10 May 2010

of birthday parties

Last Friday we went to another birthday party.

This one was pirate-themed. We were invited on Monday, via e-mail. It sounded like the party, for a classmate and her brother, was being held at their home.

Lexi was so excited! We picked out an outfit that suggested piracy (yes, a girl after my own heart--it's all about the costume) but one that could just as easily be cute if no one else dressed up. She was SO excited to wear it! It was the first thing she told me Friday morning. And, she told me after she got dressed, "I'm a great pirate."

When we e-mailed about gifts, I got the response of "Your mere presence is enough. And, remember it is Marfa's brother's birthday, too. If you would just remember to wish him a happy birthday as well, he'd be so happy." I took that to mean, "Bring two gifts." So, we chose face paints for Marfa and a magnetic building kit for her brother, whom we do not know. Each gift was about $15. Lexi was so exited to give them the gifts!

Okay, we were SO out of our league at this party. It was, again, for parents and children. There were about...thirty children there, most of whom were Russian. It was at a party place, I guess. There was a Johnny Depp lookalike as well as two other women pirates and two other men. They pirates were "entertaining" the children while the adults ate. And drank. The kids has loud games, then food while the pirates asked them things, then more loud games, then more food while the pirates asked them things...

Lexi had her first caviar tartlet. And she professed to like it. I declined both caviar and champagne.

It was WAY too much for us! Lexi really needed to just be able to sit back and watch. I'm so glad I was there to fight the party pirates who wanted to make her do everything--their way. We spent a lot of time on our own. (Yes, I looked completely overbearing and anti-social, but I wasn't. Well, I wasn't overbearing. ;> ) We left early--three hours into the party.

Lexi's birthday party is Saturday. I guess we could say we're having a retro-party, if we were trying to impress. (Um, we're not.) We're inviting the girls from her class and a friend from first grade/dance/church to our house for two hours in the afternoon. There will be five little girls in play-clothes and fairy wings. (Drat! The one friend I wanted to come, the one whose mom said they did a small, at-home party is in Finland and can't come.) I hope their parents don't plan to stay. I will have nothing for them to eat or do...and nowhere for them to hang out. I'll get the word out, somehow. Hmmm...

My question is about gifts. Do your kids still open gifts at parties? At these two parties, there was no gift-opening. Lexi was SO disappointed! She wanted to see her gifts opened and enjoyed. She doesn't even know if they were received--they were whisked off and displayed with the other gifts. (Let me say that our gifts were very much on the small side at Friday's bash.) At the first party, the birthday girl just tore into them whenever she felt like it. At the second, they weren't opened while we were there.

I think we will open gifts. AND we will do individual thank-you notes--not a mass e-mail. When people have asked, I've honestly told them what she'd like--something small. Maybe I'm the one being gauche. I just feel like I'm being honest. And helpful.

We're making a craft, playing some games, eating cake and opening gifts. We have take-home goody bags. We're not themed--we're just doing things Lexi likes and eating what she's asked. I know she'll enjoy this party. I just hope everyone else does, too. I have no doubt Lexi will be kind and gracious. And I'm going to make sure everyone else is, too.


Stefanie and Bill said...

Oh my, I am over stimulated after reading about the Pirate Party. We are NOT formal birthday party people. But then again we are not playdate mongers either. I think your party sounds just wonderful and for Lexi...just the way it should be!

Lauri said...

Here in the states, even at the party places that coordinate everything, the gift opening happens last and lots of fuss made over each present... "ohh's & ahh's".

I have been to parties that are strictly for the kids and parents leave, and then some feed adults too. It's tricky, because I have all my family over and they like to eat.. I always feed everyone

Your party sounds great
Happy Birthday Lexi... it's finally your turn

Roxy_Blade said...

I think your party plan sounds amazing!! I never had a huge party growing up and so I love having small intimate ones where there are activity's planned and small snacks to eat.

I think the pirate party sounds a bit O.T.T to be honest. I'm one of 4 and the closest party we had to that was when my brother turned 7 and he had a bouncy castle in a church hall. Needless to say it never happened again!!

