The Big (Top) Party!

After flinging together a 2nd birthday party for JJ three years ago, with nothing but a hired hall, bouncy castle and some Disney cars themed plates, cups and decorations, I decided this year to attempt to pull off something a little bit more special for EJ’s 2nd. I wanted a theme – something that could be tweaked and customised – and settled on the circus theme because I think it is fun and colourful.

In hindsight, I think I got a little bit too caught up in this, and the idea of making it perfect – picture perfect too. In the event there was so much going on, and so many elements to bring together that I pretty much forgot, or just didn’t have time to get my camera out, and I really didn’t have time to line up every little element to make it into the perfect photo-shoot.

Silly little things were forgotten, like string for the balloons – so my dad ended up using an entire cannister of helium blowing up about 20 little balloons all of which then sat on the ceiling for the following three hours!

I had booked the hall for an hour in advance of the party thinking that would be enough time to set everything up with just my mum and dad to help (the hubster stayed home with EJ while he napped). By the time the party guests began arriving we were still running around like headless chickens (well I was!) with hardly any food out, still not quite sure how we were going to present it all and the cake and banana muffins still to be iced! (I’d made the icing in advance but didn’t feel confident about transporting ready iced cakes (melty buttercream frosting) for fear of a disastrous mess! In the event my mum did the icing for me and it wasn’t quite what I’d envisioned (I’d also forgotten the Smarties!) but still looked and tasted good.

Birthday cake with bunting

I think my worst fear at that point was that my little ‘fun’ elements – the home-made lion ball toss game:

Lion ball toss

and EJ’s new circus tent:

circus tent

were completely swallowed up in the big hall and without music, planned games, pass the parcel or any real focus like a bouncy castle or entertainer, it felt a little empty and lacking to begin with. Even my ten year old step daughter came and asked ‘is this it?’ – which wasn’t great! Fortunately the cavalry came in late – a few more guests and my sister, brother in law and lovely nieces. The kids began to warm up and run around, and I remembered that I’d bought a party parachute!

The nieces came into their own, rallying the kids around (bear in mind that despite this being EJ’s 2nd Birthday, the majority of the children were older – only two other two year olds and everyone else either three, four or five). They knew lots of parachute games – I wouldn’t have had a clue! – and the kids loved it (particularly the one where you get ‘wound up’ in the middle before everyone pulls back to ‘pop’ you out!

parachute games!

There was a little funny game of pin the nose on the clown too, the first little girl getting it almost exactly right before admitting that she could see despite the blindfold!

Then it was tea time and I seemed to have got it right with variety and amounts of food (I think!). I took the controversial step of not bothering with sandwiches  – does anyone ever eat sandwiches at a party? – and opted instead for cold pizza (I’d cooked four in advance), a variety of crisps, sausage rolls, cheese and onion rolls, cocktail sausages, cherry tomatoes, grapes, strawberries and some home made completely ‘free from’ banana oat muffins (ironically no one at the party suffered from any allergies or intolerances but they still got, at least partially, eaten!).

By the end of the day I felt relieved and happy that I was sending people away with a smile on their faces (and a stuffed party bag with the clown pop of their nightmares!*)

I’ve learned some hard lessons though. Firstly, this isn’t about me, this is about the kids. Secondly, I’m no photographer and I can’t see how you could possibly act as official photographer and host a party too – maybe it would be different if your party was at home and you had all the time in the world to set things up, then take the pictures before your children even got a look in! And my party planning leaves a lot to be desired.

With JJ’s birthday a mere five weeks away, I now have the task of improving upon what I’ve learned – there will still be some home made bits, but everything will centre around the much-requested ‘bouncy castle with a slide’! There will still be cake pops (albeit far less ambitiously decorated), and there may just be individual lunch boxes for all instead of the full spread. The cake pop decoration and laying out of food were by far the most time consuming and stressful elements.

How about you? Do you have any lessons learnt from planning your kid’s party or any tips to share (heaven knows I could use some!)…

*see this post for a full explanation!


18 thoughts on “The Big (Top) Party!

