Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Party

The big bday party was Saturday. It did not rain as I had feared it might earlier in the week (whew!), but it was REALLY hot. On Wednesday, I made a list of everything we had to get done, and as I went over my notes, it occurred to me that only two people had told me they would be unable to make it. I have hosted my fair share of parties, and conventional wisdom says that about 2/3 of those invited actually attend. That has always been my experience. I've had a few parties where it was closer to 3/4 and a few with only about 1/2, but most have fallen into that standard percentage (even our wedding to which we invited 500 - yes, 500 people - about 300 showed up). So you can imagine my surprise - ok, panic would be the better word - when I realized that pretty much ALL of the 50 people we had invited were planning to attend.

Is 50 guests too many for a three-year-old's birthday party? Yes, but you have to factor in that at that age, you don't just invite the kids. You invite their parents and siblings as well. I know the rule is supposed to be invite as many friends as the number of years, but there are four kids in her daycare alone, much less the four kids we had playdates with since birth while we moms were on maternity leave together. It's tough to decide where to draw the line. Throw in a couple of others, and she has about twelve friends that I felt like we needed to invite. Plus parents and siblings, plus our own family, and voila - 50 people. Can I just say YIKES!

When I told my DD the headcount (muttered under my breath actually, since I knew what his reaction would be), he was shocked. I quickly reminded him that I had shown him the guest list before I'd sent out the invitations so he was just as liable as I was for this predicament. We frantically started trying to figure out how we were going to work this. Luckily, I had been R-E-A-L-L-Y slow at work and had used that time wisely to draw out a floorplan illustrating the tables and seating arrangement for the kids, down to the balloons, and even placement of utensils. Did I mention how slow and bored I was at work? Anyway, the timing of this brief slow period was perfect because I was able to spend an inordinate amount of time on the minutiae of party planning. I'm awesome at the little stuff, ie place cards for 3-year-olds who can't read. It's the important things (like ice) that I always forget. Thank God for my DH being able to see the whole picture - talk about balancing each other!

Anyway, Wednesday I got the groceries, finished up making the odds and ends for decor and baked the cupcakes. I'm not sure I mentioned this cupcake recipe before, but I found it on a blog I follow, Proceed with Caution. Super adorable Oreo Cookie Monster cupcakes - perfect for a Sesame Street-themed bday party. The recipe is a little complex, but I prefer to bake from scratch for special occasions. But since it's only on those special occasions, I'm not that great at it, so I decided to make them a few days early to give myself time for an oops-round. When I showed the picture of the cute cupcakes to S a month ago, though, she had a different idea about what she wanted. "No, Mama, I don't want cupcakes. I want a cake." I tried to hide my disappointment. I'm all about baking from scratch, but I'm completely inept at making frosting look like it was done by someone other than a 5-year-old. That's why I prefer cupcakes to cake. And I certainly can't draw the characters on it. But I supposed I could just get a store-bought pre-decorated cake at Hy-Vee, and maybe make a small batch of the cupcakes for my own satisfaction. I mean, really, she's three. Let's be honest - the details of the party are really more fun for me at this point than for her.

Back to the cake. I said, "Oh? What kind? Pink? White?" I was not prepared for her response. "Polka dot on top and black on the bum." Translation - Funfetti on top and chocolate on bottom. Interesting. Didn't expect a two-tiered response. Much less in a combination that I'm quite sure the grocery store doesn't carry in general. I had resigned myself to just getting a chocolate cake decorated by the bakery at the grocery store when I came across an adorable solution on Paisley In Paris - cupcake toppers. I hadn't seen them before, but my friend who is a graphic designer (and trendsetter) let me know they are all the rage. I decided I could make S her two-tiered cake and frost it green and use cupcake toppers with the characters on it for decoration. She'd be happy to have a cake in the flavors she wanted, and I'd actually be able to decorate it myself!

But I couldn't resist making the cupcakes, too, so Wednesday I made the cupcakes, and Thursday I planned to fill them and decorate them. I went home at lunch and whipped up the filling. I didn't have quite the right size frosting tip (it required 1mm). But I thought I'd try it anyway. FYI, don't try it if you don't have the right size. Suffice it to say that the end result was a cupcake with an empty hole in it and an exploded bag of filling. I didn't have the time or patience to start over with the filling. Unfortunately, the recipe is supposed to be reminiscent of an Oreo, so the cupcake alone is not very sweet, kind of like when you just eat the outside of the Oreo without the creamy inside. I patted myself on the back for the foresight to realize I would need an oops-round, and made an executive decision. The ultimate goal for the cupcakes was for them to look like Cookie Monster, so since it was crunch time, I decided to forgo making the original recipe again, and just make regular Funfetti cupcakes and decorate them in the mode du Cookie Monster. It actually turned out to be a good thing because since I had realized the headcount was going to be greater than I'd originally planned, I really would need those extra cupcakes. I decided to make a batch that were Elmo, too, using the same basic premise as the Cookie Monster ones. So I stopped at the store on the way home from work and picked up a couple of boxes of cake mix.

