Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Harry Potter Birthday Extravaganza

I don't know if it's eight years of parenthood, this house, competition with other mommies, a masochistic complex, Kailey's exceptionally good lobbying skills and ability to build a campaign over many months to get what she wants without being overt or obnoxious, or my genuine desire to just make birthdays as memorable and fun as possible.. but, I do think I need to seriously consider reigning myself in lest I create a household of birthday monsters. 

Backing up, 8 or 9 months ago (as in very shortly after her last birthday party), Kailey said that she wanted a Harry Potter Party this year.  And I said no.  It sounded like a lot of work . It sounded like the sort of party other, creative moms would throw.  It sounded like it might involve crafting. 

Then I mentioned Kai's party idea to a very creative, craft-spectacular, amazing party-throwing friend of mine and she said, "Oh! I have a Sorting Hat! And a Pinterest page for a Harry Potter Party!  You could totally do it." 

Maybe I just needed encouragement?  Or, as my friend Susanna likes to remind me, I actually suck at saying no to people.  I hide that fact behind a fairly prickly exterior and attitude that keeps people from asking for much.  Because, seriously, when directly asked... I have a bit of a hard time disappointing. 

Anyway, she brought the Sorting Hat over and it sat in the closest.  She showed me her Pinterest page, and was intrigued...  some of the party ideas were really cute. And, some didn't look too complicated to pull off.  And, then, Kai asked again. 

And, with that, we were off.  Many, many months in advance of her party. And, really, that was the key.  I started buying decorations months ago.  I slowing compiled (and then added and added) a list of ideas for what we could do to "round out" the party. I started with the robes.  Every kid would get a robe ... let's just pause here so I can note that the robes were a bit of a cluster on my part because I thought I had found this amazing wholesale site in China and got a deal for 28 robes for about $100.  I ordered them in January.  But, they took forever to come.  I can't remember when they came -- but, I was committed by the time they came.  Not only committed because I had spent $100 on what I thought was 28 robes, but committed in terms of telling others that we were having a Harry Potter party and every kid would get a robe.  So, then, they arrived.  Turns out I ordered 7 robes.  Seven.  Not 28.  The advertisement on the Chinese website was not super clear.  I had SEVEN robes.  For a party where there were going to be at least 25 kids.  Fuuuuccccckkkkkk. 

Luckily, my mom saved me and made 25 robes.  She MADE them.  I found another (truly) awesome wholesale site selling men's black XL t-shirts for about $2 a shirt and had them shipped to my mom and she converted each t-shirt into an awesome robe for each kid. I bought this transfer paper and found the house crests online, so we (and by that, I mean my mom) could iron-on the crest for each robe.  Aren't they amazing?  The kids were truly amazed.  Several kids took off the robes at the end of the party and thanked us for a great party.  When we told them the robes were theirs to keep, they got wide-eyed and said, "really?" 

So, the robes could have been a cluster, but my mom saved me and really created the centerpiece for the party.  Thank you, mom!!

The robe drama was sort of drawn out throughout the party planning.  I think one thing I might have going for me in party planning is that I don't tend to panic.  My job requires me to have a plan, a back up plan, and a back-up to my back-up plan.  My job also requires me to be extremely flexible with my time and schedule.  Both in terms of the actual work and due to this supposed work-life "balance" that all working parents supposedly strike.  As a tangent -- take this week for example -- I was in LA on Monday and then home in time for violin lessons Monday night where I decided to try to research whether our Volvo registration had expired (my mom had noticed the tag was quite out of date and it occurred to me that I might have missed a mailing). Failing in my research on Monday, I called the DMV on Tuesday morning and learned the registration had - indeed - expired MANY months ago and was told there was a tow order out for the car and I should go - NOW - to the DMV to renew the registration.  So, I scrapped my morning plans and headed to the DMV returning just in time for my 9:30 conference call followed by a day of back-to-back meetings.  That night, Kai came into our room in the middle of the night complaining of a headache and being cold.  Fever.  Which has resulted in me doing child-care plus back-to-back interviews and meetings the last two days (and finding back-up caregivers for the hours I had to be offsite).  Add a trip to the doctor for a throat culture and you have a glimpse into my average week.

Back to the party -- I think the fact that my daily life gets thrown into utter chaos and that I can never stick to a to-do list because of all the things that pop up at the last minute might lend itself to party planning.  I knew we had a robe problem awhile ago.  I didn't have a robe solution until the very end of March, when my mom and I talked it through when they were here for Alden's party.  But, somehow, all the other party planning went forward, knowing there were back-up plans and back-up to the back-up plans.

