Raising Richmond: In praise of playground parties

Playgrounds are instant party locations. Just bring cupcakes, put a balloon on a tree, and stick a party hat on a squirrel. Dunzo.

Even though it only happens once a year, I’ve never been that interested in doing it up for my daughter’s birthday. We didn’t have a party for her first birthday. For her second birthday we had an evening party with family and friends at our house. It was fun, but it was a lot of work and had to be kept indoors because it was a rainy, late-October night. Hosting parties is not on my list of favorite things to do anyway. Between that birthday and her third birthday, we had gone to a couple of parties that were at playgrounds.

Which is the best idea ever.

Why? Because it can cost almost nothing. There are playgrounds aplenty in the Richmond area. You can rent shelters at parks with playgrounds, but I wouldn’t bother. Stake out a picnic table at any playground and set up there. Have it before or after lunch and provide snacks. And if you do want to serve lunch, have you met my old friend Lil’ Caesar of the Hot-N-Ready crew? He’ll help keep lunch costs low. The rest happens on its own, and there’s just a small space to clean up. It’s rarely too cold in Richmond to not be able to throw your kids outdoors for an hour, so parents of winter babies can take advantage of a mild day for an outdoor party, too. Just bring coffee for the adults who aren’t going to work up a sweat on playground equipment. If the weather is too bad (no matter the season), the instant playground party can just be pushed back to the next available day.

For my daughter’s third birthday, we invited everyone from her daycare and some neighborhood friends to a playground close to our house and brought donuts and juice. They played hard for two hours, then she napped for two hours. In the evening, we ordered pizza and one of her buddies came over to watch a movie. A great birthday.

In the months since her last birthday, we’ve been to several more playground birthday parties (including one at Three Lakes Park in Henrico, which I hadn’t been to before but loved). When I see that a party is at a playground, I get happy because it combines my daughter’s favorite things: playgrounds, her telling me how much she wants to play with her friends, and her ignoring her friends to swing by herself. And I pick up more easy party tips from the other parents at each party.

My daughter doesn’t turn four for another three months, but turning four and having a birthday is a big deal to her. She went through a phase of asking “Am I four yet?” when she woke up in the morning and at naps. She tells us she won’t do things now, but she will when she’s four (like eat corn). When I make her mad she tells me “You’re not coming to my birthday.” When I asked her what we should do for my birthday she leaned in and whispered “Nothing.” Because I won’t be four, presumably.

We’ve attended many birthday parties for kids. Some have been huge affairs involving rental companies and kid-friendly businesses with inflatables and things to jump on. Some have been just us and a couple of other families. My friend likes a rule that the number of guests should not exceed the child’s age, so her son’s second birthday had two friends (and me, eating all the snacks).

Unfortunately, my daughter’s takeaway from birthday parties has not been what makes them the least stressful and most practical, but that people can have bouncy houses in their backyards, and likes to tell us that she’ll have that on her fourth birthday. My husband and I have both quickly deflated those bouncy house dreams for her many times. Nothing against big parties costing hundreds of dollars; I like going to them anyway. And I can imagine that at some point in our daughter’s childhood, she’ll celebrate her birthday at a location I’ll have to pay for (even I had an awesome McDonald’s birthday when I was a kid), or our house will have to be party central again.

I can’t visualize what having anything older than a five-year-old looks like, so I’m hoping that my daughter has more playground-loving years ahead of her. As long as the weather is good and she still likes playgrounds, expect me to organize her birthday outside at her favorite one.

Photo by: Mark Stosberg

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Kelly Gerow

Kelly Gerow lives and writes in Richmond. She probably does other stuff in Richmond, too.

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