In my opinion, the most tolerable parties have two elements: 1. Not in my house, and 2. Someone else is entirely in charge of entertaining the guests. For the Girl's 4th birthday, we went to a little art studio and the ladies there ran the whole show. All I had to do was remember to distribute the goody bags, which, naturally, I forgot and had to drive around town to deliver.
The second best parties are ones that are not at your house, but where your guests have to make their own fun. I would include bowling, inflatable bounce-house places, and paint-your-own-pottery in this category. The danger of these parties is that if there isn't an adult choreographing the activities, the children can easily go off the reservation. We had the Boy's 3rd/8th birthday at an inflatables place and his was one of 5 parties happening that afternoon. A few of our young party guests wandered into another party room and helped themselves to refreshments. By the way, the reason it was the Boy's 3rd/8th birthday was because when he was turning 3 he insisted to the point of hysteria that he was turning 8 years old. I was 6 months pregnant and too tired to fight him on it, so there's a big "8" candle on his cake from that party.
We held the Girl's most recent party at a paint-your-own pottery place (called, actually, That Pottery Place). It is located in the second most depressing mall in the immediate area, having relocated from the most depressing mall in the area. Some of the for-real businesses located at the second most depressing mall include: Leader Cuff n' Collar, Juanderful Products(!), Dollar Dealz, and Cleopatra's Hair Salon. You can also buy a wig, then walk a few steps and sell your gold. One stop shopping, y'all! A few of the Girl's friends seemed to be plotting to leave the party to explore mall on their own. Luckily, Mom overheard and denied them their quest for some "juanderful" products.
Parties at home are just a bad idea if you care remotely about your property. It does not matter if you have a designated place for the party in your house, the children will escape from this area and someone will lock the bathroom door from the inside and someone else will go through your dresser drawers. Parties at home are less horrible if you hide all valuables and have entertainment brought in from outside. The Girl had a fairly successful science birthday party where an unemployed teacher conducted experiments for the children. The Girl and the Baby have had the triple-threat clown who does magic, draws cartoons, and face paints. The Boy had reptiles wranglers at his 6th birthday party and the K had to put aside his snake phobia and look happy to have a 6-foot python draped across his shoulders.
The worst parties are the ones at home when you haven't figured out enough activities for the allotted time. My failing is that I will think of one cool thing for the party that has to do more with decor than activity and then when the novelty of that cool thing has worn off, we're all screwed. This has happened in spectacular fashion two times.
For the Girl's 8th birthday I was obsessed with renting a frozen yogurt machine. The parents of one of the Baby's friends own The Yogurt Tap, so they gave me a deal on the rental of a fro-yo machine. They were super nice; dropped off the machine, mixed up a yogurt flavor of our choice and left us with toppings, bowls, and spoons.
The problem was that the frozen yogurt machine was essentially a one-trick pony. My plan was to feed the guests dinner, hit the yogurt and toppings bar, and then watch a movie. It's almost as if I'd never met children. The kids liked the yogurt a lot and went back for multiple servings. But, they got bored with "Dispicable Me" and got rowdier and rowdier. They were so sugared up that I resorted to my plan B, which was to send them out into the backyard to chase the K. (I am ashamed to say that we have had several parties where I've given up and sent the children into the backyard to beat up on my husband.) By the end of the party, there had been so much eating and running that two of the guests puked. Of course, they had to use the master bathroom, because someone locked the guest bathroom door from the inside.
I think my biggest failure was the Boy's 7th birthday party. He wanted a "Canadian" birthday party. When pressed, he failed to give any details of what we were supposed to do to celebrate in a Canadian fashion. I thought about letting them all watch hockey while drinking Molsen and eating poutine, but worried that I might get arrested. After stewing about it for a while my brilliant idea was to rent a snow-making machine. Did I mention that the Boy's birthday is in August? Oh, yes, snow in Georgia in August. I found this place that rented snow-making machines that worked in 90 degree weather and ordered me one. My other activities were a "snowball fight" with water balloons and "hunting" with water guns and some targets. The "snow" was fun to play in for about ten minutes, but then the novelty wore off. (The picture below was actually taken before the party when we were testing the machine. The actual party was so chaotic that I wasn't able to take pictures.)
And I forget that while it takes days to fill 1000 water balloons it takes approximately 3 minutes to burst every last one of them. Out of activities and desperate, I pulled a Marie-Antoinette and said, "let them eat cake!" about 30 minutes into the party.
The cake was cute, but 7 year old boys don't give a damn about a cute cake. All they want to do is break stuff, tackle each other, and get dirty. By the end of the party, the K had been taken down like a scene from Guilliver's Travels, the yard was a muddy mess, and I was lying in the fetal position in the corner. It's pretty bad when the best thing you can say about a party is that no one was seriously injured.
But yet, I keep throwing parties for my childrens' birthdays. More incredibly, the children don't seem to notice that some of the parties have been decidedly un-fun. I have one remaining party this year when the Baby turns 4. And, if it becomes necessary, I will tell the children to chase the K through Leapin' Lizards play center.
Happy Thanksgiving week! I hope you are further along in your preparations for the big meal than I am!