Growing up we didn’t have a lot of birthday parties. Those were saved for the “big ones” like turning 10, 16, or graduation. Instead we had a tradition of inviting one special friend over for a nice dinner out and a sleep over. I’ve never been a big cake person and usually asked my mom to make one of her fabulous ice-cream cakes instead or get Italian pastries. (It is a little difficult to put a candle in a cannoli by the way.) Although I enjoyed going to my friends’ parties, I never really felt slighted by the lack of festivities at my house. In fact, now that I am a parent, I am regretting just a little starting the whole birthday party tradition. It can be extremely costly and time-consuming. The party drama (especially with girls) can be exhausting. Someone usually gets sick or is crying by the end of it all – besides me – and then there is the after party clean-up. Throw in my psuedo competetive nature (alright, who are we kidding) and you have birthdaypalooza, where I am constantly trying to out-do myself.
This year the Tortoise was just darn right lucky and the Taylor Swift concert happened to fall on her birthday. I surprised her and one friend to a dinner at Macaroni Grill and their first big concert. (I’m not sure who was more excited, me or The Tortoise!) It might be next to impossible to top that next year, but I will certainly have to try. After all, it will be her 13th birthday.
So with one birthday down in March, I had the relief of only having to plan one birthday party in April for The Hare. Last year’s theme was “Princess Spa”, a big hit with a dozen first graders. Unfortunately I was at a loss as to what to do this year to make The Hare’s eighth birthday memorable. DW was also concerned that she might feel a little slighted if it wasn’t just as fabulous as her sister’s concert experience.
Me: “Hare, what do you want to do for your birthday this year?”
Me: “How about a bowling party?”
Me: “Movie party?”
Me: “Indoor bounce house?”
Me: “Sleep over and cupcake decorating?”
Frustration started to creep over my body.
Hare: “Anything is fine with me mom.”
I quit asking after that and decided to just plan. What I came up with was a Scavenger Hunt with her two best friends. The girls had no idea what to expect and were handed a set of 3 x 5 cards with scrambled words and a “clue”. I also gave them each a small notebook and pen for deciphering the assignments.
Our first stop took them to Sweet and Sassy Spa in Novi where they got to experience their first professional manicure, pedicure and up-do. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I entered but once we were directed to the child height pedicure “lounge” it was clear that this was going to be an evening to remember.
The Hare and her friends had been giggling and chatting in the car but the minute they sat down to soak their feet, all conversation stopped.
It was hilarious to watch them cautiously dip their toes into bubbling basins and allow someone to scrub their feet. I don’t think I had ever seen them that quiet before. If you hadn’t already guessed, The Hare takes after me in regards to her talkative nature.
This first stop did take a little longer than I had anticipated, so my recommendation is that if you are bringing multiple children in for a non-birthday party appointment, you should still request more than one associate to be assigned. Although our beauty consultant was extremely thorough, attentive and kind, she was the only person providing services to three little girls simultaneously.
I also really enjoyed meeting the manager. She is new to this store, but has lots of salon experience and a real flare for customer service. Our glamorous girls left with painted fingers, toes and more glitter in their hair than tinker bell. I think we left a trail of it in the parking lot.
Next on our hunt was the customer service desk at Twelve Oaks Mall where the girls had to get a map. The customer service employee unfortunately did not wow me when we entered. She made it quite clear that the “mall policy” was that there were to be no scavenger hunts and no picture-taking. Huh? Apparently all the store fronts are copy-righted and can’t be photographed. They are also concerned their patrons will be bothered by roaming children asking for various items listed on a scavenger hunt list. (But apparently they are not concerned by the loitering teenagers with their hands in each others’ pockets that spend nothing in their stores.) Of course she said this right in front of the birthday girl. The Hare was crushed.
The Hare: “That’s okay mom. We can just go home and watch a movie or something.”
That really didn’t work for me, there was minor inner conflict between the rule-follower and the rebel inside, but there was no way I was letting down this eight-year-old on her birthday. I discreetly put my camera inside my tote bag, and smiled sweetly at the customer service
hag party pooper.
Me: ” I totally understand”
I took The Hare’s little hand in mine and knelt, face to face.
Me: “Game on.”
All three faces lit up because now we had just put another spin on the scavenger hunt – we were on a covert mission.
The Hare: “You rock mom.”
The next stop took us to Just Baked. Seriously, I was just as surprised as you when I found out that there was a bakery in the mall. Who goes to the mall to order wedding cakes? Each of the girls got to pick out their favorite flavor, box it up and head to their next location: The Food Court. I’m not going to kid you here – it was a challenge for them to decipher the mall map but we managed, and thank goodness for my cohorts DW and The Tortoise for supervising the Food Court confusion. Each child wanted something different, of course, but hey – it was the Food Court. Before we sat down I whipped out a table-cloth, napkins and matching plates. The Hare was giggling with excitement. We all looked around to see where mall security was located and then snatched a few pictures. Ha!
After devouring individually personalized meals and gourmet cupcakes, we were directed to Claire’s Boutique. You really can’t have a little girls birthday without some bling. Can you? I gave them each $5 dollars and free-rain. Big mistake. You’d think as a veteran mother I would have known better than to just say “go for it”. And with second graders just learning how to count money at that. What should have taken a few minutes took hours. Okay, maybe not hours, but I was ready to run far far away after about 20 minutes of tears and “I just don’t know what to buy”. Who would have thought shopping could be so stressful? In fact, DW made the smart move to just wait outside and peruse the electronics store next door. After a few loving, yet firm, suggestions we all decided on our purchases and headed to the next location.
I quickly made note of what not to do, and as we entered Bath and Body Works, instructions were made very clear. The lip gloss buckets were the only spot necessary to complete this task. Whew! Then on to our final shop and main event. I’m sure it was obvious to The Hare what would happen next, I mean, you can’t come to Twelve Oaks mall and not go to Build a Bear.
Me: “Ok, girls, now you can pick from any of these animals down.”
Setting a price limit was important at this point, plus it narrowed the choices. Our animal technician was fabulous! Even though we weren’t a scheduled party she totally treated The Hare like the queen, complete with a crown. She also had all of us make a birthday wish on her puppy’s “heart” before placing it inside. She took an ordinary moment and made it extraordinary.
The evening turned out to be one of the most fun birthday parties that I have gotten to share with my kids,well, second only to the Taylor Swift concert. All three girls chatted and giggled throughout the mall. I did not unleash them on poor unsuspecting patrons or mall walkers and I made sure to ask permission before taking any pictures inside or outside the stores. (And there was no mess to clean up!)
If you would like to duplicate this party idea, here are the clues from our 3 x 5 cards:
1. Sweet and Sassy Spa – TWESE DAN AYSSS ASP
“A massage for your fingers, a hot soak for your toe. This is where all the girls like to go.”
2. Customer Service – RMEOTCUS ESCEIRV
“It’s really important to have this you know. Because without help, you won’t know where to go.”
3. Just Baked – SJUT KDAEB
“No order’s too big. No order’s too small. Choose strawberry, chocolate, vanilla – or order them all.”
4. Food Court – ODOF ROUTC
“From around the world, many choices will be. Your stomach will thank you for the cuisine you see.”
5. Claire’s Boutique – SCELRAI QUBOEUTI
“Just the right sparkle, shine and bling, makes any outfit stand-out and sing.”
6. Bath and Body Works – TABH NDA KWROS
“Many shiny choices and scents so sweet, no pick will be wrong, all lips love the treat.”
7. Build a Bear – DLUBI A RBAE PWOOHRSK
“Find a friend to make your own. Fill them with love and take them home.”