There were times when I went a little nuts on projects when the kids were young and I couldn’t really blame the mania on a pill, like when I started their string quartet. I guess I was just a bit too closeted up and when I got an idea, it spewed out like water from a hydrant. One such occasion was for their third birthday. At the time, they were into Sesame Street, like teenage girl groupies had been into the Beatles in the ’60s. My kids couldn’t get enough of Sesame Street. Or at least that was the premise under which I functioned when I planned their third birthday party.
Jason brought home from work several huge sheets of foam core board that were being discarded after being used for some display. I contemplated those boards for a long time, trying to figure out how to best use them. They were a crafters dream come true! Normally those sheets cost more than I could afford, even for a small square of it. To have sheets and sheets that measured in the feet was an incredible opportunity. I could salivate right now thinking about it.
Once we decided on the birthday theme, I started to build a skee ball arcade out of all the foam board. With a glue gun in hand, a crafter can do almost anything. Jason had also found some perfect balls that were a lot like skee ball balls. I built return shoots beneath the top surface so when you threw a ball into a hole it rolled right back down to the return door. When the whole contraption was finished, I eased it into the theme by putting pictures of Big Bird and his friends all over it.
What’s a birthday party without a piñata? With paper mâché I made an Ernie piñata by building two half spheres over a mixing bowl then hooking them together. I wrapped it with wire to hold it together then covered it with more glue and newspaper strips. By the time it was done, it wasn’t coming apart without the help of two teenagers at their party whacking at it with a baseball bat. I mean really whacking at it!
I also made a few other games, like ring throw (or more like drop, they stood so close), bean bag toss, and drop the golf ball and watch it roll through the maze.
The biggest deal for me were the cake toppers. I decided they’d each enjoy their favorite character on their cake. (We were in the habit of giving each of them their own cake, since they had to share most everything else.) After plenty of research and practice runs, I made fondant in quantities for a queen’s feast. I divided it up and colored it the colors I needed and began the sculpting. For days, I worked on them, layering colors together to form the stripes in a block that would become Ernie’s striped shirt, rolling little pieces for Big Bird’s coils on his legs and Burt’s hair, balling it just right for Cookie’s eyes. They were coming together quite nicely. After a week of sculpting, I was almost finished and we were only a couple of days from their party.
Between work sessions, I stored them in the fridge for safe keeping. In the morning, three days before their party, I was coming from my bedroom, having taken a few seconds to grab a shower. I heard little voices having the happiest of times. I wondered what they were up to. I wandered down the hall and walked into the kitchen. And I found four little people huddled around the open fridge door. And across the entire kitchen floor were pieces of colored fondant, not a one bigger than a marble. The whole episode played out under Spencer’s direction (he can tell this now, remembering finding these really cool things in the fridge, inviting his sibs to come on over and see what he’d found, the tasting and dismantling—thinking it was great fun, and then the sudden change in mom when she walked into the room). That was the day I sat on the steps and cried asking all the while why they hated me, why they wanted to hurt me, why would they do that to me?
Once I got over the shock and pain of it, I started over. I am known for my tenacity. (It isn’t always a good thing.) I remade the tops, working especially hard and fast because of the time crunch. But at least I’d worked out the problems the first time and could streamline it. And I made them about half the size, which in the end was better because the cakes I made for each were small and probably would have been crushed under the weight of the first versions. In addition to remaking the toppers and cakes for each, I needed to put together a party for about 50 guests who had helped me take care of the kids that third year. I needed more cakes for everyone, plus there was a lot of food to make. This birthday, though, I was asking (having finally come to my senses) for help with some of the hors d’oeuvres and food offerings, so at least I didn’t have to get all of that ready.
The cake toppers were a hit with the kids, and the games were fun, and I learned that if I really want to be able to notice that the kids were turning a year older, it would probably be better to skip some of the details and elaborate plans and go simpler. And even if I hadn’t realized that, the next birthday would have been simpler anyway because I was just too tired after that fondant fiasco, even a year later, to ever try that again!
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