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Five Ingredients for the Perfect Party

First of all, we all know that there is no such thing as a perfect party. But we also know that there are good parties and, well, less-than-awesome ones. I've been to, and hosted, parties in both categories. After throwing pretty elaborate, if foolish, first birthday parties for both Big Girl (Cheerio-themed!) and Middle Girl (Halloween-themed!), we treated Little Girl to an equally fun but tiny, family-only, yellow-themed (boas! duckies!) party here at home. Truth be told, I've gotten a bit exasperated when it comes to birthday parties, more and more willing to write that not-so-measly check and let someone else worry about the details. Here in Manhattan, there are many such options.

Which is why last Saturday was, for me, an anomaly. We threw Middle Girl's 4th birthday - for 35 kids (gasp) - here at home. I grew a bit panicked about this prospect as the weekend approached, but when the time came and my girl's little costume-clad buddies began to arrive, I realized how happy I was to have opted for this more homemade party route. It wasn't the perfect party, but as far as I'm concerned it came pretty close!

So, here's what I learned about party-planning. In my not-so-expert estimation, the following ingredients apply equally to all parties, not just orange and black birthday fests for preschoolers!


1. A Fun Theme.

It is more fun to organize, and attend, a party with some kind of theme. The theme need not be anything to outlandish or original, but can simply be a color. Middle Girl's party was a Halloween-inspired costume party. The kids came through our neon orange cobwebbed front door in costume, decorated trick-or-treat bags, noshed on Halloween-themed cupcakes, whacked an enormous Halloween pinata.

2. Decor That's Different.

Decorations are expected, but why not make them unique? Instead of seating kids along long party tables, we rented 30" round kid tables and three dozen white plastic mini chairs from Party Rental Ltd. (wonderful company; would use them again in a heartbeat). The big girls helped me cover the tables in black and white waterproof paper material. Instead of ordering my typical bunch of helium balloons from our neighborhood party store, I worked with the fabulous Robert Moy of Brooklyn Balloon Company. Moy made me six "balloon centerpieces"; one for each table. The oversized orange helium balloons were a huge hit and will apparently stay afloat for up to three weeks!


3. Yummies-for-your-tummies.

As far as I'm concerned, if people (adults and kids alike) are going to be parked at a party for a couple of hours, the food better be yummy. Pizza is a standard but efficient choice for the wee ones and here in NYC, there are oodles of pizza options. When ordering, request that slices be sliced into two more kid-friendly sized pieces. If there are adults hanging, why not platter some pastries or sandwiches. And caffeine? A must! Oh, and don't forget the cake or cupcakes. Middle Girl's friends were thrilled with the seasonally-appropriate Crumbs black cat and candy corn cupcakes we slipped them before leaving.

4. Activities!

About a week before her party, it occurred to me that Middle Girl and her friends would need some activities during the party. While one-year-olds are happy to toddle and crawl around a space, four-year-olds are more discerning creatures who crave, and need, a bit of distraction. Keeping this in mind, I hired a glitter tattoo artist to come for a few hours from Make Meaning and asked the beloved music teacher from Middle Girl's preschool to come play some tunes for the kids. The result? Sparkly little hands and arms and a wonderfully spirited singing and dancing time. Also, we had tricke-or-treat bags to decorate, a few Halloween games (a velcro ghost dart board, a candy corn bean bag toss). The festivities ended with the big old pinata. Kids clustered around and each had a turn to hit the giant pinata a few times. In the end, candy rained down on all of them. Happy campers indeed.


5. Good Company.

The most important element of any party is the people who come to it. As I was thanking the tattoo artist for spending her Saturday morning in our garden swarmed by a sea of four-year-olds, she said something to me: This is a really wonderful and nice group of kids. And they were, and are. Ditto their parents. This party could have been a ghoulish Halloween nightmare, but instead it was a scene of happy candy-corn-colored manageable chaos. We are really lucky to know such great, respectful families.

Alas, I am not, and will never be, a capital-P Party Planner. I will leave that to my brilliant friend Jes Gordon and her colleagues (Thanks, Jes, for your help with rentals!!). But I am learning that there is some amateur fun to be had. And I figure that this is a good attitude to adopt since I have three little girls at home ergo many parties in my future. Now I must shift my attention to planning my upcoming Happier Hour with Gretchen Rubin (postponed due to Sandy!) and our annual Rowley Holiday Party (already 92 Yes RSVPs- yikers!!) Wish me luck!!


How was your Halloween? Do you enjoy planning parties or hosting events at your home? Do you think I missed any important ingredients for a good party? Have you ever experienced Birthday Party Exhaustion? Do you think I am nutty for hosting my child's birthday party here or inviting so many peeps to our holiday soiree?

ADR Friday Loves 11.02.12

Happy Halloween!