Bang for our buck: birthday party at the YMCA

A decade ago, I looked at my work schedule and decided that I had two choices for timing births (as if everything is neatly under my control): during summer break or during winter break. My college was off for half of December and all of January, meaning I could potentially miss zero work, and head back to school at the start of the semester while bloated and bleeding and hormonal and leaking and completely out of sorts, like a good employee, if I managed to give birth in the depths of winter.

I see now how stupid that was, trying to have it all with my career and lean in while every ounce of me needed to lean the f out, but, well, this is America and I’m a working woman.

At any rate, all three of our kids are winter babies, and I didn’t miss any work for either Viv or Amelia. I mean, I missed nine months after Amelia but that’s because I had a huge terrible brain tumor. But otherwise her birth timing was PERFECT and I wasn’t supposed to miss any work at all. But I digress.

An unforeseen consequence of these winter babies is that my favorite idea for a birthday party – invite a bunch of people to a park – is an impossibility.

My second favorite idea for a birthday party – sit quietly in solitude in the predawn hours with a cup of coffee and contemplate the meaning of life and time – is apparently not attractive to most 5-year-olds.

In a life that I don’t live, my house would be spacious and clean, welcoming to 15 kids and their parents, as I flutter between groups of people, running pin the tail on the donkey games, serving. Soufflés, smiling graciously at the compliments on our decorative taste. We’ve got six people in a 3-bedroom house, and three of those people are kids so what is even the point of scrubbing the sharpie from the walls. I don’t know what a soufflé is, and I’m pretty good at grinning maniacally but terrible at smiling graciously. So, no.

That leaves us with the choice that so many in the FI movement deride: outsourcing birthday parties.

We try to make them cheaper if possible – doing them on a weeknight for a discount, making my youngest blow out her candles in a mall food court instead of paying for the pizza package, getting cupcakes instead of cake (public service announcement: at Walmart, cupcakes, for the same amount of cake and more frosting and easier serving, are half the price of cakes).

And so it was this time for Viv. She wanted a pool party, and the YMCA, which is the opposite of fancy, does pool parties. For $150, I could have the party room for two hours, invite 20 kids, and let them swim during open swim. For $200, I could have the party room for four hours, invite up to 40 kids, and have the pool to ourselves after hours. I went with option B, even though it was more expensive and the thought of partying with 6-year-olds for four hours makes me want to die inside.

I chose option B because I’m a cheapskate but I’m also a person with three kids and it’s important to me that our list isn’t limited to “just the guest, no +1.” Most of Viv’s friends have siblings. Having a wide open pool to ourselves meant she could invite 10 friends, invite the neighbors and her sisters, and I could make it clear that nobody had to find a sitter for their other kids – they could all fit in the pool. Win win win.

I forgot, until the day of the party, how stinking expensive food is, and we ended up spending about $100 on pizza, cupcakes, and juice boxes.

They told me at the Y that we could feel free to set up party games or have a DJ or whatever. I felt free not to. The kids swam their hearts out, ate pizza, and then literally ran in circles around the huge party room for an hour. Nobody cried (except Amelia, it’s hard to watch your sister open all the presents), many parents thanked me for wearing their kids out.

A friend of mine is doing Chuck E. Cheese in a few weeks, in a discounted time slot, and isn’t covering pizza for parents. She said it’s going to be about $500. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not judging – I’ve done those parties myself and probably will again. Not at Chuck E. Cheese because I’m not a masochist. But ended up paying $500. The packages are insane.

A decade ago, I would have probably actually literally thrown up at the idea of spending multiple hundreds of dollars on a birthday party for a 6-year-old. And yet here we are.

I could do it cheaper. Whittle down the guest list, make my own pizza (oh god what if I accidentally gave people salmonella), just have the kids all meet up in a frigid park, build an addition onto my house that is airy and spacious and tasteful and use it solely for free, relaxing, lovely parties.

But I could also do it more expensively, lots more expensively, and as far as Viv was concerned, every single minute of it was perfect. Worth it.

4 thoughts on “Bang for our buck: birthday party at the YMCA”

  1. That sounds great. I suppose it’s probably too late, but the only idea I had for the winter birthday thing is to make the actual birthday a family thing, and make a big picnic in the park deal for the half-birthday date in summer. But I don’t have kids and am sure that’s way easier said than done, especially when all the other kids celebrate on their day. It’s easy to parent from the outside 🙂 I’m certainly not advocating you double your party load!


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