Birthday party themes for big kids, like “presidenting,” are hard (so much so that I am on record that the theme for Connor’s twelfth birthday party will be “Hey, you’re 12!”). Fortunately, Connor arrived at a concept that I could live with (after abandoning his initial “Shaun White Snowboarding” idea): a secret agent party. The genesis of the idea, I think, was a “Spy School” mom/son party that our club put on a couple of years ago. Anyway, it seemed like harmless, easy fun . . . until I faced the twin realities that:
1) The mass-produced spy stuff tends to be pitched to smaller kids. Eleven year-olds don’t care to receive tiny plastic magnifying glasses in their treat bags. And your typical Groucho glass/nose/mustache combos (the kind that come in multi-packs) are designed for tiny faces.
2) The GOOD spy stuff (like disappearing ink that really works) is expensive. Particularly when you wait too late to order it online.
So I had to get a little creative. Invitation was easy enough – why not go for an old-school, “letters cut out of a magazine” ransom note look?
There is a great ransom note generator tool on the Web at http://ransom.sytes.org that you can utilize to make color ransom notes like the one reproduced above. I had trouble getting it to format properly for printing, though, so ultimately I went with something simpler, but the original plan was to put a color image of the ransom note (adding in party details) inside of the small manila folders, which I made by cutting down larger manila folders. You could print “Confidential” across the front, but I just used whatever rubber stamps I happened to have on my desk at the office.
Invites were sent in small manila envelopes, and the “treat bags” were larger manila envelopes containing word search puzzle books (where the leftover words in each puzzle form riddles – I thought that those were spy-ish). Because I couldn’t find commercial party décor that fit the bill, I ended up printing out a TON of oversized fingerprints, shading them (with crayon) in the colors of the tableware and gift wrap that I ended up selecting, and gluing them to whatever wasn’t moving. The tablecloth, the presents, the treat bags-disguised-as-envelopes . . . . I kind of liked the result – contemporary, and a little more grown-up.
Before the party, I purchased fake mustaches at the party store (here’s a tip – if you can’t find them on the costume aisle, look under “Fiesta”; I found mine next to the maracas and sombreros) and costume teeth at the dollar store. Groucho-type glasses weren’t cutting it, so at the last minute I picked up a pair of Ray Ban-style sunglasses for each of the party participants (also from Dollar Tree). I put the glasses, mustaches and teeth in mason jars and bowls in the middle of the table, and I let the kids customize their secret identities as soon as they arrived. (Anal-retentive mom that I am, I put their initials in their teeth with a Sharpie. I have no doubt that teeth were swapped nonetheless, but at least I tried to keep germ transmission to a minimum.)
The glasses were a BIG hit.
Game plan was to have a secret agent “school,” with training exercises like:
1) Laser beam avoidance: Original plan was to mount multiple CDs on the walls, such that when you aimed a laser pointer at one of them, it would bounce off of that CD, hit the second CD, and so on, creating multiple beams. The “cadets” were going to crawl on their bellies under the beams, Mission Impossible-style. However, I (1) never got around to arranging for a fog machine (to make the beams more distinct), (2) didn’t want to use hairspray in place of a fog machine (yuck – sticky mess on the hardwoods) and (3) didn’t relish the idea of sticking CDs to the walls with poster putty (yuck – sticky mess on the walls). So Plan B was to aim a single laser beam and lower it after each round, like limbo (if they played limbo at Quantico – which, maybe, they do).
Why we didn’t go with Plan B: one of our party guests was autistic. It was his first sleepover. I thought it was a wonderful thing that Connor wanted to include him (and think it’s a wonderful thing that his friends include him in their ongoing reindeer games), but having him in the mix did cause me to have to change plans mid-party, when it became apparent that the noise and the hyperactivity were proving to be a wee bit much. (C, for the record, Connor’s mom was RIGHT THERE WITH YOU on the noise and the hyperactivity. When you finally cried uncle and asked to go home around midnight, I tried to think of an excuse as to why I might need to stay with you at your house. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of a plausible one.)
So, laser beam avoidance scrapped. But we did do this one . . . after C had gone home, and we did it outside:
2) Bomb detonation: Inflate balloons. Allow eleven year-old boys to pop inflated balloons . . . with their bottoms. Repeat. Time them, and the boy who pops the most balloons in the time allotted wins.
Our other “scripted” activity (I’ve been doing this long enough to know that boy birthday party guests rarely stick to the script, so I limit the planned activities to just a few) was a game of Clue, using a new space-aged variant that allows you to call in to a “clue hotline,” and they text you clues throughout the game. Oh, I lied – there was one other scripted activity. The birthday boy – who, you may recall, was way too mature for a turkey pull-apart cupcake cake, requested cookie magnifying glasses. Because nothing says mature like a cookie on a stick. These are easy to pull off, though. I bought a bunch of round cookies at our local bakery (sugar, chocolate chip and M&Ms), put out tongue depressors and cookie sticks for handles and filled bowls with icing (cream cheese and chocolate), marshmallow crème and sprinkles, then let the kids have at it.
The party, overall, seems to have been a success. Connor enjoyed himself, which is a good thing, because I am also on record that THIS IS THE LAST SLUMBER PARTY BIRTHDAY THAT HE GETS. Until he is old enough to throw his own slumber party birthdays. The details of which I may, as his mother, not want to know about.
Next year: three kids, two hours of laser tag. With the kind of laser that does not require sticky hairspray or greasy poster putty . . . .