If you know me at all, you know I’ve spent countless hours over the past few years planning kids birthday parties. My closet is overflowing with themed decorations, prizes, and colorful paper products that I scoop up on clearance from various stores. I’ve lost hours of sleep crafting party favors, scouring Pinterest for age-appropriate games, and of course, making crazy elaborate cakes. Admittedly, it’s a hobby gone a little bit wild, but there are worse ways I could be spending my spare time (i.e. starting a drug habit or building pretend farms on Facebook).
I have been throwing all of my party-animal-energy into celebrations for homeless kids, but when my own girls’ birthdays rolled around, my party-planning stepped up to the next level. I started planning out the theme months in advance so I could start gathering ideas and cheap supplies. I’m just a little bit nutty about themes- honestly, a kid’s party without a theme is like a sundae without sprinkles…fun, but a waste of potential. Since Penny was born we’ve done trains, ladybugs, mermaids, fairies, and now My Little Pony.
For those of you who are not immersed in the trends of 3-7 year-old little girls, it’s time to bring you up to speed. Many of my 80’s-born friends remember My Little Pony like this:
Ok, I’ll admit I don’t really remember any of my ponies rocking such a rad workout outfit. But most girls who grew up in the 80’s will probably remember the magical power and allure of these toys. I actually loved my ponies so much, I never got rid of them and passed them down to Penny as a Christmas present (uh, yeah…call me cheap, but I promise 3-year-olds don’t notice the difference between new and used). But as with many iconic toys/cartoons from the 80’s, My Little Pony has had several reboots over the years so the current rendition looks like this:
The updated My Little Pony has just a thread of familiarity of the original toys: They are ponies and they have little symbols on their hind-quarters and that’s about it. If you’re like me, you get a little pouty when you feel like your magical childhood treasures/memories are violated and changed into complete imposters. Some of the reboots of my childhood favorites have been just awful. For instance, I’ve considered if a slow, painful death would be better than enduring another episode of the new Strawberry Shortcake series.
That said, I don’t really want to be a totally lame “old person” and not jump on board with at least a few of the things my kids like. I consider myself lucky to have by-passed any Barney stages, The Wiggles, and for the most part, Dora the Explorer (why is she constantly yelling?). So when My Little Pony became a thing in our house, I sighed, let go of my childhood ideals and embraced the change.
I allowed the girls to pick the theme for their party as long as they could come up with an idea they both liked, so ponies it was. I don’t know if I’m blessed or cursed, but my girls were born exactly 3 years and 5 days apart. I never thought they would have such close birthdays, but Ramona was a stinker and was born almost 2 weeks late. For now, it’s working in my favor because it means I can combine their parties into one big celebration. I fully expect they won’t like this when they are moody pre-teens, but at 3 and 6 years, they don’t really seem to mind. Anyway, my kids will never be moody pre-teens….la-la-la *fingers-in-ears-I-can’t-hear-you-telling-me-it-goes-way-too-fast.*
When I took on birthday parties as a hobby, I was only working about 4 hours per week. So when I moved back to Portland and started working full-time, I knew that I was going to have to rally some help to pull off a party and a fancy cake during a normal work week. Thankfully, my dear friend Jessica was in town on leave from the Peace Corps and I roped her into my crazy cake escapades. We’ve made several cakes before together (see our epic Stars Wars cake in my gallery), so I couldn’t believe my luck that she was going to be in town to help out. Here she is working on the rainbow for the girls’ cake:
Nothing says friendship like slaving over gumpaste modeling on a hot summer night. I’ve got some awesome friends who put up with my silliness.
As far as flavors went, Penny wanted vanilla cake with strawberry frosting and Ramona wanted chocolate. I made my classic vanilla cake and threw in some sprinkles to make my own funfetti batter (cuz, why not?). I used a FABULOUS recipe for Strawberry Swiss Meringue Buttercream which you can find here (if you like baking and fancy desserts, you must check out Sugarhero!). Silky smooth, not too sweet, and great strawberry flavor. The top tier was “Ramona’s cake” which was chocolate with dark chocolate ganache. Both tiers were crammed full with ripe fresh strawberries. Nothing could capture summer and little girls much better, in my opinion.
After a few late nights, Jessica and I were able to come up with this, in all it’s magical pony glory:
Pinky Pie (Ramona’s favorite pony)
Twilight Sparkle (Penny’s favorite pony)
Though the cake is the most time-consuming part of the pre-party craziness, it’s just a small part of what I had planned. Considering our budget, we couldn’t afford a special destination for the party, so we decided to throw the party in the good-ol’ backyard. And really, I don’t ever want my kids to come to expect an expensive party at fancy locations. But I do like putting thought into our activities and making it special, no matter how small our budget might be. I though it would be fun to make little themed stations based around some of the main pony characters.
For the food, we served Apple Jack’s Ginger Apple Cider, Apple Jack snacks (cinnamon apple chex mix), and a fruity rainbow:
The kids decorated party hats with some simple stickers and colored paper bracelets at Pinky Pie’s Party Craft station. Pinky Pie may be my spirit pony: she loves to bake cupcakes and throw parties.
We did Fluttershy’s Animal Hunt, which was a very quick (half the kids saw where I hid them since I forgot to do this before guests arrived) scavenger hunt for some paper frog cut-outs:
Then we did Rainbow Dash’s relay, which was basically Red Light/Green Light with a galloping pony twist:
And I just had to have the classic pin-the-tail game too. I swear, there is a reason this game has been a party standard for years- kids just adore it. I like to draw, especially if I have an image to look at, so I sketched Pinky Pie on some foam board and the kids pinned the “cutie mark” on her bottom. I found cut-out cutie marks online and printed them out on cardstock. Most of the kids wanted to do this game over and over. It makes me feel like a party genius.
So now about gifts: It’s not that I’m totally against presents, but I don’t like gifts as a major focus at my own girl’s parties. Having been invited to at least 15 birthday parties last year just from Penny’s school friends, I know what a financial burden this becomes on parents. Plus, my kids simply just don’t need more toys (and I know they are going to get birthday gifts from family members). So I stole an idea from a mom-friend in Denver- instead of having people feel obligated to give a gift, we do an exchange for all the kids at the party.
This is how it works: we ask each child guest to bring a wrapped new or like-new book. Then we put all the gifts in a circle, play some music (I sang the birthday song) and have the children stop in front of a different package. Then they all open their new books together. Everyone leaves with something new, no one broke the bank to attend the party, and I don’t end up with a closet of toys we have no room for. Win-win-win! (You could also do this with other toys- we did stuffed animals last year).
The only problem with double birthday parties? I required all the guests to sing happy birthday twice. I just don’t think they should have to share their candle-blowing moment.
And then the best part: cake-eating time!
As I collapsed into my bed that night, wondering if it was worth the effort, money, and messy clean-up, I remembered all the other parties I had thrown for other kids over the past year. Whether it’s my own kids, or other children who have difficult living situations, having a celebration is just a way I try to show them they are loved and valued- everyone one of them was worth the time and effort. But I don’t actually think kids need an elaborate party to feel loved- If you make a boxed cake with canned frosting and make your child feel extra special in some other way, you are doing basically the same thing. They are going to know you treasure them, and that is the whole point.
I wonder if Rainbow Brite will ever come back into style…