Thursday night, I had planned to finish the baking/decorating but DH had softball and by the time I got the girls to bed, I was exhausted. Plus I'd realized I needed a few more party favors for the extra guests who were coming who I thought would be "no"s. The place cards had to go out the window since there were more kids than seats. I didn't think that would be an issue since I knew they wouldn't all arrive at the same time so we could just feed them as they came in and move the party along. But needless to say, there was some last minute adjusting.

Friday night I baked perfect Funfetti cupcakes (God bless you, Pillsbury), and frosted the two-tier cake green with a yellow trim. Uh, it wasn't exactly pretty, but it worked. I hoped the cupcake toppers would distract from the inconsistent yellow trim. I had planned to clean the first floor of the house that night as well, but our dear friends came over to help us set up the tables/chairs/tents and inflate the baby pool. We ended up chatting while working, so it was late when they left.

Saturday morning, my sister and mother came over early to help me. Thank goodness for them because my sister had to help me frost the Elmo cupcakes, and my mom had to help clean. The party was scheduled from 11am-1pm. Right in the heat of the day, and it was hot. HOT. Technically the weather website says the recorded temperature was only 90 degrees, but as anyone from KC can tell you, it felt warmer than that. In fact, that's why they've invented the "heat index". Wish they recorded that. In general, the last few weeks the index has been about 10 degrees warmer, so while I personally thought it felt like 120 since I was running around like a maniac, we'll go with 100. Even with the big trees and tents we'd set up for shade in the backyard, there was no breeze, so there was little relief for our guests. I felt terribly, but there's just no way we can fit 50 people in our living room. I was so thankful it hadn't rained that in a certain respect, I didn't really care it was so hot, as long as it was dry.

And what did the birthday girl think? Well first of all, while I was finishing getting things ready inside, DH and my BIL were outside finishing setting up, and S wanted to play out back. Perfect! However, they were "keeping an eye on her" the way Gallagher says all men do when put in charge of children (if you haven't heard his stand-up on that subject, I highly recommend it!), so next thing I know, she's in the baby pool. Soaking wet. In her party dress. Argh. I decided not to worry about it - most parents of 3-year-olds understand how nearly impossible it is to keep them dressed at all, much less looking clean. I threw her dress in the dryer and put her in a random outfit temporarily.

Originally, I had planned to feed S lunch before everyone arrived because I knew she wouldn't eat when there was so much hustle and bustle. But my parents and sister and brother-in-law came early to help. And my DH's family thought that the party started an hour earlier than it did, so there were already 10 people in the house at 10am. No way she was eating lunch then. She did really well when it came time for the party, though. She didn't eat any lunch then, either, but she didn't panic when she had to blow out her candle in front of everyone. I was worried she would hide behind me or be too shy or cranky to want to participate. But she did great! She only ate about half of her piece of cake before she wanted to get in the pool, so I told her she could put her swimsuit on and go play before I remembered we still needed to open presents. Big mistake. I knew she was on the verge of a meltdown - only sugar to eat, just having been allowed in the pool, and getting close to nap time. But I had to try. I asked her to come out of the pool and open presents. To this request, I received a screeched, "No!"

I had actually read up on the subject of opening presents at parties and if it was ok not to. (S was bored after a couple of gifts at Christmas, and I didn't want that to happen in front of her friends and family). Most people said you really needed to, so I'd planned on it. But it didn't work out, so I decided not to worry about it, and apologized to everyone. It was funny who wasn't bothered by it at all and who was a bit miffed.

S had fun playing on her new swing set (I'll have to do an entire post about the swing set at some point), and in the baby pool with all of her friends. She was missing one of her friends from daycare who wasn't there yet, though, and it turned out his mom thought the party wasn't until Sunday. She called about halfway through the party, and I told her to come on by. Another friend thought the party started at 1pm instead of ended then, so they didn't arrive until a quarter after, and almost everyone was gone. They both felt terrible but I completely understood! It would have been fine, too, because the kids kept playing but poor S was just done. She was so exhausted. Since only a few people were there, I asked her if she wanted to open their gifts and at first she did. She wanted to sit on my lap - in her wet swimsuit. Sigh. Oh, well. I knew she needed that. Plus I'd already had to change my shirt once when Baby R had spit up on it right after the party started, so I wasn't even wearing my "party outfit". So she climbed in my lap and we started opening presents. Suddenly she said she wanted to go inside. I told her of course, and told everyone they were free to keep playing and chatting, and thanked them for coming. It ended up that she had peed in my lap and she was embarrassed and wanted to go in. I told her it was fine, changed her outfit and mine - again, and took her upstairs for her nap which she needed - and actually wanted but couldn't admit it.

The next day I asked her if she had fun at her party, and she said yes. She ended up opening more presents that day and that evening. I think we finished the last few Monday night. A couple of days later we had this conversation that started out of the blue:

"Mama! My cake didn't have anything on it."

"Yes, it did, honey - remember all your little Sesame Street friends were on there and even a picture of you."

"Yeah, but they weren't ON there."

"Oh, you mean they weren't made out of frosting?"


"I'm sorry, honey, Mommy just isn't good at drawing things in the frosting."

Yet. After talking to my mother-in-law and some other friends about it, I think I'm going to take a cake decorating class so I can learn how to do it better. Still not sure I could tackle the cast of Sesame Street, but I may be able to do one character. So ultimately, I'm chalking this party up to a success, with a little room to grow.

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