The stress that forms in your brain when it comes time to plan a child’s birthday party is monumental. Who gets invited, where do I hold it, do I have a theme, how much food do I need. It’s exhausting. The first big party I had for the kid, I was awake till 4am cleaning the house the night before, I stepped on a bit of Lego around 2am and did some fairly substantial damage to my foot, I forgot the cake, and I don’t think I got time to take one photo.
Even going to parties is stressful, mostly because I’m disorganised. I am always doing the last-minute dash to the shops for presents, cards and wrapping paper and sometimes (close to pay-day) the $40 is a big deal.
On top of these things, the reason I started writing On Tour with the Kid was so that she knew that life wasn’t about money and things but about experiences and people. I was browsing the web in search of something that didn’t make me stressed, was about the kid spending time with her friends and a statement about anti-consumerism. A big call, I know.
I had all but given up and resigned myself to the usual party planning when I came across a story about a woman in the UK who had a Fiver party, and it seemed like the answer I was looking for. The basic idea is when the invites go out, you say that there is no need for presents but if you wanted to do something nice for the birthday kid, $5 in a card would be plenty.
I discussed it with the aforementioned birthday girl, and her first response was a tearful, “why do you have to be so weird?” The discussion continued over the next week about how she is very lucky and has everything that she needs. How it would be nice to invite everyone in the class, and she became excited about the idea.
Given the numbers, having it at home was out of the question. But sticking with the theme, I didn’t want to go to some multi-national corporation and pay per head either. There is nothing wrong with that, and I totally understand the ease of the process, but it didn’t feel like a good fit for this party.
What did seem like the perfect fit was Edgeworth Miniature Trains. They have run for years on the last Sunday of every month (except for December) from 12.30pm to 4pm. It’s run by volunteers who are there for no other reason than to bring joy to kids they don’t even know. If you really think about that, it will make your heart smile. They run on donations so I decided if I was spending money on a venue, that should be it.
We decided to add our own touch when we sent out the invitations, we included a blank card and didn’t seal the envelope so that the invitee could make a card and not buy one. All the kids were suitably excited.
We got incredibly lucky on the day of the party. The sun was out, and the kids were happy. My mum and grandmother had gone above and beyond and made proper party food, cheese puffs, chocolate crackles and Jam cakes (which I had never heard of, but they’re a big hit). For my contribution, I brought things in packets filled with salt and sugar!
Kids don’t need things to be happy. They need safety and a circle of friends and family who love them. They need to know that their way of being in the world has an effect. Kids are kept in the dark about lots of things that they shouldn’t be. Next time you make an ethical consumer choice, explain why. Don’t avoid uncomfortable conversations, because they can be the most informative. We are helping to shape the next generation with everything we do. It’s a daunting but important responsibility.