From the second that I picked up the girls from their summer with their Mom in Texas, the only thing that Elaina has wanted to talk about has been her birthday party (Gabriella had her birthday party at her Mom’s house in July). Little did she know, I had already been planning it all summer, and thankfully, she did not change the theme. So it was just time for me to bear down on the finishing touches to ensure that I stuck the landing, because this was the first of their birthday parties where I was going in as the primary planner.
Because of her love of the books (and later the television series), Elaina choose Fancy Nancy as her theme (if you have not read any of the Fancy Nancy series, I would highly recommend them. They are excellent books to improve your little one’s vocabulary, with the slight side-effect of them becoming a little dramatic at times). With the theme in place, Elaina and I scoured the internet for the perfect invitations, gift bag accessories, and decorations.
We found the above invitations and Elaina was absolutely enamored by them (Her: “Dad, those invitations are absolutely sublime;” Me: “I know, right?… wait, what did you just say?”). Elaina wanted to have her party at home, which I was completely on board with given that managing a dozen kids in a public place just sounds like a nightmare to me. Once we sent out the invitations, there was no backing down now; this party was happening.
While we were at Party City shopping for decorations, Elaina started screaming, “Dad, an Awful Tower Piñata!” Not initial understanding exactly what she meant, I turned around to see an Eiffel Tower piñata on the top shelf. Then it hit me; Nancy’s younger sister, Jojo, mispronounces it, calling it the “Awful Tower.” Since we were already on the lookout for a piñata, that one worked perfectly. Elaina and Gabriella helped me fill it with candy when we got home, and much to their dismay, I did not let them eat most of it.
For the gift bags, we had separate bags for boys and girls.
Boys got two bow ties while girls got two bracelets and a necklace.
Every bag also contained a Fancy Nancy activity book, Fancy Nancy stickers, and a pair of oversized glasses. Elaina was really happy with how the gift bags turned out and all the kids seemed to enjoy them (while I apologized to parents for sending the kids home with stickers).
We finished setting up the majority of the decorations in the house the day before, leaving only the food, drinks, and balloons for the day of the party. We also brought out all of the girls’ dresses and placed them on a shelf by the door. Elaina wanted a dress-up corner, which turned out to be a huge hit (especially with the younger guests).
After her morning soccer game (where she scored her first goal!), Gabriella and I hurried off to grab the cake and balloons that we had pre-ordered. Elaina opted to stay home with her great-grandmother, Carmen, who I flew in for the week so that she could attend Elaina’s party.
At their previous parties, their Mom and I had found that nachos were easy to make and that people enjoyed something different (we had three other parties this month and every one of them served pizza). Very late the night before, I prepared the carnitas (shredded pork) recipe, letting it cook on low for about 12 hours in the slow cookers. By about noon, the carnitas was cooked to perfection, falling apart at the slightest touch, with the whole house smelling like the orange-marinade (it was not overpowering and had dissipated by the time the party rolled around).
After chopping it and then crisping it in a skillet, I placed the carnitas in the warming buffet server. I followed this up with the nacho cheese and the homemade refried beans (Thank you, Carmen!).
I then chopped up the rest of the toppings for the nachos, including onions, tomatoes, black olives, jalapenos, green onions, and salsa, and then organized them on the table (I may not be great at it, but I get that presentation makes a difference). I also sliced up strawberries and blueberries to add some fruit to the menu.
After mixing up the lemonade for the drink station and with the spread in place, Elaina was ready to receive her guests.
When the guests arrived, Elaina politely greeted them at the door and invited them inside (just like Nancy would do in the books, so I guess it had some positive influence). She then brought them over to collect their gift bag, as well as directed them to the food and where to place the presents. There was no doubt about it, Elaina was already having a great time being the hostess.
Having only a vague schedule of piñata, cake, and presents worked out pretty well, especially given that guests were eating throughout the event (my neighbor told me that he had at least three full plates of nachos over the course of the two-hour party). Preparing for the party, I had read that an overabundance of activities can be pretty stressful because it requires additional planning and is frustrating if the children do not show any interest.
We set up our bouncy house in the backyard, which I had purchased four years ago for Elaina’s second birthday party (it was a pretty good purchase too, as it has been used at every one of their parties and made for a great indoor activity on rainy days in Washington). So between the bouncy house, trampoline, dress-up corner, and gift bag accessories, the guests had plenty to do without many scheduled activities.
Now having said that, the piñata was a big hit with all the kids. Not only was it a new activity for most, and one where you got candy at that, but it was also a chance for some kids to “accidentally” hit their Dad with a stick (which definitely happened a few times).
Everyone did pretty well with the stick, but after everyone got two turns, we had to resort to pulling the strings. This was probably better, because my girls were the only ones that knew to rush the piñata after it broke, so this gave the other kids a chance to gather around it in advance. The bottom finally popped open and the scrum ensued.
After Elaina and her guests finished with the piñata, we all went back to eating and playing for about 20 minutes (most of the adults needed to refill their nacho plates by now).
After everyone had some time to eat, we moved on to the next schedule activity.
The cake and singing went well, with no one putting their fingers in the cake or outright licking it.
Everyone seemed to enjoy the cake, with very few eating just the frosting; unfortunately, Gabriella was one of the latter.
After we finished eating cake, Elaina started opening her presents. The only thing that she had asked me for this year was a real camera, so my gift to her was the first one she opened. And of course, she got her camera. She also got some books, Barbies, and a doll to round out her presents. After the presents, everyone was “free to go,” but thankfully, most stayed around for some more nachos (with some even taking to-go plates). While I am by no means a master party planner, everyone seemed like they had a really good time. Surprisingly, in review, there really was not anything that I would have changed about the day. The timeline was adhered to, but was flexible enough to be adjusted as needed. No issues with cooking the food, getting the cake, or decorating the house. Everything worked out pretty well. My only suggestion for (divorced or separated) single parents would be to take plenty of pictures and videos for the other parent. Honestly, the last thing I wanted was for Elaina’s mother to call or text during the party, so I had Elaina FaceTime with her in advance and I told her that I would send her pictures and videos after the event. She concurred and everything worked out fine. Just better to solve any issues ahead of time to ensure that the sole focus of the party is on your little one and their happiness.
Elaina had a great birthday party. She enjoyed the activities, the guests, the cake, the presents, and had enough leftover nachos to last a couple days. And since the day was all about her, I would call it resounding success (as Fancy Nancy would say, “Resounding is a fancy way of saying huge”).
Thanks again for checking in on us.