And yes, the gifts should be opened while all the guests are there! That's the best part (next to the cake)!

I hope Lexi (and yourself) have a brilliant day and that most of all its chilled, fun and full of memories that the two of you will cherish :)

Maura said...

That pirate party = chaos.

Your party plan sounds perfect for a little American girl. :-) I'm big on house parties. The children will love it. And you should be able to put a good spin on adults not staying - who wouldn't welcome a chance to drop their child off and have a couple of hours to themself? Then again, I'm not familiar with Russian custom and expectations - be prepared for any parent who is uncomfortable leaving their child.

And in my experience, the kids LOVE seeing the birthday child open the gifts. When gifts aren't opened, I think it's mostly parents who nix it.

Jane and Jim said...

Yeah, the Pirate Party seemed a bit much!
I think you're doing the perfect thing - they say to invite the same number of guests at the age of the birthday child.
We didn't open gifts yet because my kids are still a little too honest. I think we will at Cooper's next party because he now knows that you need to say thank you and be pleased with what you receive (even if it's a duplicate).
Can't wait to see pics from her party! Have fun!
Oh, and happy belated Mother's Day!

rolise said...

Around here if you have a party at a party place you don't open gifts as things can get lost. However, if you have a home party you can open the gifts usually done at end of party so some kids stay and others leave. For a smaller party it would be find to do it as an activity right before or after cake maybe?

Maggie said...

Wow Lexi's party sounds much more in league with kid's b-day parties as I'm familiar with them, but maybe it's a cultural thing.

Elle said...

We've always done smaller at-home parties. Except Oleg's "first" birthday, but that was a baptism/welcome home/birthday party. Otherwise he's allowed to invite the number of friends of the year old he is (and their accompanying siblings). All of his friend's parents are our friends so the parents usually stay. We don't have a theme per-se, but rather themed decorations. We eat food, cake and open presents. It is basically one giant play-date were kids get to play and parents get to sit around and have fun.

I am not the person to enjoy party places or over the top parties. They are too much for me and the boy.

The Accidental Mommy said...

Well, IMO, on gifts I think the kid should open them as my kid is very excited to see if the bday kid will like it.

Is this Lexi's first party ever?

Anonymous said...

Yikes, at 3 hours in you were leaving EARLY? Eeee. Sport's parties are 2 hours long, at our house. (He thinks he is hard done by because everyone else has bowling/movie/mini golf parties.) We do games, a craft, lunch & cake, and then gift opening. So... yeah, I'm on the same page as you.

Lindsay said...

Russian parties sound way stressful!

I really think kids parties have gone to the far extreme of ludicrous!

I can't imagine not opening the presents and having H say thank you at the time. And yes, Hannah also likes to see her gift opened by her friends.

We tried pass the parcel at Hannah's this year and she was a little young, but they had fun. Blowing bubbles and catching them seemed big with the 3 year old crowd however :)

I definitely think your party sounds more fun than caviar and pirates!

Happy birthday to Lexi from Hannah and I - I know she'll have a wonderful day with you and enjoy every moment of her party.

kate said...

Essie, it's hard to know if it's her first party. I think it is...but I have no information about what her life was like before the orphanage. None.

Rachael said...

It sounds like a lovely little party. Perfect.

And, all my best wishes to the birthday girl!!

Rachael said...

Oh, and about the gift opening: I think there is a tendency not to want to make a show of receiving gifts and seeming greedy. HOWEVER, I agree that half the fun of giving a gift is seeing it received! So, I think the polite and gracious thing to do (especially at a smaller party) is to open the gifts.

Elizabeth said...

I think Roxy hit on something with being "one of 4." In my opinion, Russian birthday parties for those only children can be a little extreme. But on the other hand, most people don't have a big enough apartment to accommodate kids AND parents for long without going stir-crazy. Russians like to throw big parties, it seems. They take hosting pretty seriously.

As for presents, I guess it depends on the situation. I have been at a lot of Russian birthdays where each guest stands up and gives a speech and presents their gift. I would much rather leave it in a pile! :)

Stefanie and Bill said...