  1. Yay you had the party, looks like he had fun.

    I’d recommend getting someone else to take pics, we were lucky in that my friend is rather nifty with his camera. We also got a children’s entertainer just for the 1hr … She did party games, face painting, balloon modelling and dancing. We too hired a village hall, I decorated it with balloons and confetti. Also had a floor piano which they all played with, like the one in Big the movie. I’ve written a post earlier today actually on George’s party last month. Enjoy the planning x

  2. Sam, looks like it was a fab party! Sometimes you plan it all in your head and it somehow doesn’t turn up exactly like it would in your imagination. Your mum’s icing and the forgotten string for the balloons did make me laugh (sorry!) and your step-daughter’s comment made me sad on your behalf. Other that that, you all seem to have had such a fab time, with this amazingly colourful theme. Great move with the parachute and I bet they loved your lion toss game! Oh the individual lunchbox idea is brilliant. One of my friends did that a few years ago: genius!

    • The lion toss game was mostly completely overlooked Mel! Hmm, yeah I guess my mum’s icing wasn’t exactly Pinterestable!!! The lunchbox idea is definitely a go – soooo much easier and less fuss! X (Ps I’m going to add a picture of the parachute fun that my dad emailed me)…X

  3. Looks like you had a good time, despite the stress. We hired a local hall for O’s second birthday, there wasn’t a theme of any sort but we did hire a bouncy castle which kept the kids entertained for most of the time!
    I made way too much food as the kids weren’t interested in eating, they all wanted to get back to the bouncy castle. I’ve no idea what to do for his 3rd birthday, time to get my thinking cap on! X

  4. Thank goodness for the parachute eh?! Seriously hon it looks and sounds like everyone had a fab time. Kids parties are always stressful, so don’t beat yours up too much over the small details. I’m sure no-one minded that the balloons didn’t have string. I think a bouncy castle for JJ sounds great.

    One thing I’ve learned over the last five years of birthdays and big parties is that kids are exceptionally easy to please. All they need is friends, cake, a bit of food and to be completely indulged and made to feel special. Trying to make the perfect party usually leads to the opposite xxx #sharewithme

  5. Looks like a great party and that EJ had a great time, and that’s the most important thing! I love the lion ball toss- I am SO nicking this idea for future themed parties!

    I hosted a construction-themed party for Freddie’s 3rd birthday in Feb, also in a hall. Like you, I didn’t have time to take many pictures, something I really regret now as I had made/decorated so many photo-friendly things! I would second getting someone else to take photos in future. A big ‘yes’ to individual lunch boxes- we did this and it worked a treat. Also, I found that you can never have too many decorations for a hall, as they are always bigger than you think. Double any amount of decorations that you had planned! We had 1.5 hours to set up and only just managed it, and that was with my Mum and MIL helping- I’m going to allow 2 hours next time for sure. For small children, music, balloons to kick around and a bouncy castle always go down well! #sharewithme

    • Thanks for such a great comment Becky! Really useful tips – I will remember that about a hall being bigger than you think. I’ve asked for an hour and a half to set up the next party and hopefully that will be enough if I scale back on some of the details that kids don’t even notice anyway. I loved your construction cake. 🙂 X

  6. Sounds like a fab party to me hon and looks like they all had loads of fun! Totally get where you’re coming from in terms of hosting and photographing it all perfectly, I really don’t get how its possible! Its nice to make an effort for some special things but its easy to pile too much stress on yourself trying to make it perfect, when really the kids ate happier with a lot less! My mum used to always make loads of effort with our cakes as kids, and that’s all I really remember looking back, amazing cakes and a fun party, and I’m not sure I wanted anything more than that really! Xx #sharewithme

    • Oh maybe I should make a bit more effort with the cakes then! 🙂 I want to enjoy it – the planning and organising – myself, but at the end of the day it’s definitely all about them. X

  7. What a lovely party. Happy Birthday EJ. And I can so relate I tried to be the photographer the hostess and decorating for MM 1st birthday and christening and it was a nightmare. So hard to do it all. You look like you did a fantastic job and I love the photos here. Just beautiful. Thanks for linking up to Share With Me Good luck for your other party in five weeks. Lol I have Buba’s in a week and I haven’t even started planning eeeek!!! #sharewithme

    • Ah thanks Jenny! It is just a bit too much to cope with isn’t it?! Maybe a more relaxed attitude and throwing it together at the last minute is the way forward?… Good luck with Buba’s X

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