The One Where She Turns 5

Those of you who have known me for many years understand my fear and trepidation surrounding children's birthday parties. Specifically, the ones at some gigantic indoor play zone where I sort of know the kid from daycare but have never met the parents, and our kids are way too young to just drop off. So instead, we stand around trying not to stare at each other, making awkward small talk about how precious our kids are, asking variations of "What's your name again?" and feverishly hoping that our kid isn't the most hyper one in the room.

I knew that this year would be a touch & go year for Helen in terms of birthday parties. If you have checked this blog faithfully, you will know that Helen's parties have consisted of some cupcakes on the big day, and not much else. And for all those years when she couldn't really talk, it worked just fine. Then came the talking years, but I was still a bit ahead of her on the reasoning skills, so we kept parties at bay.

Then came this year. About a month ago, one of her friends turned 5, and had a big party at a giant indoor play place. It was a Friday evening, and the invitation said "Siblings invited" and they served pizza, so I caved in and dragged all 3 kids out. I figured it would wear them out and we could sleep in on Saturday. And I did get to chat with a couple of very nice moms, but it still felt awkward as hell. The party girl's mom, however, breezed in and handled it all so graciously. This party was for her 3rd kid, and she still whizzed around like Martha Stewart. She made sure we all had food and snacks. She sweet talked Alice and chatted with Helen. She even helped me haul one very reluctant-to-leave child back to the car. I'm telling you, that's SO NOT ME.

Later that weekend, Helen told me that she was thinking of having her party at the same place. Proceed directly to CRINGE. Folks, these parties start at around $200, and that's not including pizza and cake and ice cream. That's just, "Yes, you can rent out space here," and "Don't forget to bring the goody bags." Plus, sending the invitations and deciding who to invite, and all of our family is out of town, and the few who do live close would be on vacation, and ending up hosting all these daycare parents I don't know, it was just like NO. I CAN'T DO IT. DON'T MAKE ME DO IT.

So then I had a conversation with Helen about how we weren't going to have a party at the Giant Indoor Play Place. I told her that we could have some cupcakes and presents at home, and she said, "You mean, a family party?" And I said yes, that's right. Fortunately, she didn't have her nose pinched and head held up high while she said it, but you could tell she was a little disappointed. Especially when she muttered darkly, "And next year, I'm having a party with friends." So next year, after kindergarten is over, we can invite a friend or two over to swim at the neighborhood pool, and grill some burgers and hot dogs and have some cake. But this year, one last time, it would be just us.

Years ago, Brian & I talked about our vision of the perfect birthday party, and we thought out loud, wouldn't it be fun to rent the stuff but not invite everyone - just have it for her to play around in. Like, booking the giant indoor play place for just your family. Or calling up the inflatable rental store and setting it up in the backyard for the kids. Book the petting zoo to come visit. We could skip the looney tunes clown and the not-so-funny magician. But you get the idea. That idea stuck in my head for the longest time - 4 years, to be exact - and so last month I started calling around to find out prices for renting the giant bouncy castle.

YIKES. Varies from $100-$175 for anywhere from 4-8 hours. That includes setup and takedown, but still. A lot steeper than I pictured. You can buy them, but quality varies, and prices can go up dramatically for ones that will endure a 5-year old's bouncing.

So I found the guy that would rent it for $100, and I was in discussion with Brian about what to do. I just happened to mention it to a co-worker who was taking the day off for his son's birthday party, and he said, "Oh, I have one." I was like, HUH? You own a giant bouncy castle? Turns out, yes, he does. He has 3 boys and sometimes on the weekend, they'll put it up in the backyard and let the kids go nuts. It's good to wear them out and they sleep like angels. And this co-worker said, Hey, you can borrow it. Folks, that is pure awesomeness. Besides, the money saved and all that, no worries about if it rains, the rental period is ruined, rescheduling the party, etc. We could put it up when we needed to and take it down on our schedule.

So, her birthday was on a Friday. I told her that we would have our family party on Saturday, with cupcakes and presents, and that we could make the cupcakes together that afternoon. But I didn't let on there was anything more to it. Brian went out mid-morning to mow the lawn, and then he set up the bouncy castle. Once I got the high sign from him, I told her there was a surprise for her birthday in the yard, and I led her outside with "eyes closed, Helen, close 'em tight!" I got a picture of her when she saw it for the first time:

Then she & Alice went to town bouncing in it. Sliding on the slide, running around, climbing in, bouncing and sliding to their heart's content. Helen told me over and over it was the BEST. BIRTHDAY. EVER. Honestly, that was all I needed to hear. Family party, schamily party. She got a bouncy castle to play in. Game over, Giant Indoor Play Place!

It was about 97 degrees outside, though, so they got hot, quick. I went inside to watch from the windows, and take care of Jane. About 45 minutes later, Alice came bounding in, hair plastered to her head and red from head to toe. She sucked down a cup of ice water and headed right back outside.

Shortly after that, I got them to come in for a little lunch, and then put both of them down for a nap. They slept for FOUR HOURS. Suffice it to say, the cupcakes were ready when she got up.

We are looking into buying one of these things. My co-worker said he had found a company that was going out of business, and they typically sold these to the rental companies. My co-worker picked up this one for a steal, and he said it paid for itself after they used it at 2 birthday parties. Seriously, with 3 kids, this is a must-have. Brian was amazed at how easy it was to set up and take down. It came with its own high powered fan, and it inflated in about a minute and came down in about 2 minutes. It fit in a tiny duffel bag. Didn't even ruin the grass at all. Really! Have you bought one yet? Go, go, go!

One of our neighbors came by later in the afternoon, totally jealous and wanting to bounce. But it was only rated for ages 10 & under. I will have to look into buying one that's more adult-sized. Maybe we can make back some of the money by selling time in the bouncer to the neighbors. Hmm, a possible revenue stream on weekends. This has all kinds of possibilities!

Happy Birthday, Helen. Now that you're 5, your birthday parties are going to start earning their keep.

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