10 steps to organising a children’s party

The plethora of gardens and sunshine means that birthday parties are slightly out of control among a certain set in Nairobi. Since birth, my now 5 year-old has spent most of her weekends celebrating a dear friend / school mate/ random’s birthday with bouncy castles, face painting, clowns, enough food to prevent famine, and acrobats in a garden that could conceivably belong to the National Trust’s portfolio.

For the last three years, I’ve managed to work myself into a small frenzy organising her birthday parties, when really, it’s like interior design for a crack den: provide the sugar and the space – the kids just don’t care. I wish someone had told me about the crack den before I started on this journey. Now my goal is to wean my children off birthday party expectations until they are 16 and just want to go drink with their friends at the local pizza restaurant (note: cheap, quick and easy to organise so don’t mock it).

If you have an upcoming birthday for your beloved child, here are my 10 tips on surviving the experience:

  1. Pick a theme: this seems self-evident and straight forward, but over the course of a year to 6 weeks to the day of the party you will be asked for a Frozen/ Mickey Mouse/ Dolphin/ Planes/ Toy Story/ Monsters University/ Lego/ Disney Princess/ Pirate party. Find the key moment to pick one and stick to your guns, or you’ll be sourcing a Frozen/ Mickey Mouse/ Dolphin/ Planes/ Toy Story/ Monsters University/ Lego/ Disney Princess/ Pirate cake the week before the party.
  2. Go Homemade: establish with your kids that homemade is “good thing” so they don’t expect expensive, branded items. Please note this means you and your other half/ anyone-you-can-enlist will be in glue gun heaven/hell making Harry Potter wands, plaiting yarn-hair, and cutting/ measuring Queen Elsa dresses *every* night after work.
  3. Or not: if you live in a country where cheap/ affordable party gear is on hand, and you have a full-time job/ dislike of the glue gun, then don’t bother with homemade. I love my glue gun, and the sense of achievement keeps me going till my next craft project, but I also live in Kenya and those cheap character paper plates you pick up in Asda/ Tesco/ wherever cost the same as a John Lewis dining set in Nairobi.
  4. Remember the parents who suffer this *every* single weekend: supply booze 
  5. Ditto above: supply well-toned acrobats/ entertainers in tight clothes (although a couple of mummies requested that the acrobats wear less next time)
  6. Have limits: financial, mental, whatever. Otherwise, your darling progeny will get you with puppy-dog eyes and random requests for Woody/ Queen Elsa/ insert-random-Disney-character-here to turn up and ride a horse/ make an ice rink/ fly a spaceship and you will seriously consider it (even if for only a crazed moment). 
  7. Self-medicate: you will have a lot of small people running around on a sugar high. Do whatever it takes to be in your ‘happy place’. Deep breaths, gin, your ‘zen’ iTunes playlist, Xanax.
  8. Introduce the concept of near-death: for example, invite fire-eating entertainers to terrify the parents and toddlers, but instill awe, amazement and 10 minutes of absolute stillness in the majority of the kids. 
  9. Feed them: First thing, order in. Unless you are a gourmet cook, or your zen is in the kitchen cooking, order in. Thankfully, our friend Anita is a zen gourmet cook and created a feast (there weren’t even any crumbs left, it was that good). Second thing, sugar = crack. Really. So consider your menu very carefully.
  10. Don’t care: your children won’t appreciate or remember this beyond the next weekend’s birthday party. They will destroy their lovingly handmade costumes (or refuse to wear it in favour of a Heilan Coo novelty baseball cap), lick the food and then say it’s yucky, and instantly let go of their helium balloon and then cry for hours like an abandoned child.

The final word on organising kids’ parties – or in fact for tips on your general parenting approach – has to go to Dave Snowden who clearly has experienced this before.


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