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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.
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.