We hosted Reid’s first-ever official birthday party on July 19th. I had thought we’d stick to family and friends parties until after Reid started school to have a full-fledged party but some of the other kids – or parents – in her class had other ideas. Once you’ve attended three or four parties, it seems that you must throw one of your own. My first choice was to go to the Canada Agriculture Museum, or “the Farm” as Reid calls it, but Reid talked about Starr Gymnastics instead for awhile. Right about the time we needed to commit, Reid started talking about the Farm and so I made the necessary arrangements for a Mooving Experience birthday party. I swear I hadn’t pressured her at all. I think that Reid is liable to consider herself “too old” for a party at the Farm after this year whereas a gymnastics party will be cool for many years to come.
We invited all of the kids in Reid’s class to the party – that means 16 – plus Lizzie, her bestest-ever friend who changed daycares at the beginning of July. I had it on good advice that attendance at summer parties is low and so I would be safe inviting so many when the limit was 12 kids and 8 adults. Indeed, nearly a week after we passed out the invitations, only 3 kids were planning to attend. By the deadline for responses, we had 11 invited kids (and Reid) plus assorted siblings and way more than 8 adults planning to come. After the RSVP deadline, 2 more kids and their parents added their names to the “happy to accept” ranks. I was practicing my surprised face along with “Oh my goodness, I wasn’t expecting so many people.” I even hoped someone would be sick. Aren’t I awful?! I decided that honesty – and health – would be the better approach and called to see if we could book another guide to cover the overflow. Even at the last minute, the folks at the Farm were able to find another person to help us out. At some point in the process, I realized that the prestige associated with having attracted the francophone kids in Reid’s class came with the necessity to speak with them and their parents in French. (I can be a bit oblivious to such obvious things and, really, I hadn’t expected them to accept.) Since the Canada Agriculture Museum is a federal institution, the guides were bilingual and that meant all of the kids understood what was going on.
One of the people I spoke with on the phone recommended that we park close to the building where the party would be held and it made sense with all we needed to unpack. Unfortunately, I didn’t think to ask how to get through the gates into the main part of the farm. We had left for the museum later than we should have (yes, really, *I* was late) and so when I tried the closest gate and couldn’t get it to open I panicked a bit. Rather than continuing to try the obvious gate, I went in search of another. At the next locked gate, I lifted Reid over and then climbed the fence myself, all the while reassuring Reid that this was permitted since we had paid for the party. I met the first family to arrive about 50 metres from the entrance. If I’d scaled the first gate, we would have been on time. Alas, I was hoping to be rule-abiding. The kids and their families trickled in between 2 and 2:15 and I was glad that I’d planned to spend the first 30 minutes at the playground rather than starting right in the party room. I took a few group photos at a picnic table on the way to the party room and even got a shot where most of the kids were more-or-less looking at the camera.
Once in the party room, the kids coloured party hats – really head bands with line drawings on pigs on them – and then played a game of pin-the-tail-on-the-cow. Surprisingly enough, there were no tail-less cows in the party supply shop and I had to sweet talk Ken to put his considerable artistic skills to use and create the cow. Or at least I asked him once and he agreed immediately. Being talented, he was able to reproduce much of the scene from the front of the invitation and then he carefully coloured it with smelly markers.
The kids returned to their seats at the table and watched as Reid helped the guide mix the milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract to make the ice cream. After the ingredients were mixed, they were put into the electric ice cream maker. Reid pushed the button to start the machine once the kids had shouted “Happy Birthday, Reid!” Then, it was time for our tour of the animal barns.
I was impressed with how well the guides were able to keep the group together as we walked between and through the buildings. I did many tours while I was working at historic sites and know that big groups can be trouble and ones with lots of adults all the more so. Kids are used to having to listen to adults while adults tend to talk whenever they want. We were lucky enough to see a couple of the Clydesdale horses having their saddles and equipment removed, which meant we saw them much more clearly than usual. One of the guides held a rabbit and each of the kids had a chance to pet it. In all of the times we’ve been to the Farm, Reid had never been allowed to pet the bunny before. The kids counted pigs (much fewer than when the small animal barn had) and spent time looking at Goody, the bull. One little guy asked his mom about Goody’s male-parts (which are quite impressive, it must be noted) and she squirmed a bit in responding. I’m surprised that Reid has never asked the question. For some reason, there were signs prohibiting people from petting the sheep which we usually do. It was too hot for me to consider touching the sheep’s wool but the kids would have enjoyed it. Just before leaving the large animal barn, the guide told us about Nel, a horse for riding instead of pulling, and offered to let Reid pet Nel’s nose. (It’s good to be the birthday girl, you know.) Reid refused. She is skittish about touching large animals. I’m not; I touched Nel’s nose instead.
