As noted in my initial post on the subject, I had the yips when it came to booking a party venue - had one in mind, but given the general state of the economy and the number of party venues that I personally have had a hand in - ahem - evicting . . . or suing for back rent . . . etc., etc., I decided to delay until the last possible minute before putting down my non-refundable deposit. Good call, Mom - when I went online to pull up their birthday party page, WHOOPS, "Page Not Found." Called their main number and got my confirmation: "We're no longer hosting birthday parties."
Buh-bye, Plan A.
I quickly consulted the Web sites of various other party providers - and just as quickly dinged all of them for (1) costing an arm and a leg and/or (2) not accommodating enough party guests (or combination of party guests and party parents) to suit our needs. Re: the first item - um, I'm guessing some of these folks didn't get the recession memo? Now, I have a pretty high cost tolerance when it comes to birthday parties: two years ago, I added up all of the receipts from one of the boys' parties and concluded that I could have purchased a couch - a nice one out of one of those glossy catalogs, with Belgian linen upholstery and nailhead trim - for what I spent celebrating the anniversary of my kid's birth. Of course, me being me, I immediately started brainstorming ways to throw a party the following year that centered on a new couch - a pirate party, maybe, and the couch could be a pirate ship? Or we could just turn the kids loose in the front yard with the big shipping box? Anyway, when I can't justify the price of something kid party-related, well, then, Houston, we have a problem.
One of the vendors - for purposes of this blog, we'll call them the "Fort Worth Museum of Science and History" (sorry, FWMSH, love you like crazy, and hate to malign you, but the shoe fits, a spade's a spade, truth is a defense, etc.) - offered me the following "deal": you pay the regular admission for your party guests (no group rates were offered), and we let you sit together in the museum cafeteria. No, there's not a separate party area, and you don't get a "party assistant" - you just, essentially, pay for a bunch of people to get into the museum together, and you eat together, exactly like you all were, you know, going to the museum together in a non-party context. No activities offered for your guests to enjoy in the nonexistent party room; well, the activity, I guess, would be "cat-herding," with the birthday mom attempting to keep tabs on a bunch of party guests wandering around a rather cavernous structure. Treat bags were offered, but, if memory serves, you paid full value for them - still not seeing how this qualifies as a "party"? Oh, wait, I forgot about the minimum catering order. THAT'S what makes it a party. No, correction, that would make it a WEDDING RECEPTION, wouldn't it? Yeah, thanks but no thanks. Are you starting to see why I put "deal" in quotes?
Chuck E. Cheese it is. The one near us is probably the nicest and cleanest CEC in the Metroplex, the staff is helpful to the point of falling all over you and each other and, as I have previously noted, CEC is the great equalizer. A CEC invite arrives in the mail, the kids exclaim, "I want to go to there" (if the kids talk like Liz Lemon from 30 Rock - which mine do), and the parents think (in chronological order):
1) Hmm, could be worse.
2) I actually know where that is without consulting Google Maps, Garmin or the equivalent.
3) If I don't hit it off with the other parents, I can always follow my kid around and act interested in Whack-a-Mole - or actually play Whack-a-Mole.
4) If I do hit it off with the other parents, I might be able to pull off having an entire adult conversation - albeit a conversation conducted at a million decibels - because of the whole "don't have to watch your kid every second/no one leaves without having their glow-in-the-dark serial number tattoo checked and cross-referenced under a black light" deal.
5) The pizza's pretty decent [Dad version]/they have a salad bar [Mom version].
6) Boy, I wish they still served beer.
Since this is the "transitional birthday" (involving both the preschool class and the kindergarten class, which, if graphed Venn diagram style, have one point of intersection - my kid), the allure of CEC is particularly appealing. Also attractive: because of a crowded October schedule, PJ's party is being shoehorned between two other events. CEC translates into "no housecleaning and ten minutes setup time, max." VERY attractive indeed.
So I book the venue, and the next step in the evolution of a Kathryn Kid Party is the Shedding of Gimmicks. See, I talk a good game, and I think up a lot of bells and whistles, but then when it comes to actually EXECUTING - well, I have other parties to throw in October, and life's too short, yada, yada. So the tie-dyed t-shirt party favors? They will look suspiciously like Batman coloring and activity books purchased from Party City. (In my defense, purchasing the Batman coloring and activity books was DARNED DIFFICULT - there were only five in the store, I had to employ several brain cells considering whether it was more cost-effective to drive to Arlington to look for more there or to pay shipping and handling at Party City online, and then I had to waste precious seconds revising my online order after the Party City Gods informed me that they only had ten items available - evidently, I have purchased all of the Batman coloring and activity books in the known Party City universe.)
Also out the window? The handmade invitations that, in my mind, would have three-dimensional bat wings that folded over the text. Instead, I found this on Etsy:
Perfect invite, right? Yeah, the artist is on vacay this week (a well-deserved one, I'm sure, given that she hand-draws these!), and her Etsy store is temporarily closed as a result. (Because she is on vacation, Etsy has seen fit to de-list all of her listings . . . so, having downloaded this image last week, I can't pull it up online in order to give you her name. As soon as she is back online, I will update, because I want to give credit where credit is due, for sure!)
Of course, I delayed ordering invitations . . . until this week. Because I have this weird hangup about ordering personalized things (which, given my love for personalization, is pretty crippling). I worry that if I order something too early, some critical detail of my life might change, rendering the personalized items useless. Rational fear, right? Well, consider this - I have balked at ordering address labels in mass quantities because, quote, "What if the house burns down and we have to move?" Well, genius, for starters, the address labels will burn, too, won't they? And will the cost of ordering duplicative address labels REALLY be the biggest of your concerns at that point? I also agonized over buying the cute address labels with the stick figure versions of family members and pets, for fear that one of our older pets would ironically fall ill and die immediately after the labels were ordered. FOR THE RECORD: I finally found a stick figure address label deal that I could not refuse, and I ordered multiple variations (Valentine's Day, St. Pat's, Easter, Halloween, Thanksgiving). None of the pets died . . . but we subsequently acquired two new pets. WHO ARE NOT DEPICTED ON THE ADDRESS LABELS. AND I HAVE A TON OF LABELS LEFT. MEANING THAT, EVERY TIME I USE THEM, I FEEL SORT OF DISHONEST ABOUT THE LESS-THAN-ACCURATE DEPICTION OF OUR FAMILY. AND, ONLY OCCASIONALLY, I FIND MYSELF DRAWING AN EXTRA CAT AND AN EXTRA DOG AT THE END. AND THEN LABELING THEM WITH THEIR RESPECTIVE NAMES.
So, back to Plan . . . whatever. I found equally cute invites on Sarah Ross' Etsy site. And - bonus! - she will print them for me, and provide the envelopes, and sell them to me at a very economical price point, inclusive of shipping and handling. Done and done. Here is a mockup:
(Sarah Ross, if you Google your name with any regularity, yes, I am reproducing your work here, but with full attribution and only after ordering the actual invites from you - PayPal wire already in the queue. I was just too excited about the finished product not to share! Oh, and if you get some business from it, so much the better. Because you are a joy to work with. And, while I'm giving credit, the Bat Monkey shirt is from Carrye Campbell's online business, Invitationmonkey.com. Also a joy to work with. Ain't e-commerce the greatest?)
Yeah, odds that that idea will be shed by mid-month? I should be on Plan AA by then.