Here it is: I adore goodie-bags from little kids' birthday parties. I like putting them together and handing them out; I like receiving them (well, I don't receive them, more's the pity, but I do look forward to the moment when we're all in the car on the way home and my kids tell me what they find in the ones they've been given). Yeah, yeah, plastic crap. Yeah, yeah, too much sugar. Yeah, yeah, waste of money. I know what you're thinking; I hear what you're saying. But I like them anyway.
My kids both have birthdays in the spring. This year, we did quite different things for each. For my daughter, we booked a party at... well, I don't think I want to give you the actual name of the venue because I don't want to do it any Google-harm. But I can tell you, small circle that you are, I don't mind you knowing. It was at that large, silver, Buckminster Fuller-inspired geodesic dome in Vancouver that was built for Expo '86. That should narrow it down sufficiently for you. I love the place, actually, which is why we picked it for the birthday party in the first place. Big Mistake.
Here's what I didn't like:
1. We thought we were getting a decorated party room. The web site assured us we didn't need to worry about our own decorations (unless we wanted "extra".... I guess that was a cue to probe further).
What we got: a cold room with one drooping "happy birthday" banner (lowercase intentional, if not strictly accurate) that had obviously been up for awhile. Two plain brown tables shoved together with no attention to alignment. Stacked chairs.
2. We thought we were getting our own Science Leader, a dynamic person who was to show the kids some age-appropriate science experiments.
What we got: a distracted teenager arrived 15 minutes late, wheeling in a Van de Graaf generator. At that point, I was quite pleased to see him and optimistic about the hour's worth of experiments that we should still have time for. However, after few rounds with the generator (four or five kids got to come up, touch the thing, and have their hair stand up), our leader left to "check on lunch." After lunch (see item 3 below), which was delivered by someone else, there was still no sign of him. I went looking and found him eating his own lunch. I asked if there would be any more experiments. He bounced up. "Sure!" he said, as if this was quite a good idea of mine and he'd be happy to oblige (!!!!). Back in he came and... plugged in the Van de Graaf generator again! I couldn't believe it! I was beginning to view this old dented silver thing much the way a circus visitor, who is wondering where all the lions and tigers are, views a depressed motheaten old goat as it is lead around the ring a few times for the crowd's entertainment. And that was IT! That was it for the "science experiments"!
3. We thought we'd have a decent lunch.
What we got: Utter failure. I take a good portion of the responsibility here because I should have known that pre-made sandwiches are a risky choice for a group of 5- to 7-year-olds. Of course there will be ones who don't like the lettuce or tomatoes. There will be ones who don't like tuna. Yeah... there's a reason that hot dogs are the birthday food of choice. But that big science dome and the BC chain restaurant that has a presence there have to take responsibility for the lack of freshness—even I couldn't choke down one of those sandwiches, and there were a lot of leftovers to deal with. Old lettuce. Can't bear it. (The lemon meringue pie went over very well! We brought that.)
4. We thought we'd have a great time knocking about the place, checking out the exhibits, after the official "hosted" part of the party was over.
What we got: The most terrifying 5 minutes of my life. This is another thing that I take responsibility for. I should have realized that getting 12 5- to 7-year-olds from a party room downstairs to the exhibits upstairs requires more than two adults. We made it, finally, after the longest 5 minutes that I've ever experienced. We got all the kids into one smallish exhibit room and then my husband and I sat outside its entrance to make sure no one left. We spent the entire time counting and re-counting kids until their parents started to arrive for the pick-up. Comparing numbers. Checking lists. Counting again. Oh, the sweet relief when we could start to match up kids with their parents and cross responsibilities off our list.
Compare this with my son's birthday. We had it at home. We planned every detail ourselves: crafts, party games, and make-your-own-pizza. No tired old goats. No fear of losing anyone. No uneaten food. It was great! And a LOT cheaper. We could afford to do more with the goodie bags.
* I shamefacedly admit to being half-hearted about cleaning out the cat food tins.