I was at the front of the line when we got to the dairy barn, putting myself in the ideal position to take pictures. Except, of course, the hostess is expected to hold doors and so I did. Once everyone got in, I headed for the other door to loop around to the front. I stopped to help a family who didn’t want to get caught up in our group but didn’t know how else to get into the barn. Many of the kids and some of the adults pet a few of the calves once the guide had introduced them. Reid abstained. Calves are also “large animals” when you’re 3 feet tall. One of the moms commented that the calf she pet would circle its muzzle with its tongue when she rubbed its face. I suggested that she was seeing a rooting reflex, like when you rub your finger against a baby’s cheek. I might have been right, who knows? The only real pressure point of the day occurred when all of the kids who had touched the calves had to wash their hands. It was time well-spent, though, since our next activity involved food.
We went back to the party room to sample the ice cream that we’d made and also a cake that I’d ordered from Party Mart. The cake had a few Little People figures on top of it and a big “4″ candle plus four regular ones. It was surprisingly difficult to find a cake with a farm theme – Dora the Explorer and Disney Princess cakes are much more common. Thanks to Grandma Joyce’s timely intervention, we also had banana spice cupcakes. A couple of the moms complimented me on the cupcakes and I had to admit that I’d been in charge of the cream cheese icing but not the cupcakes.
I was surprised at the level of interest in the ice cream since only Reid and the guides had been directly involved in the making of it. Even the adults were eager for a sample, though. Uncle Roger sagely pointed out that it was easier to accept that the birthday girl would get to assist but not you than if some, but not all, of the others had helped the guides. It’s good to have an older and wiser brother around to explain such things.
Reid actually ate some of the cake, unlike at the past few parties we’ve attended. Most of the other kids focused on the ice cream though no one actually cleaned their plates. We had discussed cutting pieces in 2″ X 2″ squares but decided they’d look awfully skimpy. In fact, a significant proportion of the cake went into the garbage. We would have just thrown away less. And I might have gotten a piece. (Not that I’m bitter ;+) I’d ordered a half-chocolate/half-white cake but got one that was all white. I love store-bought white cake. Sick, isn’t it?
Reid remembered her manners when opening her presents, opening them slowly and saying “thank you” after each. We’d rehearsed saying “thank you”, even for a crumpled and already-used Kleenex, a smelly shoe, a toy that she already owns. Well, at first we practiced but soon Reid started saying she’d reply “no, thanks” or would give it to me. She had a devilish smile when she said these things, which let me know she knew the right thing to say. I couldn’t be sure she’d remember though. All of the presents were well-chosen. I would have preferred if the Princess Barbie Doll hadn’t emerged from it’s bag but Red was happy to it. (And we haven’t lost Barbie’s shoes yet!) She also received a couple of books, a doll who sings a French song when you hold her hands, a Dora dress-up chest, a couple necklaces, brightly painted letters to spell her name, some play jewelry and a Little Mermaid game. I’m not sure about a game whose premise is to help a girl who is looking for her prince but since we haven’t played it yet, I can’t really comment.
In retrospect, I’d do a few things differently. Since one of the little guys was bleeding pretty good fifteen minutes into the party, I would bring a mini First Aid kit, some bandages and a bottle of water to clean out the scrapes. We could have tracked down a staff member but the mom had bandages in her car. I definitely would bring a blind fold for the “pin the tail” game since it would seem that the vast majority of attendees at a 4 year old’s birthday party open their eyes (including the birthday girl).
On the other hand, I got some things right the first time. The name tag stickers were very useful (maybe some for the parents would be useful) and the group photo was a hit. Cleaning up the Kalas cups, bowls, plates and cutlery from Ikea wasn’t any more difficult than using disposables (washing up balanced against all the garbage) and the flannelette napkins and table cloth (thanks, Grandma Joyce) were a real hit with the kids, parents and guides and washed up easily. Having all of these things packed and ready in a box for Reid’s next party is a great relief for me, Ken and the environment.
At the end of the party, we received the nicest compliment. One of the mom’s said that she’d enjoyed attending the party because we were so laid back and hadn’t been upset by her kids who, she said, are destructive. Really, they’re a 4-year-old boy who acts like a 4-year-old boy and an 18-month-old who similarly acts her age. Still, I’m glad she enjoyed herself and found us welcoming. Someone else mentioned that they had thought my organization of the party extended to hiring a photographer until she realized that Uncle Roger was so much more than that. How much did Ken and I appreciate having an extra adult to help out? VERY MUCH! (Thanks, Roger.)
After all was said and done, Uncle Roger took Reid back to the playground to play with a few of the families who had decided to stay for a bit and Ken and I went out for dinner. We’re super-lucky like that sometimes.