Trying to Teach a Good Birthday Lesson – When it All Went Wrong

by Adrienne Veglia Mazeau on October 21, 2012

in Service Projects

Last year around the holidays a friend had a birthday party for her two daughters, age 3 and 5, who are both December babies.  Instead of asking the half dozen kids that attended that party to bring gifts she organized a grab bag.  The idea is one we’ve all participated in before – bring a wrapped gift and go home with one.  She colored coded the gifts so it went smoothly and it was a lovely time.  Kids got a head start on the holiday season gift opening frenzy and everyone was happy.

I marveled at what a fantastic idea this was and told myself that I would do this for my two kids who happen to have birthdays nine days apart in September.  My dad, brother and I all have birthdays the same week and we when we were young my parents always threw a crazy double party for Jeff and I.

Party likes it's 1981

I started mentioning the idea to my soon to be 5 year old because I knew she would be expecting presents.  I wasn’t trying to deny my kids birthday presents, but they are very fortunate to have five grandparents and aunts and uncles who shower them with presents.  Trust me – they’re fine.  However, I was trying to emphasize that a birthday party should be about celebrating YOU with your friends and not so much about what they bring you as a gift.

Ok, step 1 – convincing my daughter this would be a super great idea – check.

Step 2 – wrapping this do gooder idea around a party theme for a 5 year old girl and 2 year old boy.  They’ve both been into pirates  – so this would be easy.  All I had to do was create a treasure chest for the “loot” – get it for the grab bag.

I found a simple recipe for making a pirate ship cake and my husband worked on the sails.  Oriental Trading Company came in handy for pirate maps and stickers as well as a bunch of other kitschy pirate items.  This shouldn’t be hard at all I said to myself – and we would teach our kids a valuable lesson.  Extra score – one of the day care teachers was starting a new face painting side business and gave us a great deal!  Every kid loves to get their face painted.  What could go wrong?

I should mention that just a mere 3 days before this party extravaganza my daughter started kindergarten.  We were in no way prepared for the insane amount of first week of school paper work.  Not to mention the series of orientations leading up to the first day. I should also add that my husband and I both work full-time outside of the home.  What was I thinking?  When the hell did I think I was going to accomplish all of my “pirate theme garnishing”.

I baked the cake bases the night before the party and woke up the next morning to urgent weather broadcasts that tornadoes were likely in my exact area between 4 and 7 PM.  The party started at 3 and of course, was to be completely outside.

Stay calm.  We called, texted, Facebooked every parent on the invite list to come at noon and all but one could still come.  It was ok because the invites got a bit out of control and we were having over 20 kids coming.  Now we had less than 3 hours to do everything we thought we had 6 hours to do.

First test –  make the pirate ship cake.  It was easy and actually resembled a pirate ship with tootsie roll canons and pirouette cookies around the border.  I was feeling good we would pull this off before the rain.

Pirate Birthday Party

As the tornado warnings intensified and the cloudy skies would not budge, disaster struck the SS “Momma’s Trying Hard to be Perfect” Cake.  It cracked like the Titanic.

Pirate birthday cake gone wrong

Short on time and done caring at this point, I threw a bunch of gold coins throughout the cake and called it the Birthday Treasure of a Sunken Pirate Ship!  Lame but I knew it would all taste the same anyway.  The guests arrived and the food, including the cake was eaten in no time.  We did have a spare Elmo cake my husband made for our Sesame Street enthusiastic two year old.

The face painting and games were going well but we needed to get this grab bag going as the skies were getting darker. Remember the well coordinated color coding my friend took the time to do?  I didn’t do that.   As I brought the kids to the front yard to divvy out the loot, I felt like I was being followed by rabid dogs ready to pounce on me.  I was being surrounded. I just started quickly passing out gifts in the most uncoordinated manor.  Paper was flying, some kids were excited, others started crying and making a scene that they didn’t like what they got.  Some parents didn’t understand the gender neutral gift emphasis on the invite.

Overall the party was fun and we all learned valuable lessons about what’s important – celebrating a birthday with friends – and what’s not – all of the party themed fluff.

Next year we may stick to the grab bag idea…. but we’re going bowling!

| Adrienne lives outside of Albany, NY with her archaeologist husband, creative school age daughter and a very active toddler. When not dreaming about where to take her family next she works as a Fiscal Policy Analyst for New York State. Combining an insatiable appetite for breaking out of routine and discovering new destinations with her family while working full time keeps the balancing act interesting. Writing as become her creative outlet. Email:, Twitter: @AdrienneVMazeau

Daniel B. October 21, 2012 at 7:30 am

When I was a kid my mom threw me this amazing viking party. But for my kids birthdays we go bowling.

Katie October 21, 2012 at 8:55 am

I love the SS “Momma’s Trying Hard to be Perfect” Cake! The cake itself, and the name especially!
Katie recently posted..Halloween Costumes 1: Fake It ‘Til You Make It. Or Possibly, Just Keep Faking.My Profile

Adrienne Veglia Mazeau October 21, 2012 at 5:10 pm

I was trying to be Super Mom!

DAD October 22, 2012 at 9:34 am

I clearly remember those crazy double parties for you and your brother Jeff! In reflecting back, the parties were perhaps a little over the top. However, the fact that you remember so many years later validates how meaningful they were at that time… as my two beautiful grandchildren will have fond memories of their parties, baking mishaps and all!

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