along a drawing to give to Faye. Faye is excited about making a small book of drawings given by her friends (and excited to open presents from her family).
That’s it. I make these efforts knowing that they might not shift a whole birthday party culture (and some of them fall right in line with it). They might be seen as somewhat strange to folks on one end of the spectrum and as not going far enough to folks on the other. Simplicity looks different for different families. (And I can very much appreciate the relative simplicity of opting for a party hosted at a local business built to do the job, or opting out of a birthday party all together.) For now, this is where we’ve landed. Wish us luck.
We’ve officially entered the season when I try to spend as many hours as humanly possible in the great outdoors. And since I live in a city, that means lingering on the streets, the sidewalks, the public parks, wherever and whenever I can. On the weekend especially, it’s common for me to leave the house in the morning and not return until well past dinnertime (children in tow). I like to be prepared, but not overloaded.
A few things for a late-spring day spent out of the apartment:
A jumpsuit for looking put-together and exceedingly comfy.
A pair of slides and the hope that at least some of the day will be passed at a sidewalk café.
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