The invitations took me most of a day.  I'm not sure why they took so long.  I wanted them to look just so.  And, I started in evite and that just wasn't working.  They didn't really have any templates that let you completely design your own card.  So, then I had to search for another site where I could do it and figure out how to use that website's templates.  And pulling images off the internet and trying different things.  And cribbing the text from someone else's Harry Potter invitation (I'm all about being a copy cat with this stuff!)  In the end, this is what they looked like:

I also got it in my head that every kid needed a wand. To go with the robe, of course.  The robe that I still hadn't figured out how to produce.  But, details.  Wands were also necessary.  In this case, the wholesale site in China came through.  I got 30 unique (well, a few duplicates) wands -- all in their own satin-lined box -- for just over $100.  And the wands were sooo cool.  Too cool, in fact.  Man, they caused a lot of heartache during the party as kids argued over which wand they wanted and tried to trade in broken wands (they broke.  A lot) for new wands. (somehow I don't have pictures of the wands)

Then, there was the idea of the Great Hall.  This was actually one of the original ideas.  A sorting hat and a Great Hall.  Really, just floating candles.  It started with floating candles. I had tried to do the floating candle thing for Halloween and - due to another failed internet purchase -- wasn't able to pull it off (again, using "I" in the liberal sense of the word since I only intended my involvement in the floating candle project to be the ordering of the candles.. but, having failed in that task, the whole thing came to a screeching halt).  This time, having ordered the RIGHT candles, I felt confident that Eric could figure out how to make them look like they were floating... and, thus, the Great Hall transformation was in the works.  In addition to the candles, I found a banner for each house, we created some long dining tables, and then there were pictures and other little touches in the room.


With the Great Hall comes a Great Feast -- so, then it was figuring out what to feed 40 - 50 people that was both easy but "great" (aka, not pizza).  We went with chicken, mashed potatoes, baked beans, corn on the cob, fruit salad, and cornbread.  And the kids loved it.  I couldn't believe how they dug in and actually ate.  And several parents thanked us for serving a real meal. 

We also converted Kai's art room into Honeydukes (the candy shop) and Olivenders (the wand shop).


And there was a magician.  This is where we might be crossing the line to over the top.  Or where my novice party planning skills become apparent.  The magician probably wasn't necessary.  But, in the early days of planning -- a magician felt like it was critical because I wasn't sure I could do much more than hire a magician and call it a Harry Potter party.  It was only over time that everything else developed - and, in retrospect, everything else was enough that the magician was sort of superfluous by the time the party rolled around.  And, unfortunately, he seemed to be everyone's least favorite part of the party.  He was fine -- and he dressed in costume -- but, this was the most stressful part of the party for me because I was worried no one was enjoying it (about 1/4 of the kids didn't watch the show at all) and, most importantly, I was worried that Kai didn't like it.  But, I think she mostly did.  She refused the participate in the final trick (where they were going to levitate her) and refused to let anyone else do it, either.  I should have anticipated that... Kai is really not one for performing and needed more advance time to really practice and get comfortable with the trick (they talked to her before -- but, it wasn't really enough for her).  Still, they did other tricks and it was fine.

And then there was the Quiddich Field. About a week before the party, Kai turns to me and says, "we're going to have a Quiddich Field, right?"  At this point, I felt we were all in.  So, after an initial "no," I relented and said, "why not?"  And, I'm glad I did.  The Quiddich Field (which Eric is entirely responsible for constructing -- and it looked sooo cool!) was a huge hit with the kids.  Who doesn't like to try to throw balls through hula hoops mounted on stakes? (the only pictures we took were after the hula hoops had been knocked over after the constant beating of balls being tossed at/through them)!

By the time we got to the week of the party -- I was a party planning wizard (ha ha.. I'm so funny!) and couldn't help myself with all the finishing touches (with help in the execution, of course!!).  The ghost in the mirror.  The appetizers.  The butterbeer and pumpkin juice. The cake that was intended to look like the cake Hagrid brings Harry in the first book when they first meet (well, this cake was an early request from Kai).  The owls with their post.  The photo booth ("Have You Seen This Wizard?").  And, of course, the costumes!




With all that -- we had a party!  We had more than a party!! We had a bonanza! And, it was a ton of fun.  It was a blast.  Everyone had a great time.  Most importantly, Kai had a great time.  The party looked amazing.  The kids looked amazing.  But, more than any of that, it was so fun to go all in on a theme and pull off an awesome party.  It was great collaborating with my mom, and Eric, and Julie, and Kailey, and others who helped us to plan.  The pre-party the night before to get the living room set up was fun.  The post-party when three of the families stayed until after 9 PM was also fun.  I feel like a crazy person for going to such lengths, just because nothing in my history would have led me to believe I would ever want to be involved in pulling off such a party (I am, after all, the person who refused any sort of wedding and has never had a big party for myself in any way).  But, it was such fun.  And, it was especially fun to do it with Kailey.  She made the Honeyduke's sign.  She helped plan the menu.  She had ideas about the decorations and the Quiddich field.  It was her party and she enjoyed it so much. 

And, my favorite picture of all, the post-party shot:

It's the only party I've ever thrown where I have actually received thank you cards for inviting someone to the party!  And, we've gotten two! Now, we have our own thank yous to write to all who came and all who helped plan and execute and make it such a special day. 

It was, truly, a magical 8th birthday party. 

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