I’m getting a late start on my blog today as I needed a little bit of my Friday “me” day to start thinking about Gus’ birthday party, which is June 21 (he’s a summer solstice baby and Gunnar is autumn equinox—we joke that Kirsten would be worshiped if we were Druids).
Now I could certainly look to take Gus and his friends to the ballgame, head out to the local laser tag arena, or make the trek to Chuck-E-Cheese. Such a thing, however, would be considered a shanda—a disgrace—to my family.
You see, Dr. Mom set the bar VERY high for birthday parties. I’m a December birthday, which made baseball parties out-of-the question in the traditional sense. But my mother wouldn’t let that stop her. For my 7th birthday, she simply cleared out our unfinished basement, used chalk to make the baselines, and has us design our own uniforms with markers on t-shirts, and it was “Play Ball!” for my birthday.
Trip to the putt-putt course? No way! Instead she went to the local science museum in Atlanta, the Fernbank Science Center, and created a scavenger hunt that all my friends did, racing around to find the answers to all the questions in order to win prizes in the end. I still remember my friend Stephen Greenstein coming up to me at school the next day and saying, almost bemused, “You know what, that party was actually really, really fun!”
I’ve picked up Dr. Mom’s mantle, and firmly believe that a great home-made birthday party is more than just a celebration—if done right, it becomes one of those moments in time your family captures forever. As you can see, I still look back on Dr. Mom’s birthday parties as seminal events. I wanted to at least try do the same for my boys.
The dilemma for the peacenik parent comes when the party that your child most desires is something that, at its core, means children beating the living daylights out of each other. It’s hard to think of a Star Wars party that doesn’t involve light saber dismemberment of some sort. Or a Harry Potter party free of cruciatus curses. Or an Indiana Jones party that doesn’t involve, “You throw me the idol, I throw you the whip.”
To my mind, there are two ways with dealing with that issue if you would prefer to have a party that goes a bit beyond “here’s a foam stick, go hit somebody” (not to say that’s not really, really fun sometimes). One is diversion—which is easier, but often effective. “You want a Star Wars party? Well, that’s great, but wouldn’t a water-slide party be even more fun?!?” With the infinite variety of party activities out there, there is often one or two that really tickle your kid’s fancy but doesn’t make you feel like you’re running a boot camp.
It’s the second technique that goes more toward Dudley Weeks’ Conflict Partnership model. It takes a little more thinking, but in many ways I think it’s really more satisfying for both you and your child. The wonderful thing about some of the best pop-culture stories that engage and entertain our kids is the fact that even the most violent of them are not entirely violent. Be it Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Transformers or pretty much any of the testosterone-laden boy entertainment, there are virtually always pieces to the story that are really cool, but are not the “bloody parts.” By focusing the party on those elements, you can bring an element of cooperative teamwork to even the most “us vs. them” dynamic.
I’ve now done Star Wars, Pirate, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, and Star Trek parties for Gus from ages 4-8. My experience may be helpful to those parents who want to give their kids what they want, but perhaps not exactly how they were expecting to get it. So I’ll spend the next series of posts talking about these parties (and a couple of Gunnar’s, too) to help give you a few ideas about how to draw from your kids wishes, pop-culture, and some of the central tenets of conflict resolution to help create more than birthday parties, but family milestones. Of course, I’d love to hear from any of you some of your best birthday party ideas. I have to say I’m struggling a bit for Gus’ party this year, which he wants Marvel Super Heroes.