For my daughter’s first birthday, we did what many parents do and threw her (us) a massive party. I had it catered. I hired live music for the 1-year-olds and the adults. I overpaid for an oversized cake that fed 200 though we only had 90-something guests. I made personalized note cards for everyone to share their wishes for my daughter and decorated them along with a special keepsake box for her to store them in. I even hand painted the box. I have dabs of pink paint on one of my ivory dining chairs to remind me of my efforts.
In other words, I really tried.
For my daughter’s second birthday, I promised my husband I’d tone it down a bit. But neither of us wanted to compromise the festivities, or the meaning of celebrating another trip around the sun, or pare down the invite list, for that matter. In fact, we were erring on the side of more inclusive as we were growing our community.
So, I borrowed inspiration from Priya Parker’s The Art of Gathering and we decided there were a few things that really made a party: making it meaningful, making it festive, and making it unique.
To make it festive, I found the best balloon decor in the South Bay of Los Angeles: South Bay Pop. South Bay Pop would add the literal pop to the day and make our spot at the park look like a real party. The company’s Instagram feed showed me they were incredibly talented, and the best part was that they use all biodegradable balloons, so I felt great about our party balloon footprint. With little design expertise myself, I was grateful that Tanya and Alexis, the owners and geniuses behind South Bay Pop, could brainstorm, send ideas, and do the heavy lifting on that front.
Then, we were tasked with making it unique; we determined we should use the food as an opportunity to do that. We wanted to spend our money on something more than just the usual run-of-the-mill catering and I found the perfect party trick: Rolling Zone Creamery. They set up a cart and make the ice cream right then and there on a cold slab for guests. We got to choose from a whole host of fun flavors and they had toppings to mix in, too. They rolled the ice cream into fun spirals that was a hit with the kids and the adults. And the ice cream was not only organic, it was absolutely delicious.
I hired our favorite music teacher, Musical Bob, to liven things up for the kids. He brought his parachute, instruments and props and more than enough enthusiasm to keep the spirits high as he sang fan favorites, and led us in happy birthday — twice, at my daughter’s request.
And then the meaning-making. I decided to get creative here and combine the party favors with a give-back element to make the guests feel engaged and connected to something bigger than the party. I picked out dozens of super soft and cute stuffed animals – from zebras to turtles to puppies. I wrapped each with a ribbon and a small sack that contained a gold toy coin. Then I picked three animal-focused causes, a dog rescue and adoption agency in California, a pig sanctuary in Arizona and an elephant sanctuary in Tennessee and set up 3 buckets, each with a cartoon picture of the corresponding animal – dog, pig and elephant – and a description of the organization. I blew up a big sign that instructed our toddler-guests to select a stuffed animal of their choice, find their coin, and then drop it in the bucket of the organization they would like to give to. After the party, my daughter, husband and I would then donate to the organizations.
The favor was a huge hit. The kids loved getting to pick out their very own stuffed animal and the activity gave parents a chance to talk to their kids about giving back to others that need help, and share more about what it means to be loving to our fellow creatures.
All in all, the party was a success. Most importantly, my daughter had a great time (getting 100 guests to sing happy birthday twice – and blow out the candles again — was definitely a highlight), and we created an atmosphere that felt both fun and meaningful.