Birthday Parties: Where I Go Right, Where I Go Wrong, and Everything in Between

| June 15, 2014

I’m not gonna lie: there are areas where I go overboard on birthday parties for my kid.  Not in the Martha Stewart sense, mind you…

Last year’s cake

(although admittedly I am an expert at covering my tracks)…

The solution

The solution

but in the you-only-have-a-(child’s age)-birthday-once sense.  So there’s 2011, for example: What?  You love both Toy Story and Rapunzel?  Well, God forbid I make you choose.  Toy Story at school and Rapunzel at home, it is!

Yes, I hear how ridiculous I sound.  I am not this person year-round.  Once a year, I become completely neurotic.  Once a year, like in 2012, I think it’s perfectly reasonable to, say, rent a goddamned pirate ship for my kid’s birthday.

sequoia pirate partypirate birthday party

But that’s not the worst of it.  That’s not where I lose my mind.  It’s the goodie bag.  The treat bag that most parents dread—both the parents who have to put them together and the parents who pick up their kids praying there’s no whistle inside.  (The good news: there is not.)  It is an addiction that I was feeding year round during clearance sales and Target dollar aisle raids, only to come to plan the party and realize that despite having three years’ worth of treats for an entire elementary school stashed in a closet, I would now need to infuse the goodie bag with actual party theme items–you know, pirate patches, Rapunzel favors, Toy Story juice boxes,whatever the theme may be.  Because I have a problem.

When we moved to Germany with my party favor reserves, I encountered a much less greedy society where the treat bag was small, and truly not necessary.  The American anti-goodie-bag camp (such as this blogger) would love Germany.  Last year, when Sequoia had only one friend attend her birthday party, my party favor reserve satisfied me.  Quite frankly, I just appreciated that Sequoia had made a friend to share her birthday with by that time.  The friend received a small treat bag and a fairy set from my failed cake, and all was right with the world.  But this year, Sequoia wanted a party at home, and this year I would not be able to rein in my unhealthy need to create a goodie bag.

But what could I do here in Germany so that I would not look like even more of a crazy person than my counterparts already find me to be?  What could I do to mitigate the appearance of excess?

I could make the kids work for it.  What German doesn’t appreciate the concept of work ethic?  Work hard, play hard?

First, Sequoia and I created invitations that some might say were Martha Stewart-esque; however, it is doubtful that Martha Stewart would put the wrong date on the invitation and have the parents wondering why it conflicted with the Friday afternoon class picnic.


The ribbons were a harbinger of the contests to come: it would be a party of classic picnic games, no character theme, just a simple summer party.

I ordered reusable superhero goodie bags from Oriental Trading, which is a great place to get a few party favors and unknowingly subscribe to a lifetime of monthly catalogs that will continue to fill your mailbox after you die.  Since I do not pay attention to dimensions, I had no idea that these bags were large enough to fit a baby in them.


love the t-shirt she happens to be wearing, mocking my failure to pay attention

love the t-shirt she happens to be wearing, mocking me

Next, I decided on the games: racing with beach balls between two people, using no hands; relay races with pool diving sticks that the kids would get to keep; cantaloupe rolls and boiled egg races (earn your lunch, kiddos); jump rope contests and they get to keep the jump ropes; pin the tail on the donkey; and their favorite: with a shovel they’d get to keep, run back and forth between bowls of candy and party favors and your bucket, whoever is fastest wins, and everyone gets to keep their loot.  (We had to nix the water games due to chilly weather and the desire to not send kids home with birthday pneumonia.)

not total crapola

So the kids really worked their butts off for their goodie bags and the loot was fairly quality.  The kids didn’t just show up, play, eat cake, and then stand at the gate waiting for me to hand them a bag of crapola.  The 1st – 3rd place winners received ribbons left over from a party I helped with 3 years ago (I have such a problem that I take over friends’ goodie bags as well), and all the kids chose different character ribbons left over from I DON’T KNOW WHAT.  BECAUSE I HAVE A PROBLEM.

One of Sequoia’s best friends was so happy that there was a superball.  It made my day.

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Category: FAMILY, In Germany A Broad blog, Shits & Giggles

About the Author ()

Kari Martindale is a writer and ESL instructor. She’s visited all 50 states and 37 countries, including many of the big cities of Europe and a ton of Christmas Markets. She spends her days straddling the fence between a sense of adventure and a sense of dread. She is married to what is clearly a patient man and has a daughter who, frustratingly, is just like her. Her academic and professional backgrounds are in linguistics and foreign languages. When she's not teaching ESL, she's writing. When she's not writing, she's thinking about her next trip.

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