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Throwing a surprise party for a tween can be challenging, especially when you’re a Type A person like I am. Things need to be planned down to the last, agonizing detail and nothing can or should go wrong.

When my daughter turned 10 last year, we collectively agreed that it would be the last of the formal ‘birthday parties’ we’d be arranging. Somehow, the entire and elaborate planning that went into the process, right from the streamers on the wall to the party games for 30 kids took it out of me.

I know the kids have fun and they generally enjoy themselves to the hilt, but it was getting exhausting to come up with new ideas each year. Plus, let’s not forget the fun job of cleaning up afterwards.

So when July reared its head I wasn’t too worried because I recalled last year’s amicable agreement. We’d also moved into a new place just five months ago so things were taking time to settle, in any case.

Imagine my surprise and secret horror when Gy casually announced that she was looking forward to her party later this month. Calmly she began reeling off names of people she’d want invited over and the theme for the party.

I gulped, swallowed a lot of air and finally croaked out, ‘Er. . . we’re not having a party this year, remember?’ That moment when the words left my mouth, I watched her face fall and her shoulders droop. ‘Oh, right. 10th birthday was the last, I forgot.’

Her disappointment was so palpable that I kicked myself. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to change my mind. Yet.

July brought about some interesting changes in our routine. Her cousins came visiting earlier this week. Since they live overseas, she gets to see them very rarely. On Tuesday morning, she couldn’t control her joy as she knew they were arriving that night.

Wistfully, she declared, ‘How I wish they were staying on till my birthday.’ When I raised an eyebrow, she hastily added, ‘I mean we could have gone out for dinner or something. Not that I want a party.’ So saying she left for school, waving as she hopped on to the bus.

At that moment, an idea formed in a tiny corner of my brain. Settling next to V on the couch and sipping my tea, I asked, ‘What if we had a cozy surprise party for Gy , well in advance, on Friday? The cousins are here and they leave on Sunday morning. Just the family and we can make it a simple affair.’ To my delight, he agreed immediately.

Now, a party is one thing. A surprise party planned ten days before the actual birthday is a completely different ball game! Not only do you have to plan everything but keep it a secret as well. Talk about pressure. But, the experience taught me some wonderful lessons which I’ll share today.

Plus, some ideas on how to make that surprise party really worthwhile.

Surprise Party 5 Lessons

Tip #1: Stay calm

First things first, I decided to take deep breaths. I am not kidding! This really helped me out. The key to this was to ensure Gy wouldn’t find out, of course. So keeping her out of the picture was paramount.

If you are in the same boat, ensure you get the kid out of the house on some pretext. I had a friend come over and invite her home for an hour, while I laid the plans to throw the party together at the last minute.

Lesson #2: Don’t over-plan

Second, we needed a cake in under 72 hours! Now, with no theme in mind or with ideas on what we were planning, this was tough. I figured the best way to do this would be to go without a theme.

Just pick a nice flavour that everyone would enjoy (chocolate for the win!), get some icing and a message on the cake and find a person who could do this well and do it quick. I called a baker who’d baked a cake for her 3 years ago. He agreed immediately!

Find a local baker who can make cakes in under 24 hours. Remember it’s not the intricacy that matters. It’s the thought.

If you’re feeling really adventurous, go on and bake a cake yourself. 🙂

Lesson #3: Keep it simple

With two days to go and both days being spent at a family event, I had no time whatsoever to buy streamers, party banners or even balloons!

Would it make sense to have a party without all of that? Turns out I was worried for nothing. The kids had a blast anyway without a single balloon in sight.

If you absolutely MUST have decorations, opt for those that can be shipped home so you aren’t wasting precious time running to the store.

Lesson #4: Fun is in your hands

Everything can be delegated, even things like party games. I asked my niece to help out with games and while I was racking my brains for ideas like musical chairs and a non-existent pinata, she casually asked the kids if they’d like to play UNO!

I stood in amazement as the kids cheered loudly on the carpet, dealing cards and listening to music played on an app on the phone. Who knew fun could be this simple?

Fun indoor games are the best and don’t require too much planning. Just pick one from this list below and you’re good to go.

Lesson #5: Let go of expectations

While I’d originally planned to have just the family for the party, V suggested that I call a few of Gy’s friends from the apartment, since there would be cake. Two hours before the party began, I called up six of her friends and asked them to drop by for cake and dinner. ‘No gifts needed’, I insisted.

The kids came, had fun, ate well and the best part? They all left with smiles on their faces and nothing else. For the first time, I’d not given ‘return gifts’, a practice that’s now in vogue at birthdays. A part of me wondered how the kids would react but not one child asked for it! That made me smile.

