Hoffman lets her sons choose the theme for their parties. “All the boys have had sports birthdays. Grady just turned six, and he likes golf. We had a golf ball cake and learned trivia about different players and then gave Grady a green jacket,” just like the winner of the Master’s tournament receives every year. They also had a mini-golf game set up for the guests. When her son Baylor turned three, Hoffman based the party on his favorite t-shirt—one that depicted the Navy’s Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron. But while some overreaching parents might have tried to book the actual F/A-18 fighters, Hoffman looked closer to home. “We had friends who were in the Navy come dressed up in their naval outfits. They taught the kids how to salute. We gave all the kids little Naval hats, which we got for, like, $2.” The kids also learned the Pledge of Allegiance and had a piñata.
If you want to bring in the pros, though, there are plenty of options. Eudene Rossi, owner of Tag Party, brings the high-tech right to you with her laser tag parties. “We bring all the taggers, obstacles to hide behind, juice and water, two crew members—and we run the party for you for the entire two hours,” she says. “We’ll take pictures and post an album on the website and also, if the client wants to, we’ll do them a photo CD for a small fee.”
“The most important thing for me was to make it easy for the mothers,” Rossi says. “I have two of my own, so I know how crazy it can be with 12-16 boys running around and you’re wondering what to do with them.”
Rossi believes in the benefits to having a party at home. “It makes it more comfortable to be in your house, in your surroundings. It’s a lot different than going somewhere and paying [laser tag] indoors. There are no strangers running around playing with your kids.” Rossi and her crew divide the guests into two teams, and are adept at modifying the game so that every kid gets a chance to be on the winning team. They can also change up the rules so that every age from about seven to adult can have a good time. “In the summer, we finish with water tag, which is a really good way to cool down.”
And you don’t need a huge space. “As long as you have some room, some sort of grassy area front and back, we can do it around the house,” she says. Otherwise, she suggests going to a local park. And, while the equipment won’t work in pouring rain, should inclement weather arise, they bring clear ponchos for the kids so the equipment still work. “[The kids] don’t care if it’s wet. We’ve done it with snow on the ground. We’ve done it when it’s 40 degrees out. We’ve brought handwarmers.”
If tearing around the house James Bond-style isn’t for your kid, plenty of more general services exist. Thumbs Up Party Planning brings the party to you—whether it’s a simple request or their all-inclusive “Extravaganza” package. “We try to keep a balance of the traditional birthday party and tie it in with themes you don’t see everywhere,” says owner Laura Betz. Their biggest package includes things like a welcome table, themed costumes (like pirates, or terrycloth robes for a makeover party), a craft, games and an “interactive time, where guests might learn some new dance moves or put on a fashion show or concert. “We wrap up with a fully decorated table and, on the way out, kids get goodie bags.” They even coordinate to have themed invitation and thank-you notes, and provide you with two party hostesses. Thumbs Up also offers add-ons like face painting or visits from characters like Sleeping Beauty.
“It’s about being with family and friends,” says Betz. Having a party at home “is close to my heart. I think it’s nice for the younger kids, and the adults can be in the kitchen talking to one another.”
If you’re going to bring in a professional planner, Betz has some advice. “[The party] is a very personal experience. It’s your child’s birthday. It’s always good to have an idea of what you do or don’t want to do,” she says. “For instance, we don’t include food, like lunch or supper,” though they do supply the birthday cake. Betz avoids mistakes by always scheduling a pre-party meeting with parents so that everyone’s expectations are clear.
Betz also suggests to always have a Plan B. “I’m more than happy to have an outside party,” she says. “But have a backup plan, just in case it rains.”
With money growing tighter, having a party at home is a good way to cut costs without eliminating fun. “Everybody’s thinking about what they’ll spend their money on,” says Rossi. But a birthday is “once a year; [parents] want to do something special, something different.”
“I think the kids that come to [an at-home] party learn a little bit more about the person they’re there for,” says Hoffman, who has also done a crab-themed party and a football one. Having a party might take a little more effort, but the personal touch is well worth it—especially if you bring in the pros to help you out.
Looking for a great guide to local birthday resources? Go to page 20 or to ChesapeakeFamily.com