Party on, Toddler!

There are so many rites of passage to behold as we guide our littles through childhood: skinned knees and bad dreams. Barf and birthday parties.

Toddler Parent, you may find it curious — even alarming — that your favorite toddler columnist would loosely equate the joy of a birthday party with barf.

Oh, but be certain, that choice was intentional.

Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE to celebrate. And I love to have fun with my kids.

I like to blow out the candles on my birthdays — and I have every hope and intention of making my kids’ yearly milestones happy and memorable.

And, so far, I have happy memories of the various parties I’ve planned and overseen for my children.

However, I must admit that the experience of throwing a party for very young children is indeed somewhat nauseating.

toddler with balloons

Just keep swimming

One of my most creative endeavors was in honor of my son’s third birthday.

“He has a lot of toys,” I thought.

“He doesn’t even really know he’s supposed to get presents,” I told myself.

“He LOVES sea animals!”


I would host an Under the Sea party with shark hats and goldfish crackers and a fish-shaped cake (yum) and seaweed streamers.

We would play Fish, Fish, Shark and Pin the Bubble on the Clownfish and other such “clever” takes on classic games.

AND we would start an aquarium for my fish-loving toddler.

Every guest would bring a fish or fun underwater decoration — castles, caves, mermen, coral reefs and the like. (The only guest who brought a tank decoration brought a statue of a blue motorcycle. Bygones.)

Don’t sweat it

Of course it was cool. Of course we had fun. BUT — although I’m not a perfectionist mom who needs everything just so — I found myself sweating and fussing and worrying throughout the entire party.

We played through all the oceanic games — like 11 of them — within the first half hour of action!

Now what was I supposed to do with all the kids, who were young, quasi-verbal and precariously attempting Pull-Ups?

They were all so new to the mere idea of being at a friend’s house that they were just sitting there staring at one another. And was I imagining it? Or were they kind of scared of me?

Because — you know — I was, oddly, dressed up, but also wearing fuzzy socks, plus a shark hat that looked like it was eating my skull.

And sweating. Oh, the sweating. Marathon runners have nothing on Jen in Command of a Toddler Birthday Party.

And so I ask you, Toddler Parent, because no doubt you’ve asked yourself: Does this matter? Will they remember? How do I find balance between celebration and spoiling?

And what if I set the bar too high NOW, with years of parties still ahead?

Why do we do this?

It’s my sincerest belief that a child’s first three birthday parties are for the PARENTS. Yes, a party is a celebration of your child.

Yes, your child will have fun and giggle and eat too much cake and quite possibly meltdown. 

But this is all you — the need to dye your frosting with all-natural cherry juice while wearing a crazy hat.

Why do we insist on doing this? Because the baby years are hard.

Because — for many of us — the toddler years are even harder. Because it’s joyful and sad and inspiring and crazy to watch them grow up.

As parents, we deserve this. We need this.

Maybe mix it up?

If these early parties are just for us, why don’t we just play Cards Against Humanity, drink martinis and make a cake-shaped cheese platter alongside a crusty baguette?

Some parents do! If that’s you, I bow in utter respect.

For those of you (ahem) who write an original fairytale starring your little heroine’s fairytale-themed party (and hide a handmade golden dragon as the final piece of the story’s scavenger hunt), I bow to you, too.

Does it matter? Yes.

Will they remember? Sort of. Only because there are a million

pictures and because you talk about that fish party all the damn time.

Do what you will, do what you want. Passage on through those rites — and please remember that cherry-frosted glitter fairy cupcakes go GREAT with martinis.

Best of both worlds.

Jen Wittes is a freelance writer and mother of two who lives in St. Paul. Learn more about her work at Send questions
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 Jen's top 5 ‘not in this house’party locations

  • Choo Choo Bob’s, St. Paul
  • Minnesota Zoo, Apple Valley
  • Firefighter’s Hall and Museum, Minneapolis
  • The Little Gym, Edina
  • Kiddywampus, Hopkins