Do you absolutely need ideas for return gifts? Make something simple by hand. Every child cherishes that. Even a simple ‘Thank you for coming over’ card is perfect!

As I wiped down the kitchen counter after everyone had retired, I reflected on the whirlwind evening, the supremely fast way it had all come together at such short notice and the shrieks of joy that had filled the home for the better part of 3 hours.

But what stayed with me the most was the hug and the smile from my daughter before she went to bed, her eyes shining with joy from the pleasant after glow of the party. Turning 11  will be something she may remember for one thing: How her parents threw her first-ever surprise birthday party.

Happy birthday wishes in advance, Gy.

May the year ahead be everything that you hope for.

We pray for a long and healthy, happy life for you.


Featured images courtesy: Shutterstock

Rainbow flavoured Cake with candles on it for a surprise party
Categories: Life LessonsParenting

Shailaja V

Hi there! I'm Shailaja Vishwanath, a blogger with 12 years of blogging experience and a parent to a teen. I work as a digital marketing and social media consultant. From positive parenting tips to useful productivity hacks, social media advice to blogging advice, you'll find them all right here. Welcome to my blog.


Nibha Gupta · July 9, 2017 at 7:20 am

I had fun reading this one. Though I love giving surprises to the people I love but keeping them a secret is one hell of a task. Latest one was when I arrived unannounced at home travelling all along from Mumbai to my hometown, surprising my mom on her birthday! I had to make sure she wouldn’t figure out I was travelling, which is so difficult with no proper cellular networks in place!
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    Shailaja · July 9, 2017 at 8:43 pm

    How sweet is that! I bet your mom was thrilled! Surprises like these warm my heart. I recall my dad surprising us like this when I was in grade 10 and in another country. He landed up out of the blue. It was such a thrill!

Rekha · July 9, 2017 at 7:20 am

Wow! That indeed sounds like a lot of fun. Advance Birthday wishes to Gy. I would love to meet her one day to tell her how blessed she is to have a wonderful Mom like you. Parties at our place is usually family. Just family. The neighborhood is mostly senior citizens living alone. And the few kids around are either too younger than these girls or two older for a birthday party. Plus the girls also enjoy their time with their cousins. I am sure Gy is going to remember this day for her life. Lots of love to Gy and you. <3
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    Shailaja · July 9, 2017 at 7:33 am

    Thank you so much for the warm and wonderful wishes, Rekha! I will be sure to show this to her. Time spent with cousins is the best thing ever! I loved my own birthdays for this reason. Simple family affairs. It was good to show that side of a celebration to Gy too 🙂

Inderpreet · July 9, 2017 at 9:45 am

Just love the idea and thoughts with this post. Will remember these since my son is now 8 so will need to be calm for years to come.
Congratulations for Gy’s birthday
Wishing her the best. Happy birthday.

    Shailaja · July 9, 2017 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you very much, Indy 🙂 This was totally out of the blue but I am glad it all worked out in the end.

Obsessivemom · July 9, 2017 at 10:44 am

Happy birthday to Gy in advance. Glad you guys had a good time and that she did get a party. I empathise completely with your fear of birthday parties. Love that point on delegation. This year, though we had a huge crowd, delegating things helped immensely. I realised children have because they are together and little else matters. It’s we as parents who need to let go and take it easy.

    Shailaja · July 9, 2017 at 8:45 pm

    Yes, the thing about fun is that it can come from the simplest of things. I need to let go of my control freak nature a little more, I guess. I am learning though 🙂 Thank you for the wishes, Tulika 🙂

Vidya Sury · July 9, 2017 at 12:45 pm

Glad you had the party, you know! The happiness, memories, and joy are priceless, and the fatigue will soon be forgotten. Family time is wonderful! Many happy returns of the day to Gy in advance. Ask her to write about it, no? It will be great to read about it later. Keeping it simple is my favorite tip. We stress too much, because we aim for perfection, which really does not matter in the grand scheme of things!
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    Shailaja · July 9, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    I so agree, now that it’s over 😉 I should ask her to write about it, you’re right. Suddenly though her days seem to be filled with assignments and tests and worksheets. Sigh, don’t ask.

Shilpa Garg · July 9, 2017 at 3:58 pm

This post made me smile for a lot of reasons.
Our friends have had similar experiences, where they had a clear understanding with the kids that ‘This is your last formal birthday party’ and much before the birthday the kids started throwing hints that they were looking forward to the party. 😀
Agree with you, kids enjoy themselves with whatever is available. They just need to get together. I remember having AG’s friends at home before he left for his boarding school with just pizza and cold drinks. And they engaged / entertained themselves with Monopoly.
Birthday wishes to Gy in advance. Wishing her the best in life.
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    Shailaja · July 9, 2017 at 8:41 pm

    Aww, pizza and cold drinks sounds like a dream party 😀 Monopoly is a recent craze here and I have to hide the box on some days so she actually studies 😉 I know it’s a tough thing to do but the joy on their faces during the party is all worth it. Thank you for the wishes.