Interestingly enough, today in the hotel we are staying in while adopting in Ukraine they are having a 1 year old birthday party. Talk about over the top???For starters it began at 6 PM. There were no less than 50 guests and the men took turns standing and speaking and toasting in between with Vodka. We happened to be eating in the same restaurant. The child had zero idea what was going on and was finished with the whole thing about 30 minutes into the party. From my hotel room, I hear the thumping from the music. Guess there is a DJ and dancing too!

ko said...

Sounds like you planned a perfect party. Klaire and I always have had parties like that, with good old fashion games. Believe it or not in the states the pirate party sounded about right from what I have heard! Alot of people rent out places, but I like to have a "good old fashion" fun. Pin the wings on the fairy or something fun games. Opening presents and ohh's and ahh's! But here they don't even open presents. Hope all goes well. Anything is fun when there is CAKE!

Debbie said...

The party you have planned sounds like the best one for LEXI, and that is who it is for. I would say to open the presents. I think it is a great opportunity for my children to learn how to graciously receive from other people--and the friends really like seeing their gifts open. I hope it is a special day for both of you!

Barb said...

Here, in Swedish-speaking rural Finland, the birthday person opens the door, is congratulated and opens each gift as the gift-giver gives it. WE don't do it that way . . . we do it the way we did it in Canada . . . at some point during the party the child opens alll the gifts . . . lately it's been "spin the bottle style" - the kids sit in a circle, birthday child spins the bottle and whoever it points to gets to give said child their gift and everyone watches it being opened . . .

kate said...

Thanks, everyone, for your input. I'm feeling pretty confident about our little party.

Barb, I was thinking hot potato...but spin the bottle could work, too. ;>

Debbie, exactly. I want her to ENJOY her day! She's just thrilled it's her turn to be sung to; that there will be a cake with candles.

One thing to keep in mind with the parties we've attended--they're classmates. One was a Russian family and one was ex-pat. Our school tuition is well over 20K, so I guess if you can afford that tuition for a kindergartener (or your company or consulate can) then you live a little differently than I do. I can't say if these are typical Russian children's parties.

The toasting is VERY traditional for people of all ages. At the pirate party the children were expected to make long, flowery speeches to the birthday children. Lexi said, "Happy birthday!" quite cheerfully. Twice. ;>

Tina in CT said...

My daughter's girls (and my daughter) have been to many parties like you wrote about. Guess it's a Russian "thing". She does not do those kind of parties. What she does is go to school with an elaborately decorated theme cake that she made (which shocks the Russian women)and does games with a brightly colored parachute she brought back from the US.

When she was growing up in the US, birthday parties were like what you are doing for Lexi.

From a younger friend, I know that many parties are held at a gym or similar place here. This friend said that last summer for her daughter's birthday party, they requested no gifts but that the guests make a donation to a charity.

I always thought presents were to be opened at the party at a designated time.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of smaller/simpler parties. And parties that last for a few hours, tops.

On the fence about opening gifts. I've asked people not to bring gifts, but then some people always do. I think it's bad form to open them in front of other guests who kindly complied with the no-gifts request - just will make them feel like crap. And I like de-emphasizing the gift part anyway. But maybe I'm just a party pooper. :-)

Annie said...

Woah, lots of comments already! This seems to be a hot topic!

I can certainly see that with a big party there is some wisdom in not having the present-opening as part of the event. For one thing, it IS a lot to ask a young child to look amazingly gratified when he or she is really just glutted....even hard for the mother when she is by now thinking "where the heck will I put all this stuff?!?" Plus, it takes so long that children watching someone else opening gifts is dreary, dreary, dreary....and for some, too difficult.

It is also wise when some gifts might be far nicer or more pleasing to the recipient than others - and when there are two recipients!

We have had present-opening at our parties, because the guest list was more reasonable.

I HATE party places, and have always done a "retro" party - SO retro that I made invitations using an old 1940's birthday illustration for one of them.

