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All the awesomeness, a fraction of the price: a birthday party story

Amelia is turning 3. I know what you’re thinking, because it’s what I think at every upcoming birthday. “Oh God, the cost.” Okay, I guess I also think about the blessings and “oh my how she’s grown” and “can it possibly be…” but…birthdays. They’re so expensive.

We typically do the first birthday or two at home, because 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds want to play with crumpled up paper and cardboard boxes (I mean, don’t we all?), shove cakes into their cakeholes (again, don’t we all?), and feel like everybody thinks they are the best (maybe I’m actually a 2-year-old on her birthday). They don’t care about friends, and they don’t understand fanfare. So we make some messy cake and open some cheap presents (maybe even just toys that they forgot they had, wrapped up again), and make the kid feel special.

By the time they are three, they have a better sense of the world, especially if they are child #3 and think that they are turning 13. They know about birthday parties, and they know about Chuck E. Cheese. They know that a birthday at home is just one more piece of evidence that their “frugal” or whatever mother has cheaped out again.

So from about the age of 3 on, we do birthday parties. I made some tactical errors and birthed all my children in the winter, so the whole “rent out a pavilion at the park” or “meet at the playground” thing is not an option for us. Also not an option: having a billion kids at our house, especially at the age where the parents stick around for the party. We already have six people, a nutjob puppy, a very large cat, and two fish (that population is dwindling, but the aquarium is still the same size!) in a 1300-ish square foot house. Plus I’m really terrible at cleaning.

So, I suck it up and we pay for birthday parties at birthday party places. Between Sonya and Viv, we’ve gone to a bouncy house place, bowling, a paint-your-own-pottery place, an indoor playground place, a trampoline park, probably more. I won’t do Chuck E. Cheese but that’s because I value my sanity (somewhat). The one thing they all have in common is that the parties are super overpriced, but also I’m always quite grateful that somebody else is taking care of it all for me.

Well, Amelia’s turning 3, and I was on the fence – do we do another one at home? Shell out hundreds of dollars to outsource this crap? So I asked her: do you want a party? YES OF COURSE. Do you want your friends to come? DUH. Which friends do you want? SONYA. Who else? VIV. Who else? YOU AND DADDY. Who else? SONYA.

So we outsourced, to an extent. I invited a few friends (my friends, because Amelia’s friends are apparently all part of our family already), and we went to the bouncy house place in the mall. We paid for all the kids’ entries ($60 for all of the kids), and then afterward, we went to the food court at the mall, got two pizzas ($27), and ate cupcakes that I had purchased from Walmart ($12). The smallest birthday package at the bouncy house place costs $250 plus the pizza package. Not this year, Amelia.

As we were walking out of the bouncy house place, I glanced at their flier (because of course I did, because I’m a cheap-o, and I love feeling smug). Their smallest pizza package was two pizzas and a bunch of juice boxes for $90. An employee was walking in with the pizza when we were walking out – they were pizzas from Sbarro’s, which is where we were headed. The exact same pizzas, in their room instead of the food court, cost $60 more. The food court was a little less private, but you know what else it was? A wide open space where my kids and my friends’ kids could run around screaming (malls these days are shockingly empty). It was like a bonus party after the party.

I’ve done the package deal at that place, and if I had 20 kids I wanted to invite, it would be tempting. But for 7 kids, 90 minutes bouncing in bouncy houses, pizza and cupcakes, presents and singing, tag in the food court, no clean-up at my house, and an almost-3-year-old who had the “best birfday ever,” a total cost of about $100 was well worth it.

I am always trying to walk the line – somebody who manages to provide/live the life I want to provide/live, but keeping expenses down where possible. Amelia’s turning 3! For this party, we found a happy medium.

(Don’t worry, Viv turns 6 just a few weeks later, and she has dozens and dozens of friends, and none of them are her family. So, for that one, we’re going to be out a bit more cash).

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