After putting in my application for PhD programmes, MinCat asked me: “So what are you going to do now?” Another friend joked that maybe I should apply to another university “just for fun”.

I already had an agenda, though. I needed to plan Benji’s third birthday party. Having shied away from the kiddie party for two years, I finally bit the bullet this year because I realised Benji actually had a group of friends in the building I could invite. And then I started to get quite into the whole planning thing.

First, I booked a room in our building clubhouse. This is very convenient because we’d struggle to fit everyone we wanted to invite – about 10-12 kids and the adults accompanying them – into our living room. Also, having it outside meant we wouldn’t have to do a major clean-up later. And the clubhouse venue would be easy for most of the kids to get to, plus home was just five minutes away in case we needed anything. Unfortunately, because I woke up and decided on a party so late, I could only get the clubhouse from 6-8 pm, which was later than I would have liked for a kiddie event.

Next, I decided to employ some entertainment. My first go-to was an animal encounter company which brings unusual live animals like snakes and creepy crawlies but also hedgehogs, etc to the party. Alas, that proved too expensive, especially since my own kids are so young and might not fully absorb the information, so I shifted focus to a clown. There are a plethora of clowns available and I’ll admit, I picked an untested but very reasonably priced one that I found online.

Then, I hunted for a cake. (You see a trend here, don’t you? I outsourced practically everything). Because we don’t live in the typical expat areas and the party was on a Sunday, it took some looking to find one that would deliver to my place and had good reviews. Luckily, I found a very sweet (though expensive) home baker and ordered a fire truck cake.

For food, I decided to go with the clubhouse caterer but when I checked their price list, I noticed that I could get some items cheaper at the local bakery or pizza place (or even cheaper if I made them, but that wasn’t going to happen, because you know I once burnt water). So, I spread the risk by ticking two items off the clubhouse, ordering our favourite mini chocolate croissants from the bakery downstairs, ordering pizza  and buying crisps and juice.

I had visions of doing a theme, but since a lot of the planning happened before my PhD application had gone in, I had to abandon being too picky. I bought invitations from the local stationary shop and tried to match them with a simple online invite (for those not in our building)  from this darling e-vite place by picking a colourful design with balloons. We bought inexpensive balloons and noisemakers from our local stationary shop, and that was it for decorations. Also, the cost of the party was adding up and I realised that all the customized things that look amazing also come with a good price tag, unless you make them yourself which I didn’t have the time to do and even if I did, I didn’t trust my craft skills. At the very last minute, at the urging of my helper, I drew up a poster to stick on the door of the room, and realised my craft skills aren’t that bad though V disagreed.

Since V was in India during the planning process, I ordered a pile of Dr Seuss and Eric Carle children’s books through Flipkart as giveaways and added in a sticker each. I giftwrapped each in orange and red paper with a flower label I cut out using a stencil and wrote each child’s name on it. Mainly because I wanted to be sure I had enough and also because I planned each child’s book based on what I thought they’d like.

Finally, I got V to download a tonne of kids music on my phone, and planned two games by going back to my childhood – musical chairs and passing the parcel. The latter proved to be not so successful with younger kids that tend to dream instead of passing but musical chairs was a hit. For prizes, I recycled two unopened gifts of the kids from previous birthdays.

On D-Day, we loaded up everything into a cart we’d borrowed from the supermarket and headed downstairs. Since the room had been booked back to back, we were blowing the balloons when the first guest arrived. We laid out the food and got the kids eating right away, as I figured they’d be hungry. I was pleasantly surprised that almost everyone that said they’d come, came. One of my secret panics was that few people would show – a deep dark fear that is essentially why I rarely throw parties.

After musical chairs, the clown provided heavenly relief by doing customized balloons for the kids and a small magic show. Although next time, I’ll be firmer that  I want less balloons and at least one game organised by the clown. I guess Chinese families do much more drama around the cake-cutting but ours was done in 2 minutes with one photo op. So I did got the kids to play passing the parcel at the end to kill time.

It looked like everyone had fun. Some kids were shy at the beginning but warmed up after they were left alone. Benji said he had fun, which is what matters most.

Lessons learnt:

  1. The clubhouse party room is brilliant. It has a kitchen and a loo connected.
  2. We got the food right. Almost all gone – and pizza is a smart choice. I could order more from the local bakery next time.
  3. The cake was highly appreciated but could have been half the size and cost.
  4. The clown could have done a little more.
  5. Organise at least three games myself with extra prizes. I actually had stickers as extra prizes but forgot the bring them. Oh well, at least one spanner had to be thrown in the works and this was a small one.
  6. Can do better with decorations. We practically had none but when the clown arrived, the balloons did the trick.
  7. The music was a great success. Nice background music is important.
  8. Outsourcing is good if you can afford it. Making things yourself is probably even better but I can imagine gets crazy, or maybe I just imagine this because I suck at making things myself.
  9. Invite adults who don’t have kids to the party and depute one of them exclusively to take photos. Parents of b’day kid running around with iPhone despite bringing a camera does not a good photo album make.
  10. I did only very little myself. But coordination takes time too.
  11. Kiddy parties are super tiring. Two hours is enough.