We played the old games - pin the tail on the donkey, drop the clothespin into the bottle, etc. The really nice idea I got from a friend, that keeps the party very happy, is - instead of giving kids a plastic bag full of junky pre-packaged "favors" at the conclusion, after each game have a basket with wrapped gifts. The winner picks first and so forth - there is one for each child. Now these are not expensive things, but nicer than the usual party "loot" - a bag of balloons, a pretty hair clip, a bottle of bubblebath, etc. I watch for good sales, close-outs etc. ahead of time and finding fun gifts is a lot of the fun of the party for me.

And I always limit guests to 7 or 8 children (at Lexi's age, certainly). We have one "friends party" per child per lifetime. Not to say we don't celebrate every year - but I did decide not to try to have a "major event" every year. ONE of those, following in the tradition of my mom (I had one very memorable party - partly memorable because I remember being spanked during the preparations), and other years the children may invite a friend to dinner or to a movie or perhaps two friends for bowling, swimming, ice skating....simple.

My pet peeve here is that instead of surprise recipients as at the party you describe - there are surprise attendees. I could NOT believe it - particularly when I had everything so planned-to-a-T with the little gifts and all, that people felt it OK to drop off siblings that were not even friends of the birthday child. But God is good, for the two younger siblings who were dropped off at our last party un-invited, there were two no-shows. Everything worked out in the end - but, really!!!

M.L. Kenney said...

I suggest no gift-opening. It's an opportunity for other kids to feel self-conscious about the present they got for the birthday boy/girl, and to compare and contrast it with all the other gifts. (I remember these days clearly.) Plus, Lexi's only a little girl. It might be hard for her not to show favoritism.

Lindy D. said...

I think what you are doing will be fine. Lexi's party should be about what makes her happy. I am sad to read that you don't know anything about the first five years of her life. I wonder how much she remembers. I am so glad that she is with you now!!

julian said...

AugustRose's Birthday party is this saturday also!! TINKERBELL!!
and fairies, and we are going to open the gifts while kids are here. I think it adds to the fun of it..

J. said...

Just go with what your heart tells you! We always open gifts toward teh end. I think it's a great way to teach your child to be a gracious recipient (even if they already have 5 of the same items it's never too early to teach tact!) I've been to a few where gifts were not opened and didn't like it at all!

nicole said...

happy early bday lexi iam sure mama will make a nice cake..as for the bday parties we allow our kids to take two friends to the movie or out some were special..that way the bday is about them not all the gifts and peoples children who cant behave..as for the drinking eekk i have a no drinking policy at childrens parties..huggs from canada

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MoscowMom said...

Hi!!! Yes, birthday parties here are INSANE. I was shocked when first thrown into the world of Russian birthday parties. They're more like wedding receptions sometimes! Elizabeth is right, though, that Russians simply can't fit more than few extra people into their apartments! That's why I only did a few parties here; other than that, I've done a simple party at school. Like my mom said, I make a really cool cake (Russians. don't. bake. their. own. cakes.... so this goes over big) and then we do parachute games or Bingo. I wish I could do home parties here, but there are eight girls in K's class-- and I strongly believe you include everyone so there are no hurt feelings. Add in Natalia and Katya, and we can't fit anywhere in our home!!! I so wish we had a USA backyard!!! To go anywhere else then sets off a whole bunch of other complications--you HAVE to get your food from the place, you have to provide for parents. Just can't afford it!!!!

You also get so much drinking on the parents' part b/c they're either taking the subway home or getting a ride in a tax, etc. That's also so Russian...

Your party sounds really nice!!! It's MY kind of party. I feel like the anti-social parent at a lot of the other kind of party... I don't WANT to give up eight hours of my Saturday or Sunday!!!

ZandZ'sMom said...

Something you could do is have Lexi sit with each child as she opens her gift from them and take a picture with them and then send them a copy of that picture in the thank you note.

Brookester said...

It all sounds Great, However I dont think gifts should be opened in front of children. We have been to many parties in the past 5/6 years for children & only when its only family have the gifts been opened with guests still there. It seems a bit much to me personally & most kids I seriously doubt want to sit & watch another child open a million gifts. Again I suppose if its a small group but as your other posts say most parties these days there are many children. from 8 or 9 to 20 or more.
Happy Birthday Lexi~!