Rachna · July 10, 2017 at 8:15 am

Happy birthday to Gy in advance. I am sure she had loads of fun. Thank heavens, I don’t throw birthday parties for the kids anymore. Stopped at 6th birthday for each.

    Shailaja · July 10, 2017 at 8:58 am

    Thanks Rachna 🙂 I am glad I threw the party for her, especially since she gets to see her cousins only once in 3 years, maybe longer. I found that letting go of my pressure really helped me handle this better this time around. This was despite two days of back to back family events and less than a day to book the food and other things 🙂

Nabanita Dhar · July 10, 2017 at 9:24 am

Happy Birthday in advance to Gy.
So wonderful that you surprised her with a party. And you know what I liked best? That there were no return gifts and the children didn’t ask for it. That’s how it should be. I think more and more parents should do this.
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    Shailaja · July 10, 2017 at 9:26 pm

    I liked that the best too 🙂 I’ve been meaning to do it for over 10 years but always caved at the last minute. This time, I didn’t have any choice to get gifts and it was so relaxing not to feel that pressure!

CookieCrumbsInc. · July 10, 2017 at 9:29 am

Uno never fails. Ever. Families might split after the game ends but it never fails to entertain 😛

And surprise parties are way more fun for everyone around, no?

    Shailaja · July 10, 2017 at 9:27 pm

    That’s actually scarily true 😉 We had a huge argument once over rules and everything 😉 Surprise parties are the best when you don’t overdo the planning 😉

Shilpa Gupte · July 10, 2017 at 12:11 pm

I had a BIG smile on my face as I read this sweet post, Shy! How simple things can be, but we make it all complicated, no? And, frankly, kids like it easy. All you did was order a cake and the kids took over the games part. No streamers, no return gifts, nothing…and yet the kid was the happiest kid on the planet! Wow!

    Shailaja · July 10, 2017 at 9:29 pm

    So true, Shilpa 🙂 Best decision ever. Simple and uncomplicated. And how much fun I had too!

Sid · July 10, 2017 at 12:42 pm

A very happy birthday to Gy, well in advance.
Good to know that everything worked out. All that non-planning and spontaneity must have been really hard for you 😛
As they say though, all’s well that puts a smile on a kid’s face and has cake.
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    Shailaja · July 10, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    Ha ha, you know it 😉 I was mildly hyperventilating when things were marginally delayed but this was good for me. Good to step back and let go.

    I actually thought of you when we had the cake. The best chocolate truffle cake I’ve had!

Soumya · July 10, 2017 at 5:17 pm

Happy birthday to Gy in advance 🙂

Like I said before, she’ll all grown up now.

Surprise parties are hard to plan. But I am string at heart and keep the secret. My husband on the other hand blurts out the minute he sees me. I haven’t planned a fully fledged party yet with guests and all, but I want to do so some day. I’ll reach out to you then 🙂

Love to Gy <3
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    Shailaja · July 10, 2017 at 9:31 pm

    Any time, babe 🙂 Thanks so much for the wishes and love. She is one blessed kid to have so many people looking out for her 🙂

Ramya Abhinand · July 11, 2017 at 11:14 am

Best wishes to your daughter. We all love parties and surely Gy must have felt the disappointment intially. But u turned it into such a joyous one. So what if the bday party was 10 days in advance, surprise parties are fun and i can imagine how excited Gy must have been.

upasna · July 11, 2017 at 2:28 pm

I love surprise party…Happy birthday to the big girl
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Jo - Mother of Teenagers · July 14, 2017 at 9:42 pm

Oh that all sounds fabulous and sometimes it is the simplest things that deliver the most pleasure. We have been saying the same to our daughter for the last 4 years and whilst we haved managed to tone the parties down and invite less guests she is genuinely mortified if there is nothing planned at all. Not sure if it is a girl thing but our son wasn’t that bothered but she loves to celebrate. Well done you on pulling it off at such short notice too. #TweensTeensBeyond
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Sharon Parry · July 15, 2017 at 9:29 pm

Oh gosh the stress of birthday parties! I get in a right state about organising them and I enjoyed reading about your experiences. It sounds fab. Thanks so much for joining us at #TweensTeensBeyond
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Jaishvats · July 16, 2017 at 9:20 am

Wishing your daughter love laughter success and fun….. Good job mommy 🙂 ….

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