Birthday party bliss

A child’s birthday celebration seems to bring — to the parent — a unique mix of excitement and dread. 

You pitch, you plan, you budget. You try to reconcile your preconceived notions of “special occasion” and “spoiled rotten.” You deal with the child’s changing mind and ever-changing moods. You struggle to create a day to remember, knowing that in just a few short years, they might not remember it at all!

Then, there are so many choices — typical venue, unique venue, classic home party, wild-and-crazy home party! Is this the year you break down and have the sleepover? Are you really ready to become one of those families with the enormous, inflatable bouncy house in your yard? 

Take a deep breath; relax. It’s a birthday party. It was born fun. You cannot mess this up. Of course, it’s best if you get there in one piece and with at least a hint of sanity. So let’s break down your options.

Traditional venues

Chuck E. Cheese, Grand Slam, Pump It Up, Brunswick Zone, Sky Zone and the like are ideal options for the busy parent who wants to go big without the self-inflicted workload and mess. They get the cake, they make the treat bags, they organize the timeline, they put your kid in the crazy ticket-blasting machine. 

For a price, you can wash your hands of the whole affair. Most likely, your child will be thrilled. Kids can run amuck without worry of chocolate frosting on the sofa. They can laser tag like lunatics; they can literally bounce off the walls. Perhaps your child has always longed to be the star of one of these birthday parties, because there’s a good chance she’s been to one.

And there’s your downside: Traditional pizza-play-cake locations can feel a little “been there, done that.” Because so many families go this route, it may not be exceedingly memorable 10 years from now. Such a party might not speak to your child’s individualism. 

But sometimes that’s OK! Sometimes we overthink these things. Sometimes a romping good time is precisely what a birthday kid needs.

Interest-driven venues

Still want the mess out of your house but crave something atypical? There are plenty of venues that can provide a unique experience tailored to your child’s interest du jour, for example:

Izzy’s Ice Cream: Tour the St. Paul facility, make a batch of ice cream, bake brownies, learn how novelties are made. Then finish the day with a sundae bar.

Kiddywampus: Creative theme parties are the specialty of this St. Louis Park art studio and toyshop. Fairy, princess, Jedi or pirate? They’ve got you covered. Their most popular (and most clever) option is the “Action Jackson” party — a Jackson Pollack-inspired paint splattering free-for-all. 

Way-Cool Cooking School: Throw a cooking party for your little chef. Pizza making, chocolate loving and a pasta party are some of the options from this company with locations in Eden Prairie and Savage. They also have deluxe theme parties such as Hello Kitty, Harry Potter and Star Wars (to name just a few). Gluten-free options are available as well.

Leonardo’s Basement: This educational venue works with your child to plan a completely individualized creation party. Woodworking, jewelrymaking, invention, chemistry, rockets and recycled art are a few of their suggestions. They’re up for any project or experiment your child wants to try with venues in South Minneapolis
and St. Paul!

Yoga Center of Minneapolis:Get them moving! This top-notch St. Louis Park institution offers themed yoga parties — circus, fairy or outer space. Song, dance and crafts round out the experience. Add-ons such as henna tattoos and face painting are available, too.

More: These venues are just the tip of the iceberg. (Check out the Party Resource Guide in the back of this issue, too!) Other options include nail salons, pottery painting studios, nature centers and volunteer opportunities with organizations like Minnesota-based Feed My Starving Children. 

Think seasonal

It’s Minnesota: Embrace the elements, whatever they are! Mid-summer birthday kids sometimes feel bummed out about being disconnected from schoolmates and school celebrations, but their reward is endless possibility — waterslides, lakes, the slip and slide, any one of the many parks and playgrounds in the area.

Fall birthdays bring to mind pumpkin patches, apple picking and hayrides. If your child doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight with a holiday, a costume party near Halloween is always a hit.

For the January birthday, don’t feel confined to the indoor play spaces or Grandma’s finished basement.
Ice skating, sledding and snow tubing (followed by hot cocoa, of course) could turn into quite the memorable occasion.

Staying home

There’s really something to be said for a good old fashioned birthday cake, iced unprofessionally by Mom with gobs of pink frosting — decorated with M&Ms, gum drops and one of those big numeral candles. Pin the tail on the donkey, crazy piñata bashing and wrapping paper strewn across the floor. 

One of the cool things about this birthday standard is your child’s ability to take ownership of the situation: This is my house; check out my toys, I picked out the green streamers myself. 

Of course, you can take the home party to the next level. Ask your friends and neighbors for ideas or consult Pinterest. A detail-oriented theme party — though more work and often more expensive than you’d think — can be amazing. Here’s a quick list of possibilities to get your creative juices flowing:

Football game: Invite enough kids for two teams and serve concession foods — hot dogs, popcorn and peanuts.

Art extravaganza: Set up an easel, small canvas and smock for each kid. Send hand-drawn invitations by the guest of honor. 

LEGO mania: Create a scavenger hunt of LEGO pieces. Build a tower as a group. Race LEGO vehicle creations down a homemade ramp.

Under the sea: Decorate in blue and green, pin the tentacles on the octopus and — if you’re over the Barbie and Hot Wheels wrapped up with the ubiquitous Target gift receipt — consider having each guest bring a freshwater fish for a new aquarium. 

Anything is possible in your own back yard — pony rides, inflatables, a pie-eating contest. You can rent a Darth Vader suit for Dad or you can rent a sno-cone machine. A fitting option for first and second birthdays is a parent-child barbeque complete with cocktails and — yippee! — adult interaction. 

If you’re willing to deal with it, sit back, relax and make way for a little mayhem, the home party is a good way to go.

Small group, big outing

Beyond a big soiree, there’s one more option that deserves attention: an experience. Sometimes all your daughter wants is her best friend and a good time. Take the two of them to Wisconsin Dells for a girls’ weekend and really do it up — water parks, mini spa treatments and breakfast in bed.

Other small-group outing ideas include a Twins game, Valleyfair, a fancy restaurant, an overnight stay in a downtown hotel or a big day at the Minnesota State Fair. Don’t be afraid to suggest this, because kids usually think it’s great. Invite one to three kids and make some memories. 

Remember, outside of forgetting your child’s birthday completely, it’s hard to go wrong. It’s their day. They’ll eat cake. You’ll sweat, smile, cry and take 100 pictures. 

You’ll put your feet up at the end of the day, pour a glass of wine and think back to that remarkably small newborn baby you once knew — and wonder where the time went.